President addresses freedom of religion

FEW FAITH systems come to the table of inter-religious debate with clean hands, unsullied by aggressive proselytism or contempt for another faith, said President Mary McAleese.

The President made her remarks in an address last night at the Religious Freedom, East and West conference in the Irish Pontifical College, Rome.

Yesterday’s conference was held in memory of Fr Ragheed Ganni, an Iraqi Chaldean Catholic who was shot and killed on the steps of his church in the northern Iraq town of Mosur in June 2007, just minutes after celebrating Mass. Fr Ganni (34), who studied for seven years at the Irish college, had insisted on remaining in Iraq despite threats on his life.

Pointing out that Fr Ganni’s Chaldean community has a history in the Middle East “that stretches back to the time of the Apostles”, Mrs McAleese expressed the hope that Christians in the Middle East will soon “be allowed to resume living in peace with their Muslim neighbours as they have done for centuries”.

She suggested the venue for yesterday’s conference was especially fitting since the Irish college itself was founded at a time of religious persecution in Ireland.

For much of its history, the Irish college was home to students “who faced danger and death from religious-based, anti-Catholic persecution in reformation and counter-reformation Ireland”.

However, despite “past political and religious conflicts”, modern Ireland has emerged as “a country, a family, which is at once Catholic, Protestant, agnostic, atheist, Islamic, Jewish”. Modern Ireland has become a “welcoming homeland for people of all faiths and none”, a country which [finally] has learned to honour the promise of the 1916 Proclamation to cherish equally all the children of the nation.

The President added: “All conflict is about refusal to accept difference. The misery of that reality was visited on generations in Ireland and, in particular, Northern Ireland where the demonisation of neighbour by neighbour along sectarian lines was underpinned by a culture of non-acceptance of each other’s right to believe and behave differently . . .”