Cardinal’s plea: Don’t play on fear

Cardinal Vincent Nichols speaks at St Brigids in south Belfast

Cardinal Vincent Nichols speaks at St Brigids in south Belfast

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We will be bombarded with speeches and statements of all kinds in the papers and on social media between now and polling day and one can only hope that politicians will choose their words carefully and thus make it less difficult than it might otherwise be to negotiate a deal after the election and see off the spectre of direct rule.

I was at an event in my local parish church, St Brigid’s in south Belfast, on Tuesday night when a distinguished visitor from England offered some advice that our politicians might heed.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, foremost leader of the Roman Catholic Church in these islands, archbishop of Westminster and president of the Bishops Conference in England and Wales, speaks at St Brigids in south Belfast as he delivers the annual St Brigids Lecture. Picture by Martin O'Brien

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, foremost leader of the Roman Catholic Church in these islands, archbishop of Westminster and president of the Bishops Conference in England and Wales, speaks at St Brigids in south Belfast as he delivers the annual St Brigids Lecture. Picture by Martin O'Brien

Cardinal Vincent Nichols is the foremost leader of the Roman Catholic Church in these islands, archbishop of Westminster and president of the Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales.

He was here to deliver the annual St Brigid’s Lecture and his topic was Pope Francis’s Jubilee of Mercy.

I thought the cardinal gave a particularly memorable and appropriate response when Baroness Nuala O’Loan, in the question and answer session, asked him if he had any words to offer politicians or voters at this time.

I took care to record the cardinal’s reply: “There is only one thing really that I like to say to politicians and it is this.

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“I think to play on fear, to foster fear, to appeal to fear as a political programme is a real betrayal of what politics should be about.”

He added: “We see a lot of it [playing to fear] at the moment.

“I think the challenge to political leaders is to appeal not to what is most fearful or worst in people but to appeal to what is best in people.”

The world, and not just Northern Ireland, would be so different if people in power and aspiring to power heeded those words and always appealed to the best in people.

Martin O’Brien, Belfast BT9