BY Daniel Harkins | December 7 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Scottish Government and MSPs recognise the ‘hugely positive’ contribution of the Catholic community to Scotland

The ‘hugely positive’ contribution of the Catholic community to Scotland was recognised by the Government at the Scottish Parliament last week, as MSPs were given an insight into the good works of the Church.

The Church’s agencies and Scottish bishops were welcomed to the seat of political power as it sought to ‘bridge the chasm of ignorance’ and ‘dispel misunderstandings’ over its role in society.

Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen, who took over as president of the Scottish Bishops’ Conference last month, emphasised at the November 27 event that the Church often ‘enters places no one else goes’ in its efforts to help others.

This was illustrated to the MSPs by representatives from SCIAF, Aid to the Church in Need, Missio Scotland, and Justice and Peace, organisations that help the vulnerable and often operate in areas of conflict.

SCIAF’s director Alistair Dutton was present at the event having recently returned from Syria, where the Church is reaching people in areas inaccessible to governments and aid agencies.

Other groups represented included those who fight for the right to life, Catholic historical associations such as Blairs Museum, St Andrew’s Hospice and SPRED Glasgow.

Charitable groups such as the SSVP stressed their contribution to the social safety net in Scotland, with the organisation named after St Vincent de Paul sharing with MSPs that it had made thousands of home visits to the sick and elderly in 2018.


Mutual help

Bishop Gilbert said during his speech to those gathered— including MSPs from the SNP, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties—that the Church is ‘people helping people, not just from cradle to grave, but from before birth to after death, and everything in between.’

“What we could never do as individuals we can do together,” he said.

“This mutual help embraces the spiritual, liturgical, educational, psychological, social, charitable and more.

“It runs all the way from prayer to food banks, from the kind word to the very hands-on practical, from here to places in the world hit by disaster or oppression.

“It’s often parallel or complementary to the social provision of government and the many agencies of civil society and the good works of our fellow Christians of other denominations.

“At the same time it has its own specific character and can sometimes enter places no one else goes. The word ‘Catholic’ means universal. And I think all of what is on display this evening does reflect a desire to reach out and create unity.”


Year of firsts

The event was hosted by Labour MSP Elaine Smith and organised by director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office Anthony Horan. Mrs Smith arranged for the relics of St Andrew to be on display at the event.

She highlighted that 2018 was a year of firsts for the parliament, having already hosted a first Catholic Mass, an exhibition on Catholic education, and the visit of the Mercy Bus in September.

Mr Horan, who took over as director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office in 2016, said the event was part of a goal of making the Church ‘more visible to parliament and government’ and to ‘reveal to politicians the truth about the Church’s contribution to society.’

“Little is known about the selfless work of thousands of Catholic people every day, both here in Scotland and further afield, as they feed the poor, heal the sick, comfort the lonely and the dying, and speak up for the vulnerable and the defenceless,” he said.

“We believe in the inherent dignity of each and every human being made in the image and likeness of God and, as Bishop Hugh Gilbert said, this dignity extends to before birth as well as after death.

He added: “The Church is not seeking a place of honour in Scottish society. As Archbishop Philip Tartaglia said, we simply want to be free to do what we do best. This is what we ask of parliament and government.

“This event was everything that the Church does best in communities across Scotland, and beyond.

“We hope that parliamentarians now recognise that she has much to contribute and that they see in her a spirit of humility and a desire to protect the dignity of each and every human being.”


‘Positive impact’

The Scottish government was represented at the event by cabinet secretary for communities and local government Aileen Campbell.

She said the Catholic Church ‘has a hugely positive impact on the lives of so many people across Scotland,’ and praised its work in ‘bioethics, combating poverty and education,’ and its ‘missionary work and pastoral support.’

She said that ‘faith groups can reach people and have an ability to support people in a way that government maybe can’t reach’ and that the ‘Church and Faith groups reach out and help the most vulnerable people in society, often opening the doors to those most in need when others are not.’

Conservative MSP Annie Wells said the Church can play a big role in contributing to society and fighting issues such as social isolation and loneliness.

“The churches can play a role in bringing community back,” she said.

“I used to go to guitar lessons on a Sunday and go for tea and coffee afterwards.

“That doesn’t happen as much anymore. I’d like to see that return and churches can play a role in that.

“It’s a shame that we don’t actually use the resources [of the Church as much as we could]. They are under-utilised.”

Labour MSP James Kelly said that Catholics play an important role in their local communities and in government and that there needs to be more work done to give greater recognition to the contributions of the Church to Scottish society.


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