|Baroness Warsi - a Muslim defender|
of Christian Europe's heritage of faith
(source: Wikimedia -
published under a open govt licence)
Led by the Muslim Cabinet Minister without Portfolio, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the ministerial group will discuss many issues with the Pope and his Curial officials, ranging from climate change and arms proliferation to religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue. It also seems that a possible Papal visit to Northern Ireland may be on the cards when the Pope's meets with another member of the UK delegation, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Owen Patterson. Already, some are speculating Pope Benedict XVI may wish to cross the border into Northern Ireland if he does decide to visit Dublin in the next few months (more on that here).
According to UTV News, the Primate of All Ireland and the Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Seán Brady, has speculated that the inclusion of Owen Paterson in the delegation is noteworthy. The same news channel went on to quote the Deputy Editor of the Irish Catholic, Michael Kelly, who also believes that the UK Government's ministerial outing to Rome signifies the possibility of a Papal visit both to Northern Ireland as well as the Replublic of Ireland.
Michael Kelly is reported to have told UTV that: "Mr Paterson is quite different from the other [ministers], one wouldn't imagine that he would be conventionally linked to any talks that would be going on between the British government and the Vatican so I think this is a clear indication that the Vatican want to talk, obviously about what is going on in the peace process, the developments that have been going on there." Kelly also added: "But obviously in the context of a twenty minute visit, they are going to be discussing the possibility of the Pope visiting Northern Ireland, that's very much part of the Vatican agenda."
The group of UK delegates from the British Government will also include the openly homosexual Alan Duncan, who is the Minister for International Development. Another politician known for supporting homosexual causes, Jeremy Hunt, who is the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, will also be meeting the Holy Father during the next two days. The Minster of State for Energy and Climate Change, Greg Barker, will also join the delegation. Barker is alleged to have told an audience at the University of South Carolina last year that the current British Government is "making cuts that Margaret Thatcher, back in the 1980s, could only have dreamed of."
Although man known for supporting "gay rights" is Terry Sanderson, president of the rather eccentric National Secular Society. Although he has already criticised the British Government's desire to maintain links with the Holy See ("the last theocracy in Europe" as he calls it), the UK delegation's leader spoke out today in defence of faith communities and against the bigoted form of militant secularism that seems to be on the rise in the West. Despite the protestations of fringe atheists, then, it seems safe to say that the British Government is committed to working with the Catholic Church for the common good of all.
Writing in today's Telegraph, Baroness Warsi said: "I profoundly believe that faith has a vital and important role to play in modern society. But mistakenly, faith has been neglected, undermined – and yes, even attacked – by governments in recent years." In her article, she also mentions that the Pope had urged her to continue in her efforts to confront secularism, saying: "[the] Holy Father ... told me [in 2010] that he had heard what I had been saying and urged me to carry on making my case robustly. So today, I am taking a renewed message to the Vatican City; one which I want to ring out beyond the Vatican walls."
In her article, which is well worth reading, the Muslim peer also wrote: "I will be arguing that to create a more just society, people need to feel stronger in their religious identities and more confident in their creeds. In practice this means individuals not diluting their faiths and nations not denying their religious heritages." Using words that many would dearly love to hear from the lips of our Catholic leaders, Warsi bravely went on to say: "I will be arguing for Europe to become more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity. The point is this: the societies we live in, the cultures we have created, the values we hold and the things we fight for all stem from centuries of discussion, dissent and belief in Christianity."
It comes to something when a Muslim politician seems to care more for Europe's Christian heritage than many of our own bishops. I am sure that many clerics, Catholic or Protestant, would also like to speak up in defence of Christianity, but they often seem too scared to do so. In our increasingly intolerant secular culture, even Church leaders can sometime be too frightened to speak the truth lest they cause "offence". It is so refreshing, then, to see that a Muslim woman like Warsi - who is a politician that I do not always see eye-to-eye with - actually has the guts to point out that the rise of militant secularism within European societies is "at its core and in its instincts...deeply intolerant."
Baroness Warsi definitely seems to be in fundamental agreement with the Pope when it comes to the dangers of relativism and secularism. However, I don't expect that most of those other politicians who will be travelling with Warsi to the Vatican will share her views or ideological drive when it comes to respecting faith in public life. But I do sometimes wonder if some of our bishops - who should be singing from the same hymn-sheet as the Holy Father - will ever find the guts to speak up for truth with the same passion and concern as the current British Cabinet Minister without Portfolio.
In the reformed, or post-Conciliar, General Roman Calendar, today happens to be the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who were declared co-patrons of Europe by Pope John Paul II in 1980. May their prayers help bring about the conversion of Europe - that all men and women may know that true liberation which comes only through faith in Jesus Christ!