Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Pope and Me

Monday Sep 20 12:08:00 BST 2010
The roads were empty of traffic but filled with police personnel. On reaching the control barriers I flashed my invitation and passport and was given access to Westminster Palace. I click clacked my way past the crowds wondering if they were wondering who on earth I was.

Westminster Hall is awesome. Really, this is an appropriate time for an overused word. Towering ceilings supported by ancient oak trusses and a thousand years of history to wade through to take ones plush seat.

That morning on the news I’d heard the Pope would be addressing ‘Members of Parliament and Civic Leaders’ at Westminster Hall. Knowing I certainly wasn’t an MP it’s weird to find myself in the category of ‘civic leader’. It’s made me curious about who I am, what I’m doing and how what I do can influence a wider agenda. For twenty years we’ve been nudging, coercing, persuading a vision to become reality; a vision of fossil fuel free sailing ships - graceful, powerful, effective; ships that will create manufacturing jobs in regions most in need of regeneration, that support the development of island economies and re-ignite, and, this is my most fervent hope, a sense of optimism and opportunity in response to recession and climate change.

I’m not a Catholic, indeed organised religion seems to me to have been responsible for more hate than love. Certainly I leaned towards the vocal, high profile opposition to the Papal visit but on receiving an invitation from the Foreign Office to hear the Pope’s address I was forced to explore my own ethics more deeply. In our work at B9 Shipping we believe we must engage whole heartedly with those we might judge to be our enemies in an effort to accelerate the speed of change. I believe it’s essential to find the common ground, a consensual way forward if we are to create a robust enough economy and society to withstand the future.

I found myself in agreement with many more of Pope Benedict XVI words than I had imagined I would. I have to say it was tough to catch every word and I am inordinately grateful that the speech is reproduced on the internet but I caught, and was touched by, key words and phrases.

Political and religious commentators have picked over the speech and shared it widely, emphasising the Pope’s rebuke against secularism. I’m not so sure we, as a society, are marginalising Christianity but I’m happy to talk about it. But I’m not sure it was the main and whole point of The Pope’s address.

I’m no expert in diplomatic speak but I was there and I’d like to know why no one is pointing to the Pope’s suggestion that collaboration should take place on environmental responsibility? Why are interpreters of the Pope’s message not picking up on his noting of this Government’s 0.7% GDP commitment to Overseas Development whilst being able to find ‘vast resources’ to prop up financial institutions deemed to be ‘too big to fail’?

This same question nags at me. I can’t get my head round it. Thankfully the Pope is more eloquent than I ...

“Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.

Now that resonates with me. And I just love that my grammar check has a problem with the composition of the sentence! It underlines that each of us has a voice and a view, that we can have courage and say what we feel even if we get our grammar wrong.  No matter how small we believe ourselves to be we must enter in to this national conversation. Everyone’s voice is crucial.

Naive? Foolish? - I don’t know - but I’m keen to find, and explore, the common ground that allows us to face the future and I certainly found more of that than I had anticipated at Westminster Hall last Friday.

Read the full speech here:


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