A matter of Faith
I wrote at the start of these blogs that my Faith was important to me, that, in many ways, it defined me, but that I have never seen it as something I would wish to impose on others. So, how do I react to the Pope’s visit to Scotland today?
Well, if the Church has wings I doubt I’d be on the same one as the current Pope. Though he is not as unremittingly conservative in his views as some critics suggest, he has never seemed to have the presentational warmth of his predecessor, John Paul 2, whose public persona belied a fairly reactionary approach to church affairs. I have to admit I was hesitant about this visit at first. Times have changed since the last Papal visit, the Church is struggling to deal with the fall out from truly terrible revelations about child abuse, and there is, as the Pope himself pointed out, an aggression towards Faith powered by a significant lack of tolerance from those who attack the Church’s supposed lack of the same virtue. Indeed, a protester in Princes St today suggested in a television interview that the Pope was ‘offensive to atheists’, a theological tautology, if ever I heard one.
So I wondered how it would go, and, I suppose, I reflected on my own feelings. It occurred to me that I have worked with three major mottos in my life. At school, our motto was Fidem Vita Fateri – Show your Faith by the way you live, and in the two schools in which I have taught for most of my working life, the mottos have been Sit Nobiscum Deus – Without God we labour in vain, and Laborare est Orare – To work is to pray.
I don’t think any of those are offensive to anyone – of any Faith or none, and they have provided a framework of aspiration, for me, at any rate. In truth, I wasn’t sure how I would feel when the Pope came to Scotland.
So I was rather taken aback at the swell of emotion I felt as his plane touched down at Turnhouse, and even more so, I think, at the reaction of our pupils, who had lingered in front of our plasma screens after their morning break, watching as his plane taxied to a halt, and broke into spontaneous applause as he descended the steps.
What caused that? Pride in our country, pride in the faith of my fathers, and a belief that Benedict, no matter what my feelings on some of his pronouncements, was the successor of Peter the Apostle. To watch, as his motorcade swept past the end of my street on its way to Holyroodhouse, to see his reception in Princes St and his meeting with the children of St Peter’s Primary – a school I know well, at Cardinal O’Brien’s residence, all intensified the emotional response.
Later I crossed to Morningside on the south of the city to photograph his motorcade as it headed for the M8 and Glasgow. Without the Popemobile, this was merely an impressive cavalcade of limos and functional vehicles, much as I had witnessed last year when viewing Obama in New York City, but the streets were less crowded and my pictures were taken from a distance of ten feet or so. It was impressive but accessible – the Pope in our streets.
The day went well; Edinburgh and Glasgow, their people and the arrangements, all reflected well on Scotland to the millions watching the visit on television around the world. The Pope’s homily was measured and reassuring and I especially warmed to his Gaidhlig Blessing and his assurance to the young people of Scotland: ‘The Church is yours’, as it surely is. In his blessing of the young Polish child at Bellahouston, his wearing of the tartan, the tone of his message and his general demeanour I think he must have disarmed many who were expecting an altogether fiercer aspect.
After the emotion comes the reckoning. I do feel reaffirmed in my belief in a Church that, for all its frailties and bureaucratic imponderables, is still the world’s second biggest provider of aid, after the UN, and one of the largest suppliers of education throughout the world. The cynical Tweeterati may comment on the Pope’s red slippers and funny clothes but I have always wondered at the effect of ridiculing those with whom you disagree.
The message I heard spoke of tolerance within self discipline. The task of those young people who applauded him today is to be active in a Church that is a force for good and compassion, a refuge of care and selflessness in a self obsessed world. It’s a big ask but a task worth pursuing – and that’s all any of us can do – make the journey to the best of our ability, in love for those around us and the world we share.