‘Society and the world need bridge-builders’ – Bishop Paul Colton at St Patrick’s Day Civic Service in Cork

Preaching at the annual Civic Service in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork to mark St Patrick’s Day, the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton, said that ‘more than ever our society and world needs bridge-builders.’  Speaking in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Mick Finn, and the Deputy Mayor of Cork County, Cllr Derry Canty, Councillors, Micheál Martin, T,D,. Leader of the Opposition, members of the Oireachtas, representatives of the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, NGOs, community groups, as well as of the civic and business life of Cork, the Bishop set his remarks against the backdrop of the atrocity committed against Muslims at prayer in mosques in New Zealand, as well as in the context of the continuing disharmony arising from BREXIT, and the recollection of some of the wounds of our history in this period of centenary commemorations.  He said:

More than ever our society and world needs bridge-builders.  The ghastly and horrendous atrocity at the Mosques in New Zealand – and it is important, I believe,  not to talk simply about the horror in New Zealand, but to remember specifically that our Muslim brothers and sisters of faith, were targeted – all of this exemplifies how challenging the tasks of education, nurturing understanding, dialogue, demythologising are, if we are to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems – often ideological, and often infused with misplaced and hijacked religious outlook and zeal: extremism.

The wake of BREXIT, whatever that will be, (for now we truly know that the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is one of the most vacuous of the 21st Century … ), whatever the fallout will be, our bridge-building skills in politics, economics, commerce and at many other levels will be called upon.   The Centenary commemorations of the present period in Ireland also highlight, for many, old wounds. One hundred years is not that long ago. …

As much as ever before, perhaps more than ever, we are called to be bridge-builders, bridging the gaps in the human diversity and differences that, rather than dividing us, should enrich us, nourish us, and make us a better humanity.  Bridge-building is a civic obligation. It is also the calling of all Christians:

The full text of Bishop Colton’s Sermon is as follows:

Sermon preached by the Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton,

Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross

in the Cathedral Church of Saint Fin Barre, Cork

on Saint Patrick’s Day, 2019

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; … so we are ambassadors for Christ’

(2 Corinthians 5.18 and 20b)

As a young child growing up in Douglas, going into St Luke’s Church, we walked passed then, as parishioners still do today, the grave of Sir John Arnott. It was he who, as Mayor of Cork, opened St Patrick’s Bridge on 12th December 1861.  The foundation stone had been laid two years earlier on 10 November 1859.

Yesterday, we returned to that beautifully restored bridge, one of the key symbols of life in our City,  with you Lord Mayor, to watch you put the final piece of stonework in place. And very deftly you did it too!  It was a joy to be part of history, and to join with Bishop Buckley in saying prayers to mark the occasion.

Today’s bridge is, as we know, not the first bridge built at that point over our River Lee.   When the ancient city of Cork, centred on North Main and South Main Streets, expanded in the 18th century, including the development of St Patrick’s Street, the first St Patrick’s Bridge was built.  A foundation stone was laid on 25th July 1788, but six months later on 17th January 1789 a flood washed away the partially completed bridge. It was rebuilt, and was opened on 29th September 1789. That bridge was destroyed, again by a severe weather event in 1853 and was replaced by a temporary timber bridge. It, in turn,  was replaced by what we have and value today.

As an enduring lesson and reminder for us all in life, it’s worth remembering that the building of that first bridge had its objectors and the plans were met by opposition.  Good ideas are often opposed; one of life’s simple lessons.

Our city could not function without bridges.  Thank God for those who built them and who still maintain them.   Yesterday we marked the restoration of an actual bridge, but what about those figurative bridges that need to be built in our community, nation and world, and perhaps even in our own organisations, or within ourselves, in our own lives?

Last September, An Tánaiste Simon Coveney, T.D., addressing the United Nations General Assembly (and this, I emphasise, is not political endorsement from the pulpit, rather it is latching on to a valuable insight), said:

We Irish are by nature bridge-builders and talkers. But we listen too – to all sides – and work to build collective solutions to our global challenges. We are committed to hearing the voices of all of you, to forge consensus and common purpose.

The world does indeed need bridge-builders.  All of those whose names were considered for the new pedestrian bridge – we saw the work under way nearby yesterday –  would have been worthy choices. Mary Elmes, whose name you, as our City Councillors, chose, was a Cork born, aid worker and humanitarian, who in her life’s work was a bridge-builder of the kind the world still needs.  

I know that the parishioners of St Michael’s Church of Ireland Church in Blackrock where she was baptised, are thrilled, as are the staff and students of Ashton School, successor of Rochelle School, where she was educated. That, of course, is parochialism.  It is more important to remember that she saw suffering and reached out to respond in a life of self-sacrifice and self-giving. It is important to remember how closely she worked with the Quakers in her life’s work;  Quakers who exemplify, in so many ways that challenge the rest of us, the bridge-building that our world needs.

Bridge-building is at the heart of the Christian message and the obligation of the Christian – the things of faith we celebrate in our country on this St Patrick’s Day.    Talking about what God has done for us and the work of Jesus Christ, Saint Paul said: ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; … so we are ambassadors for Christ.’

Would you believe that I – some still call me ‘the new Protestant bishop’ – that I will, in 8 days time, mark the 20th anniversary of my ordination and consecration as Bishop and my return to Cork as Bishop.  As the years have trundled along, I have become ever more convinced of the importance of bridge-building. Making connections, and networking, in the modern business sense do not go far enough. What really matters is making connections and entering into conversations and exploratory relationships with people who do not hold the same views as us; who are different from us; who challenge us; who disturb us; who confront us; and, yes, even those who hurt us.  Is not this the way of Christ? It’s one thing to love your neighbour as yourself, but he also said: ‘But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,…’  (Matthew 5.44)

I see all manners of bridge-building in the work that so many of you do, and that we celebrate and pray for in this Civic Service today:  Civic authorities, Oireachtas members, State bodies, professions, those of you who work with people in need, youth organisations, including Scouting, and Guiding.  I see the young people from SHARE – you are bridge-builders. You build bridges year after year between the people of Cork, and the very real needs of older people in our city.  

More than ever our society and world needs bridge-builders.  The ghastly and horrendous atrocity at the Mosques in New Zealand – and it is important, I believe,  not to talk simply about the horror in New Zealand, but to remember specifically that our Muslim brothers and sisters of faith, were targeted – all of this exemplifies how challenging the tasks of education, nurturing understanding, dialogue, demythologizing are, if we are to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems – often ideological, and often infused with misplaced and hijacked religious outlook and zeal: extremism.

Here in UCC, Dr Amanullah de Sondy, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam, has been an exemplary bridge-builder from the moment he arrived in Cork.  Writing this weekend in the wake of Friday’s attacks, he said:

Hatred is often not logical or rational … We need honest and critical discussions on Islamophobia at governmental and grassroots levels as we strengthen our resolve against all forms of hate.  … There is no quick solution to stamping out hatred but we heal and strengthen each other when we are aware of each other’s problems in sympathy and empathy.

Dr de Sondy is a man worth listening to.  He is a bridge-builder.

The New Zealand mosques are an all-too immediate example.  The wake of BREXIT, whatever that will be, (for now we truly know that the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is one of the most vacuous of the 21st Century – no you can’t escape it even today), whatever the fallout will be, our bridge-building skills in politics, economics, commerce and at many other levels will be called upon.   The Centenary commemorations of the present period also highlight, for many, old wounds. One hundred years is not that long ago.

This my friends, is my twentieth anniversary thought for you on this St Patrick’s Day, the day after we reopened St Patrick’s Bridge.  As much as ever before, perhaps more than ever, we are called to be bridge-builders, bridging the gaps in the human diversity and differences that, rather than dividing us, should enrich us, nourish us, and make us a better humanity.  Bridge-building is a civic obligation. It is also the calling of all Christians:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; … so we are ambassadors for Christ’

(2 Corinthians 5.18 and 20b)

Bishop Paul Colton

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