With the coming of Spring, we can certainly spot green shoots in nature – even if some commentators still dispute the arrival of those long-awaited Green Shoots of economic recovery!

Thursday, 21 February 2013
8:00 AM GMT

With the coming of Spring, we can certainly spot green shoots in Nature – even if some commentators still dispute the arrival of those long-awaited Green Shoots of economic recovery! But if our ‘Winter’ of Recession is judged to be anywhere near ending, then now is the time for us to come up with a blueprint of just what kind of new Ireland we really want. Now is the time to renew our vision for the future. And – for those of us preparing over these weeks of Lent for an uplift of spirit at Easter – there is no better time to look at the shape of the future, than during this present ‘season of renewal’.

The new Bishop Of Cloyne, Dr. William Crean, captured the mood well when he asked whether “we can rebuild the nation for a new generation?” (“Can we bring with us the vigour and truth of the Gospel as we together”  take up this task?)

The bishop was well aware that as a church we have to set our own house in order first. On the occasion of his Ordination in Cobh Cathedral on January 26, he repeated what he had said on his appointment: “Today I renew my commitment to continue the work of healing and reconciliation that is do necessary for all”. In order to move towards Hope, our people have first to work through the hurts inflicted in the past – by church personnel who either abused those committed to their care, or who deliberately failed to curb the abuse.


Turning to the recent years of austerity in Ireland, the bishop continued: “Few doubt that there is an air of desolation across the land. So much and so many things combine  to dampen if not indeed crush the spirits of many. The discipline and demands of the Troika weigh heavily on us. Jesus was critical of those who placed excessive burdens on people’s shoulders. Is it not time that major financial institutions do more of the heavy lifting? – the people have done their share … Anxiety and depression reign in the hearts of so many”.

In describing any particular era, two types of history can be used: One type repeats the headlines and the hype; but there is also a history narrated from the ‘underside’ – from the people at the bottom of the social pile. As a parish priest, the new bishop would have been clued-in to this. And, at his appointment, he supplied evidence from a survey taken for teachers : He spoke about children coming to school hungry. Actual hunger now blights the land of the one-time Celtic Tiger.


History from the ‘underside’ also attempts to register the views of those who no longer have a say – like our unemployed young people who have had to emigrate. Or like those who may be too ashamed to have their say : our people, for example – sometimes estimated in the hundreds of thousands – aged between 20 and 40 who still live under their parents’ roof (largely because they cannot afford to move out). If our population is to advance towards Hope, we have to acknowledge the predicaments of all such groupings: those that their family could not afford to feed – and those who, once they have paid for food (or have been fed), have no funds left.

As Bishop Crean looked towards the future – “we journey in hope and with resilience” – the hope which he pointed to, was to be realistic. He used the terms “leaven” and “dialogue”. The “leaven” was once the raising-agent in the flour which, during baking, performed its function invisible and gradually. And that is how Jesus said that his message and values were to take effect in the world – not instantly. By the term “dialogue”, the bishop could possibly be taken to mean that all this is to happen through the build-up of trust between ordinary people ‘at ground level’.

There has to be a ‘Hope Process’, it seems to me – just as, in the North, there was  Peace Process. And any Hope Process is going to take time – much of it occurring at grass-roots level.

Church members will have their special part to play. A few decades ago, you often heard the leaders of the Northern churches accused of holding back the process of reconciliation between the denominations. But now we hear them praised for being agents of reconciliation at local level : these leaders are acknowledged by their accusers to have redeemed themselves. History from the ‘underside’ can register positive developments also.

Of course, even when people have been freed from hurt and from hunger, there will remain the ‘hungers of the heart’. And people will still always need to turn to the message and values of Jesus – for sustenance for the spirit.

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