Atheist John Halligans sermon in a Brazilian church I felt it was

first_img Share Tweet Email15 By John Halligan http://jrnl.ie/3304857 John Halligan 305 Views Short URL 37 Comments center_img Friday 24 Mar 2017, 7:30 PM Atheist John Halligan’s sermon in a Brazilian church: ‘I felt it was the respectful thing to do’ This was the first ever occasion of a non-believing Irish government minister delivering the weekly homily to Brazilian parishioners, writes John Halligan. Mar 24th 2017, 7:30 PM During his recent St Patrick’s Day trade, tourism and education mission to Brazil, Minister of State for Training, Skills and Innovation John Halligan TD spent several hours touring Vila Prudente, São Paulo’s oldest and largest favela. His guide was Holy Ghost missionary Fr Patrick Clarke, who has worked with local street children for over 40 years.Such was the rapport between the two men that Minister Halligan – who is a committed atheist – agreed to return to the St Joseph the Worker Pastoral Area the following Sunday for mass, where there arose (possibly) the first ever occasion of a non-believing Irish government minister delivering the weekly homily to its Brazilian parishioners. This is his sermon.AS A RULE I don’t attend church, except as a mark of respect for funerals. And I don’t pray, not ever.I acknowledge other people’s right to do so, it’s just not for me. But Fr Pat had given me the best part of a day showing me around the neighbourhood and, when he asked me to return for mass, I felt it was the respectful thing to do.As someone who grew up in conservative Catholic Ireland, the mass itself was like nothing I’d experienced before. It was very animated, tactile and all about the family. The children sat on the altar, mothers with babies stood on the altar and there were lots of occasions where people held hands and sang.Being put on the spotDuring my earlier visit to the slums I had noticed a lot of young boys playing, or trying to play, with punctured footballs. So I brought along five footballs to the mass. The kids brought these up as an offering and placed them on the altar. And I thought that was where my contribution would end. Apparently not.After the Gospel, Fr Pat asked the parishioners whether they’d ever seen a Brazilian government minister in their church, to which they all replied “No”. Then he told them that an Irish government minister was present today and asked the congregation to welcome me.But then he really put me on the spot. He strolled down the aisle with the microphone and said he’d like me to deliver the sermon. I had no idea he was going to do it and I nearly died with the fright. But the man had been so welcoming to me, so I certainly wasn’t going to offend him or his parishioners.An atheist pays tribute Minister Halligan with Fr Pat Clarke and Irish ambassador Brian Glynn.He knew I was an atheist (I still am, by the way). His attitude towards people is that even non-believers can be spiritual and it is the spiritual side of people that does good in the world. So up I got, onto the altar and, with the help of an interpreter, I did something I never in my life thought I’d do – I delivered a homily. Well, of sorts.Considering my own lack of faith, a speech on the bible was out of the question. The slums that these people call home are ruled by rival gangs, which made politics a no-go area as well.So instead I paid tribute to the brave and strong men and women working with the community and complimented the sincerity and faith of these priests and nuns because, despite my own humanist views, you could not but be impressed at their unconquerable faith in the face of such disadvantage and poverty.A brutal world controlled by gangsI told them how inspired I was by the transformational impact of the work being done by Fr Pat and his fellow Holy Ghost missionary, Fr Mick Foody from Sligo, in the São Paulo favelas.I described how, earlier in the week, I’d walked through the streets with them, which was quite an intimidating experience. The tension was quite palpable. This is a world controlled by gangs and they make no secret about it when a stranger comes into their midst.Fr Pat had told me that crossing the street into an area controlled by another gang is enough to get you killed. Yet, such is the respect he has earned in this community, he is able to walk freely along the narrow streets and is on first name terms with almost everyone he meets.It was a humbling experience to witness the esteem in which the Irish missionaries are held, at all levels. Fr Pat was declared a Freeman of the City of São Paulo in 2008 for his work with the poor, yet I got the sense that the respect he’s built up amongst his poverty-stricken parishioners means far more to him.It struck me as a stark contrast to the complete diminishing of respect for so many clergy back home.After the mass he showed me his home, a tiny, humble abode just minutes from the heart of the slums that has, he told me, never once been targeted in his 40 years in the country. Minister Halligan playing football with some of Sao Paulo’s local children.Respect locals have for Irish missionariesThese people come from nothing, they have nothing and yet our Irish missionaries have worked with them to build a church, a community and cultural centre, a holiday camp for children and an underground sewage system, all with minimal resources. They’d come to mass that morning from makeshift huts. I’d seen them earlier in the week, flung together with pieces of wood and cardboard, yet the pride they have in their church is immense.The church and centre are decorated by the kids, who are fed there every day. The centre runs a crèche and there are all sorts of classes. Fr Pat’s message to me, as to every person he comes into contact with, is that there is a place for everyone there. And his reason for devoting his life to such a worthy cause? If he doesn’t speak up for these kids, who else will?There are a great many modern-day scandals associated with the Irish Catholic clergy, of whom I have often been a harsh critic. In the face of these, the great work being done by Irish missionaries like Fr Pat Clarke shines like a beacon.John Halligan TD is Minister of State for Training, Skills and Innovation.Opinion: ‘A political solution to the Syrian war is very unlikely now’>Alan Kelly: ‘Craft beer is booming but licensing regulations are harming business’> Tweet thisShare on FacebookEmail this articlelast_img read more