Belfast’s Church of Ireland cathedral has appointed its first Catholic canon in amid protests.
While Fr Edward O’Donnell was being installed as an ecumenical canon at St Anne’s Cathedral, a peaceful “no popery” protest was held outside.
Fr O’Donnell, the parish priest of St Brigid’s Church, joins two other ecumenical canons, one Methodist and one Presbyterian – both, by coincidence, called Rev Ruth Patterson.
The canons can take part in ecumenical services by preaching, leading prayers and reading the Scriptures.
Fr O’Donnell said: “Today is a very special day – special at a very personal level, that this honour has been bestowed upon me, but [also] special because so many people share in it.
“It’s a first for Belfast, and that too makes this day very special.”
Catholics have been appointed to similar roles in Armagh and Dublin, but Fr O’Donnell is the first to take such a role in Belfast with a sectarian history.
Fr O’Donnell had said earlier that the appointment was “bound to cause ripples on both sides” and that his late parents “would not have been negative, but they would have been puzzled” by the appointment.
Protesters from the Free Presbyterian Church stood outside the cathedral during Fr O’Donnell’s installation with placards saying “No popery” and “There can be no peace with Rome until Rome makes peace with God.”
Church leaders to President Duda: Poles are happy here
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, have said that Poles are “our friends and our neighbours” and that after recent racist attacks Polish communities had been “inundated with messages and acts of solidarity”.
The leaders of Britain’s two biggest Christian communities were responding to an appeal from Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, who asked for “constructive efforts” against anti-Polish prejudice.
President Duda’s appeal came after reports that Poles in Britain had faced increasing abuse and violence in the last few months.
Essex police are investigating the death of factory worker Arkadiusz Jóźwik, who was beaten to death last month, allegedly after he was heard speaking Polish in the street.
In an open letter written after Jóźwik’s death, President Duda asked for a “constructive effort” from church communities and parishes to “alleviate the adverse consequences of intolerance and xenophobia, including what appears to be a clear instance of aversion and animosity towards Poles.”
In a press conference the president said that Poles were “honest, hardworking people, and they make an important contribution to Great Britain’s economic growth”.
Last week Cardinal Nichols and Justin Welby released an open letter in which they wrote: “Poles living in Britain are our friends and our neighbours. We value their presence and contribution, as we do of all those who have migrated to the United Kingdom.”
The cardinal and the archbishop condemned the violence, noting that although 18 reported racist incidents was small compared with a registered Polish population of 831,000, such incidents were nevertheless “abhorrent and we condemn the actions of anyone who incites or commits offences on the basis of racial or religious identity”.
The two leaders affirmed their “shared commitment to tackling any signs of intolerance directed at migrants living in the United Kingdom”.
The letter praised the Polish contribution to Britain: “We readily recognise that the many Poles who have come to this country, especially since 2004, contribute significantly to the vitality and health of our society, in the workplace and in our schools, just as we remember with gratitude the contribution made by those Poles who came to Britain during and in the aftermath of World War II.”
Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Welby also observed that as Christian leaders, they had an especially close link to the Polish population. There are more than 220 churches where Mass is celebrated in Polish every week – including Anglican churches which have allowed Mass to be said in them.
The letter said that at a recent meeting of Polish Catholic chaplains, the mood was upbeat. “Most Poles taking part in their religious community activities feel welcome and are not planning to leave Britain. Nor do they feel that the Polish community is targeted any more than other immigrants.
“Indeed, they report that after each incident of threat or violence, the local Polish community has been inundated with messages and acts of solidarity. We assure you that, along with other religious and civic leaders, we will seek to build on this foundation of goodwill.”
Caring at sea ‘a work of mercy’
Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark has praised the Apostleship of the Sea, a charity that supports seafarers, as being a “wonderful work of mercy”. Archbishop Smith was celebrating Mass for the feast of Stella Maris at St George’s Cathedral. He said today’s seafarers docked in port only for a few hours. “They can’t use hostels as in the old days, but they benefit enormously from visits to their ships by chaplains and volunteers, and have the benefit of a drop-in centre.”
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