Sunday, December 23, 2007

welcome: tony blair joins catholic church

Today's news of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's reception into the Catholic Church was notable not for the fact that it happened, but for the fact that he waited so long to make it happen.

After all, Mr. Blair's wife and children are practicing Catholics.  And early on as Prime Minister he used to "participate fully" in the Mass, until Anglican Cardinal Basil Hume put the kibosh on it.  Prior to becoming Prime Minister, he "regularly attended mass at Westminster Cathedral, more often than not by himself, and always took communion. The priests there knew him well. He would normally either attend the 9am mass with his family, or the 5.30pm mass by himself." (source)

I'm glad he waited - as waiting avoided unnecessary complications in Northern Ireland.  

Think about it - when the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta) was negotiated, how much more difficult would it have been had the sitting Prime Minister had to deal with accusations of being a Papist by the Ulster Unionist Party?

(I'm hoping my honorable friend Mr. Fitzgerald will have something to say on this.)

Fast-forward to nine years later - earlier this December - Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are sitting together in the Oval Office with our President, where Mr. McGuinness says "up until the 26 March this year, Ian Paisley and I never had a conversation about anything – not even about the weather – and now we have worked very closely together over the last seven months and there's been no angry words between us. ... This shows we are set for a new course."

Clearly the world has turned upside down, or perhaps more hopefully, right-side up.

The Irish Catholic in me is thankful for all that has happened over these last ten years.  Operation Banner ended just shy of it's 40th anniversary.  The IRA has decommissioned its weapons.  The DUP and Sinn Féin have formed a government.  In a very real way, the Troubles are over.

And I'm thankful for Mr. Blair's decision to put off his decision to join the Catholic Church until he left office, and until it was clear that a lasting peace had taken hold in Ulster.

Perhaps I'm being overly simplistic to consider that the matter of Mr. Blair's faith would have had any impact on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.  But I think it is certainly fair to say that inaction on his part avoided an unnecessary complication.

And so.  Welcome to the team, Mr. Blair.  You'll find we're an odd lot.

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