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‘We must engage with our past and our future’

By Sarah Mac Donald - 23 December, 2015

GPO post RisingBishops across the country have begun issuing their Christmas messages and a number of these so far have addressed next year’s momentous centenary of the 1916 Rising.

In his message, the Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin, Dr Denis Nulty referred both to the commemorations of 1916 and the general election in the early months of the coming year.

“I think it is so important that all of us engage in the remembering of our past, and equally engage in the shaping of our future,” the Bishop said.

He highlighted that alone we can do nothing, but together, “as that beautiful Irish word ‘meitheal’ captures, so much is possible, so much is achievable.”

“I pray that we as a diocese and as a country will play our part in remembering the past, but equally our role in paving our future.”

He asked, “What kind of society do we want to leave behind for the babies who will be born this Christmas Day? What kind of value system do we want those children to experience? What kind of remembrance do we want them or their children to have of the Ireland of 2015 in fifty or even a hundred years’ time? The decisions of today form the society of tomorrow.”

Elsewhere in his message, Bishop Nulty said he was conscious of people in the Church and the diocese, who on Christmas Day will feel very alone.

“Maybe you buried a son or daughter in the past year; perhaps you faced the loss of work or the uncertainty of ill health or you just live with a feeling of being forgotten, misunderstood, disconnected.”

“I want to assure you, you are not alone,” Dr Nulty reassured and said that like Mary, when the angel left her, God’s presence remained with her for the rest of her life and remained with them.

“Sometimes we light a candle, we offer a prayer for one intention or another and feel despondent if that prayer isn’t answered. There were many moments during Mary’s arduous faith journey when she could have given up, many moments when she persevered, because of the angel’s visit all those years back. Let us rejoice when our prayers are answered, but let us keep faith when we seem so alone.”

In his message, Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said 2016 is a year when we will remember crucial events from 100 years ago.

“How we remember the Easter Rising and the Somme can sometimes say more about how we see the future than about the facts of historical events.”

The challenge is to learn from the past and not to abuse it, to honour the memory of people and not to dishonour them for our purposes, he warned.

“If we plunder their memory for selfish ends, we demean the best in ourselves. Only the truth will set us free,” the Bishop of Derry underlined.

He added that the Christmas story is not just a nice tale about distant events, a story that the child in each of us still loves.

“It is a carefully crafted adult story. It says that healing in society is possible. And it says that healing will not come from a God of guts and guns but from a defenceless child.”

He concluded by saying that in the Year of Mercy, we will try to tell the Christ Child’s story about the past that speaks of forgiveness and reconciliation, hope and healing.

“I still believe that these are tidings of great joy for all the world in 2016,” he said.

In his message, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin stated that “There seems to be no reason why faith in God should be in any way at odds with a modern democratic republic” and he emphasised that good Christians will always be good citizens.

Referring to the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016, the Bishop said it is only honest at this distance to acknowledge that many people including Church leaders distanced themselves from the Rising.

“Whatever reservations there may have been at the time, it does seem clear however that, alongside their courage and idealism, many of the leaders of 1916 were people of faith.”

He noted that the Proclamation begins “In the name of God” and ends by invoking the blessing of God.

The poetry of both Pearse and Plunkett is deeply religious. At this Christmas time, the words of ‘Christ’s Coming’ by Padraig Pearse have a particular resonance, he suggested.

Noting that the coming centenary year coincides with the Church’s Jubilee of Mercy, Dr Doran said the Door of Mercy is a symbol of welcome and of homecoming for Catholics.

“There seems to be no reason why faith in God should be in any way at odds with a modern democratic republic. Ultimately, it comes down to whether the people of the Republic have ‘opened the doors’ of their hearts to God.”

He said the idea that a republic would acknowledge God does not mean, of course, that Catholicism or even Christianity should take precedence over other faiths or sincerely held beliefs.

“But the religious freedom, which is the mark of any true democracy, obviously includes the freedom of the majority as well as the freedom of the minority.”

In 2016, as we celebrate the centenary, we may need to reflect more carefully on what it means to ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’.

Referring to the classic image of Christmas, that of the Holy Family going from door to door in Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay, he said that looking back over recent weeks and months, this is an image that challenges us all this Christmas.

“Instead of the face of Joseph and Mary, framed against the night sky, we see the faces of refugees from the Middle East, of our own homeless people and indeed of our neighbours in Athleague and Athlone who have had to leave their homes due to the recent flooding.”

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