Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bertie's Spiritual Overtones (Éire)

“There are some who feel that the modern era is one with a shrinking role for religion, religious belief and religious identity. Our own experience over recent years demonstrates that this is not the case,” said An Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern, in his address to various faith groups yesterday at the Inauguration of the Structured Dialogue with Churches, Faith Communities and Non- Confessional Bodies in Dublin Castle.

“On the contrary, so much of what is happening within our society and in the wider world is bound up with questions of religion, religious identity and religious belief, that Governments which refuse or fail to engage with religious communities and religious identities risk failing in their fundamental duties to their citizens,” he added.

It has been little over two years since the Government indicated its intention to consult on the idea of initiating such a process of structured dialogue.

Mr Ahern said that engagement with and respecting the voice of the key institutions of civil society is a key part of the democratic process that is reflected in the draft constitutional treaty for the European Union.

Article 1-52 of the draft treaty recognises the identity and specific contribution of the churches and philosophical and non-confessional organisations and commits the Union to maintaining an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.

Mr Ahern spoke of the “multicultural reality” of a changing Ireland, while specifically addressing its Christian roots.

“Ireland shares in the inheritance of over two thousand years of Christianity. This heritage has indelibly shaped our country, our culture and our course for the future. We are home too, to people of other faiths and it is a special feature of the past decade that we have welcomed, what in a historical context, are relatively large numbers of non-Christian people,” he said.

“A fast changing Ireland needs not only to adapt and to move on. It needs to cherish its roots, if our society is to mature and to flourish.

“Turning our back as a country on our living and vibrant life of religious faith would be a loss and would be a mistake.”

Mr Ahern acknowledged that religious belief was vital in steering Ireland toward the future.
“If modern Ireland were to dislocate from its hinterland of religious belief, our culture and our society would be cut adrift from its deepest roots and from one of its most vital sources of nourishment for its growth and direction into the future.”

In his speech, Mr Ahern also drew attention to the contribution which Christian missionaries have made to building up Ireland’s reputation abroad.

“Wherever in the world Irish representatives travel, we find direct evidence of the extent to which Irish men and women of all Christian traditions have been inspired by the Gospel to find new homes and new communities, far from their place of birth.

“They have contributed much to the building up of nations across the globe. They have created a powerfully positive image for our country and its people, far beyond the impact our population would suggest.”

He also drew attention to the contribution the Catholic Church has made to education in Ireland, highlighting the religious sisters who “were the loudest, and sometimes the only champions of education for girls.”

Mr Ahern noted that faith communities can also be a powerful means to help those who migrate to this country to feel at home.

He ended his speech by stating: “As a society and as a Government, we treasure the spiritual, and we respect the prophetic role of spiritual leaders.”

The talks reflected the increasingly diverse range of faith communities in Ireland.

Those present included representatives of the Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran and Moravian churches, the Religious Society of Friends, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Salvation Army, the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox and Romanian Orthodox Churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the Republic of Ireland, the Irish Council of Churches and the Humanist Association of Ireland.

The process will involve an annual plenary meeting with all participants and an annual bilateral meeting with each representative body at which the State will be led by members of the Government and senior officials.

Welcoming the new structured dialogue process, Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin said it was an important step in recognising the role and contribution religious groups have to make.

“It should accord true recognition by each and delineate the rights of each, within what I would call a ‘co-operative regime of separation' between Church and State.” He added this separation means the Church does not interfere in the role of the State but also that politicians respect the legitimate autonomy of the Church.

Archbishop Martin, who attended the launch by An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, said it was equally important that Church bodies continue to engage with each other in deepening inter-religious dialogue.

This he said would lead to greatly improving the quality of contribution that religious bodies make to society.



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