FESTIVAL OF PEOPLES
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 5TH January 2006 6pm
We have come to a new phase in our celebration of the Mystery of Christmas, to the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, the Feast of the revelation of Jesus to all peoples.
The Feast of the Epiphany is a popular one in many senses. I remember with affection, at home as a child, how those curious figures of the three wise men were kept waiting, as it were, for twelve days on the fringes of our crib before they were finally introduced on this day to the newly born Jesus, bringing with them their gifts. In some cultures it is on the Feast of the wise men that children receive their gifts and homes are blessed.
One could talk a great deal about who exactly these wise men were. We know very little beyond the traditions of different places around the world. The essential meaning of the Feast is linked to the fact that these three wise men came from afar and that, whoever they were, they represent the wider human family to which Jesus is revealed. They represent “all nations”; they represent the future generations of people of all races to whom the message of salvation is made known in Jesus.
Jesus came into the World to reveal the loving-kindness of our God, whose light appeared as an invitation to all. The wise men that come to Bethlehem come from afar, from different cultural backgrounds. They represent the fact that the salvation brought by Jesus embraces all as equal members of God’s family; they are witness to the fact that the salvation which appears in Jesus is a salvation meant for all peoples; they represent the fact that Jesus embraces each one of us with the same love and that we as believers of Jesus therefore must treat each human person we encounter as a brother or a sister.
All peoples belong to the Lord and the salvation that appears in Jesus goes beyond any border of culture or ethnic or religious background. From the moment of his birth, Jesus’ message is that the people of all nations and races would come to worship at the Holy Temple which is Christ’s body.
This evening we want to celebrate that mystery in a new way for Dublin, in a changed Dublin where we recognise that our society is changing and the changing nature of what being Irish will mean in the future. Coming together we embrace all those who have come here following a star of hope for a brighter future for themselves and their families and who now enrich our lives and culture with newness and difference. We celebrate their contribution to our nation.
We celebrate the contribution of our new neighbours and friends to our economy, to our society and culture. Immigration is a phenomenon which is here with us to stay. Immigrants make a vital contribution to the growth of our economy. Without them our economy and many of our essential services, especially in healthcare, would not be able to function. Immigrants are not just units of economic policy; they are people, men and women, with families, with needs, with responsibilities, but also with talents and creativity, as well as their own culture and traditions.
Migration, the movement of people, has always been part of human history. It will inevitably be a natural dimension of a globalized world. In difficult times the Irish travelled to every corner of the globe in the harsh search for work and economic survival for themselves and their families. Thank God such harsh emigration from Ireland is a thing of the past. But in the future emigration will still be a part of the Irish experience, as our people go abroad for shorter and longer periods, bringing with them their talents and sharing the experience of our changed society and economic growth with others. A large number of our young people will spend some period of their life working abroad in some way or other.
If migration is managed in an enlightened way it can bring not just economic benefits and a form of technological interchange with other nations, but it can help us to learn about and witness to the mystery of the unity of the human family with all its rich cultural diversity.
The life of migrants however has never been an easy one. Migrants are by the nature of things fragile and vulnerable. Much has been done in Ireland to ensure that immigrants are not subjected to economic exploitation or other unfair disadvantage. The norms that are in place should be pursued vigorously. Abuses should be vigorously prosecuted. Short-term advantage should not be the supreme norm in economic activity. Lower labour costs are indeed a significant factor in giving vitality to an economy, but it is people themselves who are the driving force of a modern, knowledge-based economy and it is above all in enhancing human capacity and fostering partnership that we really enhance sustainable economic growth.
Many of those who have come to our shores live with a certain precariousness about their position. I for one support the suggestion of my Church of Ireland colleague and friend, Archbishop John Neil, that people who have lived peacefully and have made a decent life for themselves and their children in Ireland for a five-year period should now have the opportunity to have their status here regularised. Similar measures have been taken in many European Union States over the years. It would be a recognition of the dignity of those who have established roots in our society and who are contributing to the communities in which they live.
However, in the long term the real solution is not to be found in just regularising situations of the past, but through the elaboration of an open, transparent, modern and enlightened national migration policy. Such a policy should not be reactive or somehow suspicious of people but should from the beginning be welcoming and integrating in the best sense of the word. We should continue to value the contribution of those who will come here to work. Peoples’ dignity is enhanced by the contribution that their work brings to others; but a person’s dignity does not somehow evaporate when he or she loses a particular job. Norms should respect the primacy of the person.
Just as important, we should remember that a migration policy is not only about legislative frameworks or what happens at our borders. The changes in the demographics of Irish society in recent years have been quite unprecedented. It would be foolish to think that the integration of a large number of migrants will be a simple process which will develop by itself. A climate of welcome will require social ownership of the entire process and signs of tension or rejection should be tackled as soon as they appear.
The education system as a whole is playing a vital role in this process of integration. I am aware from my own experience, that the Catholic school system in the Archdiocese of Dublin is doing great work in quietly fostering the fruitful introduction of the children of immigrants into society, as well as the introduction of all Irish children to the new intercultural reality in which they will grow up. These schools need additional support to carry out this work effectively, in some cases urgently. Schools with a large ethnic mix require special support so that each child, and the members of each ethnic group can be assisted to realise their educational potential fully and that no group is left behind or marginalised.
We need to encourage cultural diversity but also to avoid the creation, or simply the emergence in our society, of ghettoes of ethnic groups who are disadvantaged and frustrated. Experience in other countries has shown how such situations can be exploited in a manner which brings benefit to no one.
This evening’s festive Mass is a sign of the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church in Dublin to treasure and celebrate the richness of our new ethnic mixture in Ireland. The Catholic Church here in Dublin welcomes all you, wherever your trace your origins, for whatever length of time you will be here in Dublin, as full members of this local Church. Each one of us is a child of the same God. Each of us is created in God’s image. Each of us is created in God’s image. We are all brothers and sisters, we all need each other, we all can support and strengthen each other.
The Feast of the Epiphany is a special moment in the Christian calendar which stresses the openness of the mission of Jesus towards all. It stresses that no one group, whether based on class or ethnic origin or cultural affinity can claim monopoly of the goods of God’s creation or privilege in social life. The gifts of creation are for the good of all.
I would hope that each of us can go away from this celebration rejoicing in our individuality and difference. Let me recall the beautiful words of Pope Benedict XVI at his inaugural Mass: “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”. May that be the spirit which inspires our interaction with each other this evening and in the Ireland of the future.