Grace, hope and forgiveness

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing
Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing

The Pope’s visit to Ireland was centred on the World Meeting of Families, a gathering every three years of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is organised by the new department for the laity, family and life. The purposes are to promote the pastoral care of families, to protect their rights and dignity and to help them fulfil their duties.

Decades back, I turned the British Committee of the International Union of Family Organisations, quite a mouthful, into Family Forum.

A group of charities considered together how to build the confidence and competence of people who care for each other by family or household links of chance (family) and choice (marriage, partnership and in other ways).

The legacy of sexual and other abuse, and the significant social changes in Ireland, understandably distracted attention from the focus on families and their functioning. In church and chapel, in mosque and temple and synagogue and meeting room, homilies are frequently about helping those who are the primary carers for the young, the elderly and those with special needs. This care is mostly at home; it also happens in schools, in places of faith and of community.

This weekend, I joined the families and individuals at the East Preston Food Festival on Saturday on the green before celebrating the Bank Holiday at the Rotary Carnival on the Steyne in Worthing. Each person there had gained by upbringing and care: everyone had the opportunity to contribute to the needs of others.

I like to think that children and grandchildren can learn from the mistakes of their parents and their parents’ parents. Unlike Philip Larkin’s line that our parents fill us with their faults and add some extra just for us, I believe we can take inspiration, absorbing the great things about our parents and adopting some of our own.

The Vatican correspondent at the Croke Park Dublin stadium Festival of Families reported a local priest happily noting that the Irish word for church means ‘house of the people’, speaking about the acceptance of everyone into the Church. When we say ‘you are welcome here’, we need to mean it. Vatican News carries the Pope’s summary on Wednesday.

A year ago, our much-loved friend Cormac Murphy-O’Connor died shortly after his 86th birthday, some years after retiring.

Over 18 years ago when it was rumoured that he would be translated from Arundel to Westminster Cathedral, I telephoned him early, after his morning prayers, to offer him consolation whether the initial report was true or false.

By my side is his charming memoirs ‘An English Spring’. I commend them and I honour him for the deep simplicity of his life and service. He had a devoted following within and outside his communion.

Let us follow his example of reflecting frankly on mistakes, how to react to crisis and how to recognise the anguish suffered by the victims of abuse. Above all, let us try to share his honest engaged passionate commitment to the family and to the community and to the search for unity. He reflects the humility, warmth and charm of a well-loved church leader.

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