Tuesday, November 25, 2008

And who is my neighbour?

I couldn’t resist. I heard on the news that the membership list of the British National Party had been leaked onto the Internet. I had to look. I did about five minutes of googling, and then, like many others, downloaded the complete list of 12,000 names and addresses.

Well the excitement, if there was any, soon wore off. I never found the telephone directory a particularly gripping read, and this list was hardly more interesting. However, I did discover one member of the BNP who lives just across the road from our Church here in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.

Now, I have little time for any group which believes that the multicultural nature of Britain is a bad thing.

Politics aside, this is just goes against the grain of what it means to be a Catholic Christian. We are a multi-cultural Church. Our founder was a middle Eastern Jew, who lived in an occupied land. From the very beginning, the Church numbered many nations and languages in its membership. Our leader today is a German who lives in Rome. Most of our members live in the developing world, especially Latin America and Africa. In North Staffordshire, we have priests with English, Irish, Italian, Polish, Indian, Vietnamese and African backgrounds. Masses are celebrated regularly in English and also in Polish, Shona, Malayalam, Ukrainian and – of course – Latin. Here in Hanley, on Easter Day we wished one another a happy Easter in our own languages: we found 17 (seventeen) spoken by our congregation.

So for us, whatever problems there may be (and I don’t wish to ignore them) the diversity of our society is something to celebrate and cherish, not to fear or destroy.

But even so, the list did make think. In this extraordinary society, where we can communicate instantly with friends and family and those on the other side of the world , we may hardly know our neighbours. And as Jesus was asked – who is my neighbour?

It is too easy to fear, ignore, reject or despise those who are different from us, who have different opinions from us, or who even share different tastes from us.

Who is my neighbour? My neighbours are the Czech girl who is struggling to fund a funeral for her boyfriend who died suddenly, the Eritrean woman who will not give up in trying to get a visa so that she can marry her fiance in America, the Nigerian mother who is arranging baptism for her child in London where other members of the family live, the family from Etruria (in the parish), sat around the bedside of their father in the MacMillan hospice, the Zimabwean refugees who I celebrate Mass for once a month, the many who come daily to Sacred Heart to confess their sins, sharing sorrows and joys, the Ukrainian community, now mostly elderly, who settled here after the War, the many Filippinos who work in nursing homes and hospitals and contribute wonderful food for parish parties, the good hardworking and faithful parish ladies, Potteries born and bred, who have always lived near the Church and who organise the Jumble Sales once a fortnight and many more parish activities, the numerous Italians, who have been here for decades, and the Eastern Europeans, who have arrived fairly recently, the customers of the Coachmakers, where I can be spotted far too often, and of course the people in streets around: Muslims, Australians, ... and even a member of the BNP.

What variety. What diversity. All these are my neighbours. And that, I think,  is a good thing.

(to be published in the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel November 26th 2008)

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