Sunday, 31 January 2010
Father Ignatius and politics.
There’s always a fine line, almost invisible, where a priest should get involved in politics or stand back and keep his nose out.
Father Ignatius was well aware of that, especially in this desolate town which had suffered more than most in the economic downturn, with unemployment higher than the national average and poverty affecting a large number of the population harsher than ever before.
The situation was exacerbated by the news of the closure of a local factory employing many of his parishioners. The workers and their families were devastated. The effects of the dismissals of employees would be felt by the whole local economy as their spending power is reduced. The unions were up in arms and encouraged strikes; which of course would solve nothing in the long run. Parishioners turned to Father Ignatius, perhaps hoping for Divine intervention and some sort of miracle to save their jobs.
Father Ignatius decided to address the matter head on, even though he risked being accused of playing politics. He stood up at the lectern on Sunday and said:
“I have often wondered whether as a priest I am a man of God, serving Him on this earth, or whether I am a man of politics, serving my community.
“Or perhaps a bit of both.
“I am well aware of the difficulties facing many of you by the factory closure announced this week. I know full well the extent of hardship which this community has undergone in the past few years.
“One of you said to me the other day that life is a series of failures punctuated by disappointments.
“I repeat … a series of failures punctuated by disappointments.
“Is this what God wants for you?
“Does He want to see you struggle and fail and to endure life every inch of the way until death relieves you of your suffering?
“I think not.
“God wants us to enjoy life as best we can; as simply we can … even in our poverty, our ill-health, or old age … God wants us to rejoice and find a glimmer of hope in every situation … for without hope there is nothing.
“I have asked myself what God wants me to do in this situation. Am I to get involved in politics and speak out about decisions taken by those in authority? Or should I keep quiet and try to help you as best I can on an individual basis?
“Jesus faced a similar dilemma when asked about paying taxes. He did not hesitate to state clearly His opinions on the matter. Christ lived in very political times. His country was occupied by the Romans. Several people saw Him as a new ruler come to overthrow their oppressors. The Pharisees and Sadducees saw Him as a threat to their positions and authority. Yet, He was not afraid to speak out, especially when He saw wrongdoings and evil in society.
“I believe that today there are times when a priest must speak out when he sees something wrong contradicting God’s Word and His teachings. Like abortion for instance and Government’s legislation on the matter.
“It would be remiss in such situations for a priest to say nothing and look the other way.
“I believe the financial situation we are all facing has now gone beyond party politics. There seems to be no right or wrong answer in sight, at least not to me, a simpleton in these matters.
“The factory closure will affect many of you and I cannot add much to the debate by pious statements and opinions. But at the very least, I offer my services in any way possible … perhaps as a start, by calling a meeting here at the church center on Monday for all parishioners affected … let us discuss calmly the various issues facing us and see whether there’s anything we can do …”
And that’s precisely what happened. The meeting clarified the extent of the problem. Father Ignatius led a small team of employees to seek a solution and, to cut a long story short, together with his contacts in town with several banks, he managed to put together an employee-led buy-out by some workers backed by financial loans from the banks.
The factory was saved, some but not all jobs were saved, and the newly born business took the first faltering steps towards a promising future.
Father Ignatius’ tentative steps in getting involved in local politics were rewarded with success; small as it may be. Not by anything he had done, but by his unfailing Faith that he would be led by the Holy Spirit to say and do what is right.