Thursday, January 25, 2007

Holocaust remembered

This lunchtime I attended the seventh annual Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony hosted by Cardiff's Lord Mayor in the majestic Edwardian baroque banqueting hall. There were about 400 hundred people there,including the Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff and the Assistant Bishop of Llandaff, not to mention local Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish dignatories. The County Youth Choir sang, Christian, Muslim and Jewish students read texts witnessing to the Jewish Holocaust, but the ceremonial, the prayers and declarations embraced people and situations of every faith and culture who had been victims of genocidal politics in the twentieth century. A passage from Isaiah was read by Rodney Berman, current leader of the Council, wearing a yarmulkah, followed by Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Speaker of the Senedd, reading from 1 Corinthians 13, which he read at a wedding in St John's back in December. Truly a piece for all seasons. The act of dedication was in the form of a poem written by the Welsh National Poet Gwyneth Lewis for last year's commemoration.

The event was conducted by my parochial neighbour and colleague Fr Stewart Lisk, who is entering his tenth year as what used to be called 'Mayor's Chaplain', helping the County's protocol officers to devise suitable solemnities for large public events during the year. He is a dignified and diplomatic animateur of such events, and I know from the outcome just how much painstaking work must go into selecting texts acceptable to people of different religious faiths, and also to those who are there on sufferance, looking for the slightest excuse to criticise such offerings as contentious and divisive, in order to justify the abolition of such events.

Nevertheless there is lots of good-will between middle of the road practitioners of religious faith, and not a little shared disdain for those who want to sideline any kind of religious element from the public social agenda in pursuit of some theory of social cohesion,or political correctness.

However,it's not such a bad thing that religions and religious groups should get challenged and criticised, lest they become complacent and arrogant, when it is clear they enjoy the tolerance, but not necessarily the support of the majority. In the face of the phenomena of racism,prejudice and genocidal behaviour, religious communities are still obliged to earn the right to speak of God and higher moral values in a world bewildered and impotent in the face of its capacity for violence, cruelty and indifference.

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