Fr Jim Nolan is a Roan Catholic priest who has sever most of his ministry in the Solomon Islands. I first met him when we were both teachers in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s. Jim, then plain Mr Nolan, taught natural sciences - our curriculum didn't allow for separate specialist teachers of physics, chemistry and biology, though I think his speciality was physics. He is originally from the Republic of Ireland. We have remained in "Christmas card-plus the occasional letter" contact ever since, and yestereday I received this letter from him. I fail to understand why it should take four moths for aan airmail letter from the Pacific to reach the UK -it used to take about a week in PNG days.
I find what Jim writes a beacon of hope in our miserably selfish world
24th March, 2016-07-27
You frequently come to mind when I hear bits and pieces of the British debate on the BBC World Service.
UK out of EU? Donald Trump President of the US? What more could one ask to set the nerves tingling? And each time I hear of bona fide migrants risking everything on a dilapidated boat from Libya or in an overcrowded dinghy from Turkey I recall the Irish who left for the US, England, Australia ,New Zealand - anywhere they could manage – in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’d thought that migration on that scale was over
Now I’m not very proud of the EU response. Only Angela Merkel seemed to rise above the politicking at first, remembering the humanitarian need first. Of course she too has had to backtrack a little. In 1989, with the fall of the Iron Curtain, did I ever think I’d see more iron curtains in Europe, this time to keep people out? Truly we have a long way to go in solidarity. These destroyers in Paris and Brussels and elsewhere destroy even the good will towards the genuine ones. God help all honest-to- God Muslims in the western world these days. God help the genuine refugees from wars and conflicts our policies have often played a part in causing. Surely there are many books to be written in future researching the correlation between the Iraqi and Afghan wars and western policy before and after 9/11 and the rise of al the extreme Islamist groups. (Did you ever read William Dalrymple’s “Return of the King” about Afghanistan in c1930-40?)
And in the midst of all this like an ever running sore is Israel and Palestine, neither side served well by their leadership, but who could endure the daily life of a Gaza resident or a Palestinian West Bank resident? How far back must you go to address the roots of this issue? Surely at least 1948. The Catholic landowners evicted from their lands in the Ulster Plantation after 1690 never ceased to look for their lands back and this was one of the main factors in all the troubles there right up to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 – and beyond: “They haven’t gone away, you know”, to quote one of the most sinister references to the IRA.
And there’s probably an orgy of bloody remembrance going on in Dublin this weekend, although some have begun to realise that the 20 000 Irish dead in WW1 Were fighting for what they believed in too. Maybe there’ll be more political correctness about these commemorations. There was none in 1966.
What is it about us human beings that we’re so tribal and bloody-minded no matter what peaceful and peacemaking religion we belong to? We proclaim the universal dignity of the human being and then do all we can to exclude anybody different from ourselves. The best bit of advice I was given as a deacon was from an extraordinary English parish priest in East Acton in 1979: “Always accept people as you find them, never as you’d like them to be.” Wouldn’t the world be a different place if we could live by that?
The same priest (….) had another remarkable quality. St Aidan’s East Acton was rebuilt after WWII in 1950 and he insisted on the very best original art and was rightly proud that the Daily Telegraph art correspondent c1979 had written that one of the finest works of modern religious art in Europe was Graham Sutherland’s Crucifixion in St Aiden’s East Acton . Like the priest who set up the crypt in St Martin-i-the- Fields for the homeless he believed that only the best was good enough for the poorest. (Have you been to St Martin’s? A very good friend Fr (……) , former Melanesian Brother, is there.