Students, Faculty and Staff of Griffith College
I was surprised but I am deeply honoured by the gesture of recognition given to me this morning by Griffith College, and humbled to find my name now alongside the names of such a distinguished group of past honourees.
It is a special pleasure for me to be honoured here in this campus of Griffith College in that much of my personal history was formed in this part of Dublin City. I was born in the Old Coombe Hospital and my mother’s family history was deeply intertwined with the south-inner-city Dublin Liberties. I lived right opposite Griffith College for many years and my brother lives just two hundred meters from here still today.
When I say that much of my personal history is linked with this area of Dublin this is not just a geographical affirmation. The values which impregnated my life from my early years were the values which I inherited from the people and the community of this part of Dublin. They were values of honesty and integrity, good neighbourliness and hard work and fair play, as well as a quick sense of humour, a sense of not taking oneself too seriously, but also a deep sense of the personal worth of and the value of investing in the capacities of young people. Families gave so much so that their children could do better than they did.
Griffith College is of course not just a Dublin institution; it has centres in various parts of Ireland. It is a relatively new institution and it seeks to bring its own specific contribution to third level education in Ireland
Pope Benedict on a number of occasions spoke of what he called an educational emergency. He was not speaking about problems of the Catholic Schools system. He wished rather to draw attention to a fundamental “emergency” or uncertainty about the deeper purpose of education in a growingly pragmatic and utilitarian world. He was talking about the very nature of education itself.
The pressures to which young people are exposed today can lead to a great fragmentation in their lives, due often to the great pressures and concentration of academic programmes and due to a fragmentation regarding where values are to be rooted. Education is about the values around which we wish to build our own lives and the values we wish to be at the foundation of human association and solidarity.
Any analysis of the recent economic crisis in Ireland must realise that what happened was not just the fruit of the mismanagement of the technicalities of an economy. It was a crisis about values. It was about a failure to understand the social value of economic theory; it was about an understanding of economy which failed in its focus on its own social function and its contribution to the sustainable values, which go beyond mere pragmatic material objectives.
My point is that this same culture of narrow pragmatism which damaged our economy may also pose a threat which can undermine education. Ethical and philosophical reflections are not a luxury or a waste of time. A lack of appropriate challenge to an individualistic understanding of what economy is and what the social function of an economy is, ended up harming many individuals and communities. Reflection and critical debate about the type of society we wish to attain and sustain and the values which should underpin it are part and parcel of an integral understanding of education.
As a religious leader in a society which is more and more secularised I have to reflect on how faith can contribute to this process of education and the grounding of values. The debate between faith and culture is not something esoteric for the experts. It is vital for the healthy growth of a pluralist society. It constitutes an essential contribution to the search for a common language which can communicate with and captivate all the components of a pluralist society. There are some who would look on the introduction of faith into debates about educational policy in more secular societies as an obstacle to common reflection. For them it would be the introduction of a divisive element. But we should also remember that a certain sense of narrow secularism can indeed become hostile to pluralism.
I am not advocating a return to a theocracy. I am challenging believers to find a language from their own rich faith tradition which can be understood and welcomed in a pluralist world. It is not that I would want to hide the sins of the Church. I firmly believe that only the truth will set us free, even if that truth is unpleasant. Some in the Church felt happier keeping dirty laundry within the family and the result was that the laundry only got dirtier.
That said I believe that disenchantment with religious faith is not nearly as widespread as some who forecast the end of religion might prophecy. The challenge of how we root our values in today’s society is important. We have had examples of how failing to see disenchantment with establishment values has led to unexpected outcomes. We need not establishment but a sense of united national and indeed international purpose.
In a pluralist society the Church cannot claim establishment privilege. Believers and the Church must not however feel or be told that they must retreat from a robust presence in the public square.
Not too long ago I received a letter from a diplomat with whom I had to engage over years in robust dialogue and robust difference of position. We never fully agreed on a common position, but we came nearer on many things. I was really pleased with the final comment of his letter: “We never came to agreement, but I want you to know that you were always our favourite enemy”.
Difference should not lead to antagonism. Working together to seek the values which underpin our human interaction is vital especially in the current international climate.
The Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin was today award a Distinguished Fellowship award from Griffith College in Dublin.
The award was presented by the President of Griffith College, Diarmuid Hegarty. The award is described by the College as an “annual award made to men and women from the island of Ireland who have within the context of their own profession who have pushed forward the boundaries of academic interaction and educational development, with recipient’s view as role models for the Irish youth of today. President Hegarty said the award was being presented to Archbishop Martin for his “outstanding contribution at home and abroad to Ireland’s moral ethos.”
Previous recipients have included; President Mary McAleese, Chief Justice Susan Denham, Seamus Heaney John Hume, Martin Naughton, Peter Sutherland and Catherine Day.
Further information: Annette O Donnell, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of Dublin: 01 8360723.