Catholics must fight racism

Northern bishops call on Christians to lead

Paul Keenan and
Cathal Barry

Christians must lead the fight against racism and xenophobia leading Northern bishops have warned as tensions rise over controversial anti-Islamic comments by a Belfast-based pastor.

Amidst a spike in racist attacks in the North, Bishop John McAreavey said that communities had a responsibility to learn lessons from the conflict: “Our own experiences here should teach us.

“Our conflict was never about religion, it was about difference,” Dr McAreavey told The Irish Catholic. The Bishop of Dromore said that the Church had to work with other Christian traditions and the followers of other faith to build understanding. “If you don’t know people of a particular faith that can lead to demonising them as extremists and seeing extremists as representative of that faith”. He said that there are important points of contact between Judaism, Islam and Christianity “including the call to be hospitable”.

Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown said that the issue of racism is “one area in particular where the Church needs to make its presence felt”.

He appealed to leaders in the North, both political and religious, “to speak directly to those communities about the unacceptability of racism”.


Bishop McKeown pointed out that “tensions are mostly felt in urban, working class loyalist areas where people feel they have lost a lot and that their communities are being inhabited by outsiders”.

However, we warned against a tendency to rush to judgement. “It’s easy to stand on a pedestal and condemn these young people but these acts of racism might be a sign of the bigger problems being experienced within these communities.

“Problems such as education, under-achievement, social fragmentation, unemployment and loss of identity need to be addressed,” he warned.


Bishop McAreavey said that Catholic schools could help in overcoming division. He said that “one common feature” among Muslim families coming to Ireland is that “many have sought out Catholic schools. While this may not be towards Catholic instruction, it is a recognition of ethos, of respect for God, a place for prayer and moral teaching, all of which will stand to their children.”

Pastor James McConnell’s controversial comments in which he said he didn’t trust Muslims were quickly backed up by DUP First Minister Peter Robinson. Mr Robinson has been sharply criticised and accused of stoking the fires of racism in the midst of a recent upsurge or violent attacks against ethnic minorities.

There have been 982 reported hate crimes in the past year, an increase of over 30% from the preceding year when 750 hate crimes were reported.