Extract from a Homily delivered by Bishop Noel Treanor at the Northern Region Annual Mass for the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre
Saturday, 30 April 2016, St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast
It is against the canvas of the evolving relationship between religious faith and politics, between Church and State, that the recent Pastoral Reflection of the Bishops in Northern Ireland is to be understood.
Its very title, A better future: towards a culture of life, care and hope for all, underscores its universal, sopra-confessional concerns. It espouses concerns and issues of universal significance for all members of our society, whilst speaking out in particular for its weakest members.
As a pastoral reflection, it sits in the prophetic tradition of judaeo-christian faith-inspired critical reflection upon socio-political processes. It is offered as a contribution to pre-election public debate by pastoral leaders (par.3) who, whilst keenly aware of their personal failures and shortcomings, like the Old Testament prophets, respond like them to God’s call to espouse and recall perennial values for the common good of society.
The Pastoral Reflection contains six thematic pillars:
- Social Justice
- Working for a new political culture in Northern Ireland with provision and mechanisms for civil dialogue
- A culture of caring for human life at all its stages from conception to natural death
- Family and Marriage
- The recognition and fostering of Religious Freedom – specifically in terms of service provision, the right to Catholic schools and their rights as public institutions, and the issue of persecution of Christians.
- Care of the environment
With the attached ten questions, emanating from these thematic fields, offered as aids for reflection or discussion with candidates, the Pastoral Reflection raises issues that are critical for the future of our society and its well-being. It presents and elucidates them as matters of determinative socio-ethical, moral and spiritual significance for the future of our society. As citizens, as a body politic and as a society we ignore these issues, we fail to deal with them courageously and ethically, to our future peril.
In terms of its quality as representative of public opinion, it is worth remarking that the issues raised by this Pastoral Reflection gives voice to the stated concerns of countless parishioners and Christians. As in many countries, citizens here identify a vacuum of political representation on the centre of the political spectrum. The Pastoral Reflection is therefore an expression of a significant slice of Christian public opinion and of its concern for the body politic itself; it is therefore an expression in the form of an episcopal statement of the “sensus fidelium”, that is, of the public opinion of the faithful, who are thinking, responsible, active citizens, many who are active in innumerable voluntary services.
Expressive of the concerns of citizens such a Pastoral Reflection offers an open, non-ideological, universal value reflection at a key moment in the unfolding history of our society. Its assertions, concerns and questions are essential ingredients for the achievement of legitimacy in the politics of the forthcoming legislature, because political legitimacy that sustains society and state is built not on populist solutions but rather on the hard graft of inclusive, socio-ethical and moral discourse and effort. To foster this, mechanisms of civil dialogue are essential.