In a homily to be delivered today at Westminster Central Hall in London, Cardinal Keith O'Brien will call on politicians and wider society to; uphold "freedom of religious expression" which he will describe as "a basic human right, (which) is not upheld in our midst as widely and as completely as it should be" With reference to a recent campaign by Christians in the UK to promote our Christian heritage and an ongoing debate in Scotland, where "Catholics have raised their voices against sectarianism and intolerance directed against the Church" Cardinal O'Brien will urge his listeners to "respect, uphold and protect the rights of Christians to hold their beliefs and to act according to their Christian conscience"
The full text of the Cardinal's homily, delivered at Christians in Government Carol Service, Westminster Central Hall, today is shown below.
It is indeed a very great privilege being with you for your annual Carol Concert – realising just how many of you in the midst of busy lives are willing to give this time to share your Christian faith with one another as we think over that most tremendous event in the history of the world – God becoming man. In this enormous hall crowded with peoples of goodwill, with the bustling City of London around us, we give time to think of the birth of Jesus Christ, son of God and son of man, born of the Virgin Mary. We think of the implication of that still in our own lifetime – and we pray that in some way or another at this time of the year we may follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, ever more closely and radiate something of his love and concern to all those around us.
VOCATION TO SERVICE:
During this service, I would like to think with you on that common vocation which we all share – whether Priest or Politician, Cardinal or Cabinet Minister. By virtue of our Christian baptism, our baptism into the Body of Christ, we try to follow his way. As God became man so man is called upon to become like God and perhaps the realisation of something of our tremendous vocation comes home to us at thism particular time each year.
I bring before your minds at this time also the example of St Thomas More – who was prepared to give his life for God rather than betray his conscience. As you know our Church proposes Thomas More as role model for politicians due to his exemplary exercise of public office. It was in the great jubilee year of 2000 that Pope John Paul II declared St Thomas More as the Patron Saint of Politicians commenting that: “His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue”. I think that the message of the sacrifice of Thomas More is as pressing today as it has ever been, and his final words inspire us to this day: “I die the King’s loyal servant, but God’s first”.
I am of course fully aware that no politicians in our country today, risks loss of life for holding to their beliefs – although that does indeed still exist in other countries at this present time. However our own Christians in politics do sometimes risk public ridicule, loss of office, being overlooked for promotion, and so on because of their beliefs. It is reassuring to know that there are so many in public life who are not afraid of being true to their consciences and who are only too willing to stand up and be counted.
WESTMINSTER 2010: DECLARATION OF CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE:
I know also of the forthcoming launch of a “Declaration of Christian Conscience” entitled “Westminster 2010”. It is equivalent to the so-called “Manhattan Declaration” which was launched last year and which has now been signed by over 400,000 United States Christians. The “Westminster 2010” declaration is aimed to appeal to United Kingdom Christians of all denominations who subscribe to the historic Christian faith and who hold Orthodox Christian beliefs about life, marriage and conscience. No doubt you will be hearing more about this forthcoming Declaration, which I ask you to consider endorsing as it does uphold the rights of conscience of all peoples particularly those in positions of responsibility and especially concerning Christian beliefs and values, and the dignity of human life and marriage. The Declaration calls upon all those in positions of leadership, responsibility and influence in the United Kingdom to pledge to respect, uphold and protect the rights of Christians to hold their beliefs and to act according to their Christian conscience. It is a timely initiative. Within the last week Christians across the United Kingdom have endorsed the “Not Ashamed” campaign urging us all not to be ashamed of our Christian heritage, while in Scotland Catholics have raised their voices against sectarianism and intolerance directed against the Church.
Clearly, these actions show that freedom of religious expression, a basic human right, is not upheld in our midst as widely and as completely as it should be.
POPE BENEDICT XVI IN WESTMINSTER:
It is only some few months since Pope Benedict XVI preached in Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster addressing politicians, diplomats, academics and business leaders. As you may remember when he entered Westminster Hall to address leaders of civil society he paused at the spot at which St Thomas More was tried and condemned to death in 1535 for refusing to acknowledge the King as also the Head of the Church.
It was an unforgettable moment for so many of us when the elderly slightly stooped figure of the Pope clad in white was outlined against the vivid red carpet in packed Westminster Hall – reminding so many of us of that figure of Jesus standing before Pilate as he was condemned to death. One might say that Pope Benedict XVI had similarly been condemned over the years and especially since his election as Pope for his views and for his outspoken ways of proclaiming the “truth” of Jesus Christ and his teaching. It almost seemed that, as his words were proclaimed, that he was in turn defending his message of truth.
And when speaking at the great Mass at Bellahouston Park the Pope mentioned St Ninian whose feast day we were celebrating and indicated:”St Ninian was himself unafraid to be a lone voice. In the footsteps of the Disciples whom out Lord sent forth before him, Ninian was one of the very first Catholic missionaries to bring his fellow Britons the good news of Jesus Christ”.
And the Pope did not hesitate to stress the responsibility on our shoulders as Christian Leaders and as Christians in politics to have that same strong faith as those early Disciples of the Lord had.
In very strong and stirring words, the Pope proclaimed to that great audience in Westminster Hall: “Religion is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance”.
And he went on to state that: “There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience”.
Strong words indeed from our Pope and he continued to emphasise that there is a legitimate role for religion in the public square. And then the challenge comes to each one of us from Pope Benedict XVI: “I would invite all of you, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life”.
I am sure you realise that over the years I myself have not been slow in proclaiming the Christian message. One Easter Time in my own Cathedral I indicated that I saw the initials letters P and C as standing not for “political correctness” but rather for “proclaiming Christianity”. That is certainly at the basis of our vocation as Christians in politics.
In the coming weeks, we will indeed look at and pray before the cribs and various nativity scenes in our homes, our churches and public places. As we do let us pray for those whom we are called upon to serve and for our own role in service; let us pray that we will have the strength of character of people like St John Fisher and those of his time who were called upon to act according to their consciences. Let us ask the good Lord to strengthen us in our own living out of our baptismal vocation so that we will never be afraid to proclaim Christ so that in our acts and our words we live out the message of the Saviour of the world born among us in poverty and simplicity 2000 years ago.
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