Gaining a sense of solidarity

I spent a lovely couple of days last week in Killarney, where I was asked to address the priests, and a couple of bishops, in the Diocese of Kerry. Kerry people are always welcoming and Killarney itself really does live up to its reputation of outstanding beauty, so it was a pleasing interlude indeed.

Sometimes 'meetings' are disparaged as a waste of time and resources, but it can be very heartening for people to get together, share their experiences and find a sense of solidarity.

And I think priests nowadays can often feel isolated in their parish lives. Over the Christmas period they may see full churches, and then, they wonít see parishioners again until there is a funeral or a First Communion.

There they are, preaching the Gospel in season and out of it, and often, in modern Ireland, in a climate of hostility. That, too, can be tough and isolating.

But there is surely a sense of hope and renewal with the advent of Pope Francis, who, I think particularly appeals to the Irish tradition of monasticism, and service to the poor.  It's remarkable the difference Francis seems to have made, already, for those at the coal face.


Trading with unpleasant regimes

Trade has to be conducted with all kinds of unattractive regimes: and it has often been argued that it is better to trade with unpleasant regimes than to cut them off from the community of nations.

During the apartheid years in South Africa there was a lively debate about this. Some people opposed trading with South Africa as a racist regime – famously, the workers at Dublin’s Dunnes Stores made a stand about this. Others, including anti-apartheid activists such as Sir Harry Oppenheimer, argued that trade is a better agency of change than boycott.

And possibly the South African regime was more distressed about being made a pariah in the sports field, than they were fussed about trade.

So, should Ireland do business with countries such as Saudi Arabia, China, and North Korea all of which stand accused of human rights abuses? There is an argument for saying that we will have more influence with these societies if we do trade with them, rather than if we don’t.

Yet I found the pictures of Enda Kenny with the Saudi Princes somehow distasteful. There was something so deferential in his body language that the word ‘fawning’ came to mind, and Michael Kelly, editor of this newspaper, delivered a just reprimand.

I am not sure if Taoiseach Kenny knows, or indeed whether he cares, that Saudi Arabia is not merely accused of human rights abuses, but that it funds the horrible persecution of Christians throughout the biblical lands. Saudi resources are behind the bombing and burning of churches, and the expulsion of Christians from their ancient homelands.

Enda will attack the Vatican when he feels fired up to do so. But next to the power and financial clout of the Saudis, the Vatican is an easy target indeed.


McAleese’s intemperate language

Former President Mary McAleese has embarked on a campaign to end what she sees as “homophobia” in the Catholic Church.

And I agree with her that some of the language used by former Pope Benedict was not kind. Words like “disordered” are also archaic in an era when we are discovering much more about genetic endowment. I remember an older Irishwoman saying, very charitably, when President Robinson invited groups of gays to Áras an Uactárain: “Sure, that’s the way God made them, isn’t it?”

Yet some of Mrs McAleese’s own language is intemperate. She instructs former Cardinal Keith O’Brien to join her crusade to support gay people. But that’s his call, not hers.

And comparing homophobia with anti-Semitism is incongruous, particularly since orthodox Judaism has never accepted same-sex couples on an equal basis with marriage between a man and a woman. If she is, truly, the biblical scholar she claims to be, she ought to know something about Old Testament values.


The real thing

For some time now, I have been assured of the medicinal properties of Manuka honey. It’s a special honey which comes from the manuka tree in New Zealand, and is said to have anti-bacterial properties.

Honey was certainly used throughout the ages for the healing of wounds and the promotion of well-being, and monasteries often produced honey as part of their pharmacological repertoire. Anything that has a long tradition of human use usually has something to recommend it.

But now we find that rather a lot of honey marked ‘Manuka’ is actually fake. It can’t be the real thing if a jar of it is priced under, say, about €10.

Still, maybe there’s a psychological advantage in thinking the cut-price ‘manuka’ is the real thing.