Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. The theme of Christian Unity Week this year comes from the prophet Isaiah who urges God’s people to ‘Do good and seek justice’ (1:17). The resources for Christian Unity Week have been prepared jointly by the Christian Churches of Minneapolis in the United States and focus on the ongoing Gospel challenge of equality among people of every race and their integration into our faith communities. The people of Minneapolis are perhaps best placed to address this topic because of what happened there in May 2020. George Floyd was murdered by a police officer that year, leading to the opening of the deep and old wound of racism in America and indeed in all parts of the world too. The birth of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement was a response to the sin of racism that declares that some lives matter more than others.
For us here in Ireland, we continue to become a more plural society with many people of different ethnic backgrounds making Ireland their home. These are the people living next door to us. They are in our schools, streets and churches. Here in Wexford, during our parish mission in October, we hosted an evening called ‘Believing and Belonging’ when people of different nationalities came together to tell us something of their story of how they came to live in Wexford and what life is like for them. It was a wonderful success.
I believe that Christian Churches in Ireland have a key role to play in integrating people of various ethnic backgrounds into our faith communities and into society in general. By welcoming and befriending people who are new to Wexford or new to Ireland, we are responding to the Word of God who urges us to ‘Do good and seek justice’. By welcoming the stranger, Jesus tells us that we welcome him for ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matt. 25).
Here is a call for all our churches to be rid of any elitism and discrimination that we might be blind to. Often it takes people who are new to our areas to point out things we cannot see.
It is also an opportunity for our Churches to foster the human fraternity that Pope Francis calls for in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti (2020). There he invokes the spirit of St Francis of Assisi who, though a devout believer in Christ, made room in his heart for all people and all things. In this teaching document, Pope Francis warns of the dangers of living in a closed world. Instead, he points the way forward by ‘moving beyond ourselves’ (para. 88-94), befriending more than our own associates (para. 101-105), practising a ‘universal love’ (para. 106-111), having a heart ‘open to the world’ (para. 128-153), ‘dialogue and friendship in society’ (para. 198-224), paths towards ‘a renewed encounter’ (para. 226-270) and of ‘religions at the service of fraternity in our world’ (para. 271-285).
For our local churches, putting flesh on these principles takes place at the local level. We have much to learn from each other and much to share as we face the common task as Christians of making this world more humane and fraternal.
May we celebrate Christian Unity Week this year with a real conviction that we all belong to Christ and are united to one another in him. May we seize the opportunity to do good and to seek justice for all. It is nothing more than what love demands.