They’ve dubbed it, sarcastically, ‘Pray to Stay’: that’s the description given to some refugees from the Middle East and North Africa who have converted to Christianity in Britain. The implication is that the 200 or so asylum seekers who have become Christians may have done so for manipulative reasons: so as to have a better chance of staying in Britain.
The tragic and distressing case of the ‘Liverpool bomber’, Emad Al Swealmeen, has brought this issue to light. Mr Swealmeen, whose bomb exploded in a taxi outside Liverpool’s Women Hospital, had converted to Christianity while seeking asylum in England, and had been confirmed at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral in 2017. But it’s believed that subsequently, he reverted to Islam, fuelling the theory that this was a ‘conversion of convenience’; it is supposed that the planned target of his bomb attack was the nearby Anglican Cathedral where he was confirmed.
It has also been revealed that a people-smuggling network has suggested, on social media, that converting to Christianity can be a successful ruse in gaining asylum.
Those who facilitated Mr Swealmeen’s apparent Christianity are now being described as naïve, and ‘holy fools’. Malcolm Hitchcott, an Evangelical Christian, who shared his home with Mr Swealmeen, aged 32, for a time said he had seen the Jordanian as “really blossoming in regards to his Christian faith. He really had a passion about Jesus that I wish many Christians had.” One of the assistant bishops of Liverpool, Revd Cyril Ashton, also defended Mr Swealmeen’s confirmation, saying he would have been thoroughly prepared.
Perhaps these ecclesiastics have been naïve in not probing Emad Al Swealmeen’s motives more forensically – or examining the motives of other such converts. And yet, a cleric cannot, and should not, turn away anyone who seeks to be instructed in the Christian Faith.
In the migrant crisis currently troubling Britain – more than 24,000 migrants and asylum-seekers have crossed the Channel in small boats this year – the Churches, Catholic, Anglican and Evangelical (usually meaning Protestant), have sought to bring succour and support to these desperate people. It is, genuinely, the Christian thing to do.
He really had a passion about Jesus that I wish many Christians had”
Mr Smealmeen’s last act was a terrible one – he was the only fatality, as it happens. But even if the Churches suspect that ‘Pray to Stay’ is being used cynically or instrumentally, they have to continue to reach out to every individual, literally, in good faith.
The campaign against God
Roisín Shortall, Social Democratic TD, is campaigning to take God out of the oath which the President of Ireland traditionally swears, as do the Councillors of State – constitutional advisors to the President – on taking office. She wants a referendum on the issue.
I don’t see why there shouldn’t be an alternative way to take a serious oath of office if that is sought by an individual. Quakers, who are religious believers, do not take oaths and refuse to swear on the Bible in courts of law. So, they have been accorded an alternative – they may affirm according to their conscience.
But since Ms Shortall objects to the mention of Almighty God, wouldn’t it be more honest to start with the preamble to the Irish Constitution, which begins “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority….” – and thereafter alludes to “our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial”?
While she’s at it, why not erase the 1916 Proclamation of the Republic itself, which so famously begins: “Irishmen and Irishwomen – in the name of God and of the dead generations…”?
Ms Shortall and her co-litigants took the presidential oath case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) but their plea was rejected, on grounds that no one had been victimised. But the greater campaign, to cancel God and remove all historical mention of the sacred from the public realm, will no doubt continue.
Are the cast of Mrs Brown’s Boys (aka Brendan O’Carroll) the last Irish characters to refer to the family matriarch as ‘Mammy’? Or, to put it another way – is the ‘Irish Mammy’ now more a figure of legend, satirical or comedic, rather than real?
I now seldom hear Irish people calling their mothers ‘Mammy’. Sometimes ‘Mam’, but more usually now ‘Mum’, occasionally ‘Mom’.
Words change over the years. In my own mother’s generation, they used the more formal ‘Mother’ – and ‘Father’. I’ve also heard the Latin version invoked – ‘Mater’ – although with a touch of irony.
‘Mum’ was seen as British rather than Irish, but today, it seems to have become culturally neutral – it’s certainly more ubiquitous.
At least it’s good news that Stonewall, the influential campaign group which now focuses on transgender rights, has dropped its crusade to replace Mams, Mums, Moms and Mothers with the title of “female parent”.