On July 1st, the People's Republic of China placed a full-page advertisement in this newspaper. The text was written by the Chinese ambassador to Ireland, He Xiangdong, to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China.
The publication attracted criticism, as there were those who felt it was wrong for a country with a reputation such as China’s to be given a prominent space in a national newspaper.
Opinions on this differ but I prefer to think that when the ambassador of a country with which we have diplomatic relations speaks to us, we are mature enough to make up our own minds to accept or reject what is said.
Early in his message the ambassador suggests that the Chinese government has the solid support of the Chinese people.
The word people plays a central role in the vocabulary of all politicians. Politicians like to show that they are representing the people. Whether in democracies or in tyrannies, that word people is writ large.
In tomorrow’s Gospel, St Mark tells the reader how Jesus takes pity on the large crowds “because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length”. (Mark 6: 34).
Indeed, in the first reading in tomorrow's liturgy the prophet Jeremiah quotes the Lord, the God of Israel, as saying: "Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered." (Jeremiah 23: 1)
There we have it again, the importance of caring for people.
In the current issue of Reality, a magazine published by the Irish Redemptorists, the editorial is titled "God's silence and the death of vocations". The author, Fr Gerard Moloney, writes about vocations to the priesthood and religious life. In conclusion, he writes: "We need to imagine a radical new way of being church in the 21st century. Even though it may seem like we are peering through a glass darkly, we need to trust that God will show us a way forward."
I find it an inspiring piece of writing, which is very welcome, cutting as it does through much of the tired “pieties” I have come to expect from so much of the religious press.
Fr Moloney suggests we trust in God. I suggest we should also trust far more in people. What has happened to the impetus of the Second Vatican Council, that threw open the doors and windows to make the church an open and inclusive community, where the voices of more and more people could be heard and indeed respected too?
Many Christian churches are in meltdown and instead of listening and respecting the views of all those who have been hurt and alienated, there is this constant pull to return to old ways that have no contemporary meaning for so many good and noble people.
Any time I pick up the New Testament I am struck with the recurring theme of how Jesus interacts with people. It’s his mission to serve and heal the people, and that involves listening to them too. It’s perfectly clear that he respects and cherishes them. He is a true servant of the people. Jesus is the servant of the people because he is primarily the servant of God. It was his commitment to God that drove him to be the servant of the people.
What have we done? We have turned our faith upside down by placing far too much importance on those who serve. There is too much reverence shown to office holders, be they political, titled or ecclesiastical.
Now, as never before, there is a serious need for a root and branch change in a church that has for far too long given an impression of being driven by rank and entitlement. This has to go. Because if it doesn’t, the church will become totally irrelevant to the people it claims to serve.