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A thoughtful All Saints Day

LONDON EYE - Stephen Lillie (The Philippine Star) - November 1, 2012 - 12:00am

On All Saints Day, it seems appropriate to start with Saint Pedro Calungsod. I know from the church I attend in Makati how proud the Filipino people are about this young martyr’s canonisation by Pope Benedict. The significance was only added to by the elevation of Archbishop Luis Tagle to the rank of Cardinal — another source of pride for Filipino Catholics, and on which I offer my congratulations.

Pedro Calungsod becomes the Philippines’ second saint, joining Saint Lorenzo Ruiz. It’s interesting that the world’s third most populous Catholic country only has two saints. The UK, which is predominantly not Catholic, has more than 80. One reason for the imbalance is that practice on canonisation has changed over the centuries, including since Christianity came to the Philippines. Many British saints had lived and died long before then.

Another reason is the Reformation. The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales were Catholics put to death during the Tudor and Stuart periods. They were canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. My childhood church is dedicated to St Margaret Clitherow, who was executed in the 16th Century for assisting Catholic priests to escape persecution. Religious intolerance ran two ways though. The Church of England does not have a canonisation process, but commemorates some significant protestants put to death for their beliefs, including William Tyndale, an early translator of the Bible into English. 

While religious intolerance characterised part of our history, religious freedom is now a defining feature of British society. Christianity is the UK‘s dominant religion, but we are home to vibrant communities of Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. A significant part of the population claims no religious belief at all. Roman Catholics are the second largest Christian group after the Anglican communion, their numbers boosted in part by migration from the Philippines and Poland.

During the Pope’s visit to Britain in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron highlighted the role of faith groups in building strong communities. Faith-based charities are active across a wide range of areas, caring for the vulnerable and underprivileged. The churches run many schools. The city of Liverpool is one of the best indicators of this trend. In the 1980s the Catholic Archbishop and the Anglican Bishop overcame historical community tensions to become renowned advocates for Liverpool. They are celebrated in a joint monument not far from one to four other famous sons of the city (The Beatles).

There’s an important international dimension too. Government and Church don’t agree on everything (either in Britain or the Philippines) but they have shared interests tackling domestic and global challenges, including climate change, inter-faith dialogue and poverty reduction. The British Government maintains an active dialogue with the Vatican on such matters. Our Department for International Development has worked with organisations like Caritas Internationalis and Catholic Relief Services in Africa. And the UK champions religious freedom internationally, always speaking out against actions that inflame inter-communal tension. The Philippine government is also a strong exponent internationally of inter-faith dialogue and understanding. 

Despite all the progress, religious intolerance has not been eradicated in our world. It remains an element of ongoing conflict in many places. I take this opportunity to wish a very happy All Saints Day holiday to all STAR readers, of whatever faith. And I pay tribute to all those around the world who are working to promote religious freedom and interfaith understanding. We may have moved on from the 16th century. But this work is as valuable as ever.

(Stephen Lillie is British Ambassador to the Philippines)

25PT ALL SAINTS DAY ARCHBISHOP LUIS TAGLE BRITISH AMBASSADOR BRITISH GOVERNMENT CARITAS INTERNATIONALIS AND CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP AND THE ANGLICAN BISHOP CHURCH OF ENGLAND DURING THE POPE FILIPINO CATHOLICS
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