Friday, 30 December 2005

Smallest army keeping check on purse snatchers

Vatican Letter
Patrick Comerford


The world’s smallest army is celebrating its fifth centenary in the world’s smallest state. The Vatican City is the tiniest sovereign state in the world, and the celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the Vatican’s official army, the Swiss Guards, reach their climax on January 22nd – on that evening in 1506, a group of 150 Swiss soldiers entered the Vatican for the first time and were blessed by Pope Julius II.

The imposing size of St Peter’s and the lengthy history of the Papal power make it difficult to grasp that the Vatican has been a sovereign state for less than 80 years and that it is such a tiny independent entity.

Apart from his role as head of the Catholic Church and Bishop of Rome, the Pope is also head of state in the Vatican City.

It is a state with its own sovereign government, governor, legislature and judiciary, its own police force and its own army in the form of the Swiss Guards.

It has its own radio station, daily newspaper, heliport, train station, filling station and duty-free shops, post office and stamps, diplomatic corps, internet domain (.va), and a resident population of over 920 people, including some Vatican staff and the 100 members of the Swiss Guards.

The Vatican State even has its own coins and banknotes. Despite popular jokes, they are not known as Peter’s Pence, and Vatican-issued euro coins and notes are quickly snapped up as collectors’ items.

The three Lateran treaties signed with Italy in 1929 acknowledged the full sovereignty of the Vatican State, restored some of the temporal powers of the papacy and established the territorial extent of the new state, which is totally landlocked within the City of Rome by a land border of 3.2 km. With a land area of 0.44 sq km (108.7 acres), the Vatican State is comparable in size to a small farm in Ireland and easily outpaced by Europe’s next smallest states, Monaco and San Marino.

The sovereign territory is so tiny that any visitor to St Peter’s and the Vatican Museums visits the state many times over, constantly stepping in and out of Vatican and Italian territory.

But Vatican sovereignty also extends to 13 other buildings speckled across Rome. These extraterritorial anomalies include Castel Sant’Angelo, a number of historical papal places, including the Lateran Palace and the Palace of the Holy Office, significant basilicas, including St John Lateran, St Mary Major and St Paul Outside the Walls, and some pontifical colleges, including Propaganda Fide close to the Spanish Steps and the Gregorian University.

Extraterritorial status even extends beyond Rome to Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence in the Alban Hills, and the adjoining Villa Barberini.

Other properties outside Rome ceded to the Holy See include the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, St Anthony’s Basilica in Padua, the Basilica of the Holy House in Loreto, and an area in Cesano, north of Rome, where Vatican Radio’s controversial antennae are located.

Because these extraterritorial places are outside Italian jurisdiction, tourists can buy Vatican stamps and use the Vatican postal system in St John Lateran and St Mary Major, or find lower Vatican taxes mean cheaper drinks in the bars in Castel Sant’Angelo and at St Paul’s Outside the Walls.

Inside the walls of St Peter’s, the Swiss Guards and Vatican police ensure only Vatican employees top up with cheaper petrol at the Vatican's own filling station.

But the few privileged visitors to the Vatican Gardens can enjoy the high-class, low-tax shopping facilities in a former train station.

Because the Vatican has a small resident population but millions of visitors each year, St Peter’s is a paradise for pickpockets and purse snatchers and the Vatican has the highest per capita crime rate of any nation – more than 20 times higher than Italy’s, according to the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, Nicola Picardi.

The perpetrators are visitors too and are rarely caught, with 90 per cent of crimes unsolved.

Other crimes included embezzlement, fraud and insulting the police and civil servants, although the last serious crime was in 1998 when a disgruntled Swiss Guard shot dead his commander and the commander’s wife before killing himself.

Every tourist wants to be photographed with the Swiss Guards in their Renaissance-style striped uniforms.

Popular myth says the uniforms, in the traditional blue, red and yellow of the Medici, were designed by Michelangelo, but they are only 100 years old and were designed in 1905 by a Swiss Guard commandant inspired more by scenes in the Raphael Rooms than by Michelangelo.

The guards, who stand watch from the outer gates of the Vatican to the doors to the Pope’s private apartments, are limited by law to 100 soldiers, who are male Swiss Catholics who have finished basic training in the Swiss army, are fluent in five languages, aged 19-30 and stand at least 174cm (5ft 9in) tall.

New guards take an oath to “faithfully, loyally and honourably serve the supreme pontiff and his legitimate successors with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them.”

They are fully trained with the sword and halberd, but since the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981, a stronger emphasis is placed on functional, non-ceremonial roles and Swiss Guards are now trained in unarmed combat and issued with SIG P 75 pistols and Heckler and Koch submachine-guns.

Rome’s secular authorities spent €8 million this year on events around the death of Pope John Paul and the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI, when four million pilgrims visited the city.

Tourist figures in Rome were up 10 per cent this summer, but the 20 million tourists in Rome each year are a drain on the finances of a city struggling.

With a national cap on public spending and the high costs of restoring historic buildings, maintaining public transport and cleaning up the city, some proposed solutions include a nightly bed tax.

Eternal problems eternally beset the Eternal City.

This news feature was first published in The Irish Times on 30 December 2005

Wednesday, 9 November 2005

Rise of Christianity as phenomenal as economic boom

Letter from China
Patrick Comerford


Miao children attend church in the mountain top village of Haima, where all 700 villagers are said to be church members (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As China becomes the world’s fastest-growing capitalist economy, Chinese society is also experiencing growth in other areas – this is world’s fastest-growing market for mobile phones, and an increasing number of children are facing eating-related disorders such as obesity.

But a more phenomenal growth is the rapid rise in the number of Christians. According to the latest figures from the Amity News Service, there were over 18 million Protestants in China in 2004, a one million increase on the figure for the previous year. With at least 12 million more Catholics, the most conservative estimates say there are at least 30 million Christians in China, but more optimistic estimates put the figure at 80 million or more.

With many Christians belonging to unrecognised or so-called “underground” churches, it is impossible to verify these figures. But no one denies the current astounding growth in Christianity in China.

When Mao’s Communists came to power in 1949, China had less than a million Protestants and about three million Catholics. But over the last two decades, the mainstream Protestant Church has opened three new places of worship every two days, church building continues at a rapid pace in every province and region, and the Amity Printing Press in Nanjing has printed an average of two million Bibles each year since 1987.

The dividing line between the mainstream and “underground” churches is becoming blurred, with church leaders using the term “meeting place” to describe outlying church plants, often with hundreds of members, using rented, unregistered premises but identifying with the larger churches in the towns and cities.

The largest church in China today is Chong-Yi church in Hangzhou (Hangchow), a city of 6.5 million people south of Shanghai. Bishop John Curtis of Zhejiang (Chekiang), a former Irish soccer international who lived in Hangzhou, was one of the last Anglican missionaries to leave China in 1950. He could have hardly imagined the rapid church growth in Hangzhou half a century later.

Chong-Yi church, with seating for more than 5,000 people, was dedicated last May. On a recent Sunday, about 2,500 people took part in the main service, with over 2,000 receiving Holy Communion.

Further south, I attended the opening of the new Guizhou Bible School. Over 3,000 people were present for the opening ceremony in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province and a city of over 3.5 million people.

The school was the brainchild of Pastor Samuel Tang, a rural doctor who has funded the training of pastors, evangelists and lay leaders from his earnings at his clinics.

Out in the mountains of remote provincial Guizhou, I found one of the many rural churches benefiting from the Pastor Tang’s vision. It takes four hours by private transport to reach the mountain-top village of Haima. The people belong to the Miao ethnic minority, and it takes the villagers of Haima as long to travel to Beijing by public transport as it took me to fly from Dublin to Beijing. But this distant village has a church dating back to the early 20th century, and all 700 villagers are said to be church members.

In Shanghai, as part of the government response to the surge in support for Christianity, the former Anglican cathedral on Jiujiang Street has been handed back to the church after almost six decades of use as a theatre and cinema. After colonial rule in Shanghai came to an end in 1949, the cathedral choir school was used as a police station and visa office.

But in the past year the former school has been refurbished as the new headquarters of the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the official state-recognised Protestant Church in China.

There is an officially-recognised Catholic Church, but in the past its adherents were not allowed to recognise the pope’s authority. Everyone agrees the official figure of 12 million vastly underestimates the real number of Catholics in China.

But if China’s Catholics were divided in the past between the state-recognised Patriotic Catholic Association and the so-called “underground” church, Chinese Catholics were united earlier this year in mourning Pope John Paul II, who never achieved his life-long ambition to visit China.

In recent years, the Patriotic Catholic Association, established in 1951, and the “underground” Catholic church, which continued to maintain loyalty to Rome, have moved ever closer to one another.

In Shanghai’s Xujiahui Cathedral last June, Bishop Joseph Xing Wenzhi (42) was consecrated Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai, China’s largest Catholic diocese, by Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxia. The ailing Bishop Jin (89), who spent 29 years in labour camps and in prison, has been the state-recognised Bishop of Shanghai since 1985.

But Bishop Xing’s appointment as his successor has the approval of both the state and the Vatican, with the Vatican indicating it will not appoint a successor to the unofficial or “underground” Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang. Similar consecrations in the dioceses of Zhengding and Hengshui show the boundaries between the official and unofficial church are becoming blurred and vary from area to area, as does the attitude of local governments towards the two expressions.

On the other hand, it may take decades to heal the divisions between China's Protestants and Catholics, who often see each other as members of two different religions.

The search for unity may become increasingly important as the church in China faces a new future. In the past, it learned with difficulty to live alongside the Red Flag; now it may be facing new difficulties as it adapts to living alongside the secularism and commercialism that come with capitalism and rapid economic growth.

• Rev Patrick Comerford is a Church of Ireland priest and has been travelling throughout China with a delegation representing churches and mission agencies in Ireland, Britain and Germany.

This feature was first published in ‘The Irish Times’ on 9 November 2005


Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Diverse cultures still flourish
in China’s remote corners

Letter from Guiyang
Patrick Comerford


In south-central China, there is an old adage that Guizhou is a province where no three days pass without rain, where there are no three miles without a mountain, and where no one has three coins to rub together.

Guizhou is twice the size of Ireland but it is landlocked and surrounded by provinces that border Tibet, Laos and Vietnam. Even by Chinese standards, Guizhou is a remote province – the capital, Guiyang, is at least a 2½-hour flight from Beijing, so it takes people from the towns and hillside villages as long to reach Beijing by public transport as it takes others to fly from Dublin to Beijing.

Guizhou has a mild climate, its industrial output is growing, and with its mountains and rivers it can boast great natural beauty – the Huangguoshu Falls is the third-highest waterfall in Asia.

But natural beauty has not saved Guizhou from widespread rural poverty, exacerbated by the high rainfall and the fact that 80 per cent of the land is covered with untillable mountains and leached limestone soil.

But if the land is poor, Guizhou and its provincial capital, Guiyang, have rich diversity in terms of the people who live there. It is the province’s remoteness that has ensured that the traditions and lifestyles of its ethnic minorities have been preserved. Guiyang sits in a valley on the banks of the Nanming River and is hemmed in by the surrounding hills. Today it is a bustling, vibrant, industrial city, with a population of about 3.5 million.

Yet, despite the rapid industrial growth in Guiyang since the Communist revolution, a stroll through the backstreets soon leads to Qianming Si and its cramped and smoky halls, dating back to the Ming dynasty.

Guiyang has been an important provincial city since the Ming dynasty ruled China between 1368 and 1644. The surrounding areas, however, were not fully incorporated into China until the reign of the succeeding Qing dynasty.

When there was a population explosion in central China in the 17th century, wave after wave of immigrants flooded into northeast Guizhou from neighbouring Sichuan and Hunan. The local tribes rose in rebellion, and it was said that there were minor revolts every 30 years and major rebellions every 60 years during the Qing dynasty.

The rebelling tribes survived, and today at least 30 distinct nationalities or ethnic groups form more than one third of Guizhou’s population of almost 40 million. They include the Miao or Hmong people and the Dong people, each with their own regions in the eastern highlands; the Bouyei, who are similar to the Thai people, in the south and west; and the Yi and Muslim Hui people in Panxian and western Guizhou.

The 7.5 million Miao people in China are closely related to the Hmong people of Vietnam and Laos.

Since the Tang dynasty (AD618-907), migrations and forced resettlement programmes have caused the Miao to spread throughout southern China. Along with other minority peoples, they were often treated as slaves and serfs by China's majority Han people.

Eventually, the Miao were driven into the remote mountain areas, but their rebellions continued into the 19th century, under leaders such as Zhang Xiumei.

Zunyi, 170 km north of Guiyang, was the location of the crucial Zunyi conference in 1935, when Mao persuaded his followers on the Long March that China’s revolution could only succeed by mobilising the peasants.

It is easy to understand how the Miao people, in their desperately poor state in the first half of the 20th century, were active in the resistance against the Japanese invasion and gave tacit support to the communist revolutionaries.

The revolutionaries rewarded the Miao for their sympathies by giving them their own autonomous region. Although the Cultural Revolution from 1966 on was a setback, the Miao people have benefited from increased government assistance in the health, education and transport sectors since the 1980s, and their culture is flourishing.

In western Guizhou, the Bouyei people, who number 2.5 million, are found in the city of Anshun and the surrounding towns and villages. Both the Miao and Bouyei remain proud of their traditional costumes. The Bouyei can still be seen in the muddy fields around Anshun in their colourful blue skirts, planting rice and ploughing with their buffaloes.

The first Christian missionaries to work in the region came from the China Inland Mission, founded in 1865 by James Hudson Taylor, who died 100 years ago in 1905. Many of the churches in Guizhou, even in remote mountain-top villages, have survived since they were established by the mission more than a century ago. Christianity appealed to many of the oppressed minorities, and it is not unusual in this remote corner of China to meet Miao and Bouyei people who say their families have been Christian for up to seven generations.

To some western visitors, this part of China is known for its dog food. But Guizhou ought to be better known for its rich cultural diversity.

Both the Miao and Bouyei are famous for their batik-making traditions, dating back 2,000 years.

The characteristic spirals and curves in molten wax, applied with copper knives on indigo linen, are produced primarily in Guiyang and Anshun. With their monochrome portraits of Bouyei brides and their stylised depiction of mythical figures and animals, they are testimony to an ethnic diversity that is prospering in the face of economic challenges, even in the remotest corners of China.

This feature was first published in ‘The Irish Times’ on Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Friday, 14 October 2005

‘Mission from the Perspective
of the Anglican Communion’

The Milltown Institute for Theology and Philosophy at Milltown Park, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Beyond Christian Missions?
Ad Gentes – 40 Years On

Mission: Perspectives from across the Christian Spectrum

Milltown Institute for Theology and Philosophy,
14 October 2005.

Rev Patrick Comerford, BD, Dip Ecum, FRSAI,
Southern Regional Co-ordinator,
Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland):

‘Mission from the Perspective of the Anglican Communion’


Introduction:

I work for the principal mission society in the Church of Ireland, the Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland), am secretary of the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, and about to come to the end of my term in office as chair of the Association of Missionary Societies, which links 18 mission agencies linked in one way or another with the Church of Ireland.

Given the Roman Catholic background of the Milltown Institute, there has been a certain degree of surprise among my colleagues here about the degree and scope of the Anglican missionary enterprise, particularly the extent of missionary activity that has originated in the Church of Ireland, among its clergy and its laity.

In many ways, the story of Irish Anglican mission work is both unknown and untold. Little has been written about it – we get only a passing reference in Edmund Hogan’s book, The Irish Missionary Movement, A Historical Survey, 1830-1980 (Dublin, 1992), which is magisterial in so many other aspects. Where Irish Anglican mission workers are mentioned, there are some major assumptions that do not bear up to scrutiny: Pádraig Ó Máille, in the Encyclopaedia of Ireland (Dublin and New Haven, 2003), presumes that all Church of Ireland missionaries served with the Church Mission Society Ireland and its predecessors, and that therefore they were all evangelical; the great Canadian chronicler of the Irish diaspora, Donald Akenson, in a number of papers, presumes that all the Irish Anglican missionaries in Southern Africa were evangelicals and as such shaped an evangelical ethos in the Anglican presence in Southern Africa.

Pádraig Ó Máille was off the mark, for many reasons, and indeed, the first Anglican missionaries from Ireland, including the philosopher George Berkeley, worked under the aegis of the High Church or Anglo-Catholic Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and were precursors of that wing of Anglicanism that led to the Oxford Movement and Anglo-Catholicism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Donald Akenson is wrong in both of his presumptions: not only were the Anglican missionaries from Ireland who worked in southern Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries primarily from the High Church and Anglo-Catholic traditions, but they were closely identified with the Christian Socialist values of that movement, so often characterised by the ‘slum priests’ of East London. And so they shaped not an evangelical church but a radical Anglo-Catholic church with the political spirituality that we associate with Desmond Tutu in later generations and a church that had an inner strength to resist apartheid.

Irish Anglican missionary work is difficult to chronicle and difficult to analyse theologically. It is difficult to chronicle because there is no one single archive for Irish missionary work, there is no one single database of Irish Anglican missionaries, and no one single history of Irish Anglican missionary work has ever been written. Instead, the writing has been left to partial writers, identified with one or other mission agency, such as Bland, Hodgins and Vere White. Their partial approaches often border on hagiography rather than history, and because their books are written for supporters and members of the agencies we are left without any critical assessments of Irish Anglican missionaries and their work. It is a common axiom that history and liturgy are the only two developed areas of theology in the Church of Ireland. Certainly, none of these single-agency histories come near to thinking about developing a theology of mission out of the experience of Irish Anglican mission work overseas, and so neither the mission agencies and the Church of Ireland nor the wider church and the academic community are served by these publications.

This deficit means there are new fields for anyone wanting to do research in this area: the theology of mission in the Irish Anglican tradition; the impact of mission experiences on Irish Anglican theology, liturgy and spirituality; the work of Irish Anglican missionaries in translating Scripture, liturgy and theology; and the inter-action between the different mission agencies in the Church of Ireland.

Because this is a wide open field, I want to take us briefly through five different areas that will give some introduction to the topic:

• The attitude to mission at the Reformation.

• The development of mission societies and mission theology within the Anglican Communion.

• The formation of mission societies in the Church of Ireland.

• The current state of mission work within the Anglican Communion, with particular reference to the Church of Ireland today.

• An introduction to some of the issues that are being raised within Anglican mission theology today.

The attitude to mission at the Reformation

Geographical and political limitations hindered the development of missionary activity by European Protestants. During the Reformation, the main emphasis was on reforming the church rather than on mission. Until 1648 and the Peace of Westphalia, Protestants were fighting for survival or engaged in theological disputes, divisions and controversies, while the Protestant powers of the 16th century had little contact with the wider world outside Europe: Spain and Portugal controlled the sea routes, combining religious and political imperialism. These geographical and political limitations were reinforced by theological limitations and attitudes to mission. The Thirty Years’ War reinforced the dominant Reformation concept of a regional church – cuius regio, eius religio – under which a ruler had no reasons to support church activity outside his dominion.

This theological climate was slow to change, even after the Netherlands and England became maritime powers in the 17th century. In 1618, the Synod of Dort – whose strict Calvinism influenced the early 17th century Church of Ireland through Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) of Armagh – declared that the children of heathens were not to be baptised, even if they had been taken into Christian households.

According to the German Lutheran theologian Johann Gerhard (d. 1637), the command to preach the Gospel to all the world had ceased with the apostles; the apostles had made the offer of salvation to all nations, and there was no need to make that offer a second time. In 1652, the Lutheran Faculty of Theology at Wittenberg stated that any responsibility the church might have for mission was repudiated on biblical, historical and theological grounds. This dominant among view Protestants in the 17th century and was used by Roman Catholic apologists to attack Protestants and to challenge their claims to orthodoxy. For example, the Jesuit Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) reproached Protestants for a complete lack of missionary zeal:

Heretics are never said to have converted either pagans or Jews to the faith, but only to have perverted Christians ... The Lutherans compare themselves to the apostles and the evangelists; yet though they have among them a very large number of Jews, and in Poland and Hungary have the Turks as their near neighbours, they have hardly converted even so much as a handful.

There were exceptions to this negative theology of mission: From 1559, King Gustav Vasa of Sweden encouraged work among the neighbouring Lapps, but the missionaries failed to learn the local language and the work failed. A German group under Hans Ungnad von Sonneck hoped to preach to the Turks, but failed. Wenzeslaus Budowitz von Budowa, who worked in Constantinople between 1577 and 1581 and published a refutation of the Quran in Czech in 1618, is said to have converted only one single Turk.

Stephen Neill finds some beginnings of the modern Protestant missionary movement in the early Dutch and English commercial ventures. The Dutch East India Company established a seminary at Leyden, and between 1622 and 1633 trained 12 pastors to work in Dutch Indonesia and Ceylon. But these pastors were civil servants; although they also worked for the conversion of indigenous people, their primary responsibility was the spiritual care of the Dutch colonists. Their motives and methods were questionable – each minister received a cash bonus for each person baptised – and their work appears to have been superficial: by 1776, only 22 ministers were working in the whole of Indonesia, and of these only five could speak a local language, while only one in 10 of the local Christians were admitted to Holy Communion.

Both Stephen Neill and the David Bosch hold that the history of Protestant missions supported officially by the European churches begins in the 18th century under the auspices of the Halle Pietists. The Pietists expected the imminent second coming of Christ, preceded by an outpouring of the Spirit on Jews and heathens. These ideas produced a sense of responsibility for ‘foreign’ missions among the German Pietists and their followers and led to German and Danish Lutheran missionary work in India. However, the Pietists’ emphasis on the salvation of individuals was a narrow missionary aim, providing what Bosch calls ‘a rather one-sided vertical dimension, with little understanding of man’s cultural relationship and Christ's universal kingdom’.

The development of mission within the Anglican Communion

Given the findings by Neill and Bosch, it is astonishing therefore, that Anglican mission work predates the mission interests of Halle by a number of decades. The Anglican Reformation in England and Ireland took a different course to the Continental Reformation, so we may ask: What about early Anglican missionary work overseas?

Elizabeth I’s charter to Sir Henry Gilbert in 1583 for the first English colony in North America referred to the compassion of God ‘for poor infidels, it seeming probable that God hath reserved these Gentiles to be introduced into Christian civility by the English nation.’ Chares I’s charter for the colony of Massachusetts stated that the principal end of the plantation was to ‘win and invite the natives of the country to the knowledge of the only true God and Saviour of mankind and the Christian faith’.

Despite the sentiments expressed in those charters, Anglican settlers in America and the West Indies, from both Ireland and England, and those ‘poor infidels’ were left without episcopal care for two centuries. As a direct response to this neglect of the settlers by the bishops of the established churches, Thomas Bray, who had worked in Maryland, was responsible for the founding of the two earliest Anglican mission societies, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in 1698, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) three years later in 1701.

While the SPCK was founded with a more universal mission in mind, Bray envisioned SPG as providing the men and the means for missionary work in the New World, especially among the Black and Indian peoples. SPG’s founding royal charter defined its main work as caring for the needs of Anglicans in America and the West Indies. But in 1710 the society carried two resolutions stating that its work related principally to ‘the conversion of heathen and infidels’, and calling for ‘itinerant missionaries’ to be sent to preach the Gospel among the ‘Six Nations of the Indians’. In pursuance of this plan, SPG missionaries devoted themselves to working in many parts of America and the West Indies among the Native peoples and the slaves.

Anglican missionary endeavours in India were slow to begin because of the open opposition of the East India Company. Anglican missionary work in Africa began in 1751, when the Rev Thomas Thompson, an SPG missionary in New Jersey, offered to go to the Gold Ghost (Ghana). Anglican efforts in Latin America were less intense and less organised, owing to a policy of not attempting to convert nominal Christians, and the fact that the only British colonies there were British Honduras and British Guiana.

Anglican mission work remained the preserve of the SPG, with its royal charter and under the patronage of the bishops of the Church of England and the Church of Ireland, for almost a century. However, SPG was perceived as part of the political and ecclesiastical establishment, and because of its charter SPG found it difficult to extend the scope of its mission work beyond the colonies. It was also seen as primarily a High Church mission agency, and in reaction to both of these perceptions, a second Anglican mission agency was founded by English evangelicals in 1799: the Church Mission[ary] Society was the first voluntary, membership-based Anglican mission agency.

Key theological events gave a new shape and focus to Anglican mission work in the 19th century. Through the Pietists, the evangelical revival spread to England, influencing men like John Wesley, a former SPG missionary, as well as giving rise to new movements for social reform and change with men like William Wilberforce (1759-1833) and the Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885) and Charles Simeon (1759-1836), one of the founders of CMS, campaigning against the slave trade and against industrial working conditions. The movement known as the ‘second evangelical revival’, which crossed the Atlantic from America to Britain and Ireland in 1858, was linked with the formation of religious and evangelical societies, including missionary bodies, and gave new impetus to societies already existing, including CMS.

David Livingstone’s account of his travels in Africa his speech in the Senate House at Cambridge on 4 December 1857 generated new missionary enthusiasm that gave rise to the formation of new missionary societies at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Dublin and Durham, and the eventual formation of the Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin and Durham Mission to Central Africa, known generally as the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA), bringing the Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism into missionary work.

The expansion of British influence through trade and colonialism opened new territories as potential mission fields for Anglicans in the 19th century. When the East India Company’s charter was being renewed, there were fresh demands for the right of missionaries to work India, with the government conceding eventually in 1833. The first Protestant missionary in China, Robert Morrison (1782-1834), arrived in Guangzhou (Canton) in 1807, and commercial and political pressure on China, culminating in the Opium War and the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, had the ironic consequence of opened China to Anglican mission work. The first two CMS missionaries in China included Canon Thomas McClatchie (1814-1885) from Dublin, who arrived in China in 1844.

The 19th century saw a real expansion of Anglican missionary activity in other parts of the world. The first Anglican missionaries from CMS arrived in New Zealand in 1814, and Anglican missionary work began also in Iran (1811), where Robert Bruce from Ireland was to have a major impact, Palestine (1816), Egypt (1818), Japan (1858) and Korea (1865).

Bishops, mission and the Anglican Communion

Throughout this period, there was an unfolding controversy among Anglicans over the place of episcopacy in missionary work – should the bishop go as a pioneer to found a new diocese, or should the bishop be called in only after missionary societies had already established Christianity?

The problem of the provision of bishops to sustain mission work in North America led eventually, in a direct way, to the formation of the Anglican Communion as a collection of independent churches rather than there being one large, global Anglican Church as some sort of outgrowth of the Church of England. As early as 1638, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud (1573-1645), had planned to send a bishop to New England, but his proposal fell with the English Civil War. After the Caroline restoration, a plan to provide bishops for Virginia and later for New York – with Jonathan Swift, Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, among the nominees was proposed as Bishop of Virginia and later of New York – fell by the wayside too. By the time of the American Revolution, Anglicans in North America was still without episcopal leadership and ministry. Without a bishop there could be no confirmations, ordinations, or church consecrations, and the future of Anglicanism and its mission in North America was in doubt.

The consecration of Samuel Seabury (1729-1796) by bishops from the Episcopal Church of Scotland, a church that suffered under the penal laws favouring the established and Presbyterian Church of Scotland, marks the beginning of the Episcopal Church, and the formation of the first, structured Anglican church outside these islands. The failure of the Church of England to respond to the missionary needs of the former English colonies in North America led both to the separation of Methodists from Anglicanism, but also to the foundation of the Anglican Communion, and to a new approach to mission among Anglicans.

In 1787, four years after Seabury’s consecration, the first Anglican bishop was consecrated for work in the British colonies, marking the real beginning of Anglican expansion. And so it was that an Irish missionary working with SPG, Charles Inglis, who was born in Co. Donegal, became the first Bishop of Nova Scotia and the first overseas bishop of the Church of England. Over the next century, Anglican bishops were consecrated for diocese formed in India, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and China. However, the consecration of the first Anglican missionary bishop from the United Church of England and Ireland without a diocese did not take place for almost a century, when William Mackenzie was consecrated in Cape Town in 1861 as ‘bishop to the mission and the tribes dwelling in the neighbourhood of Lake Nyasa and the River Shire’.

The formation of mission societies in the Church of Ireland

It would be wrong the see either SPG or CMS as entirely English organisations, just as it is wrong to perceive global Anglicanism as an extension of the Church of England. The formation of both SPG in 1701 and CMS in 1799 generated a strong missionary response among the clergy and the laity of the Church of Ireland. Early Irish committee members of SPG included Samuel Dopping, son of a Bishop of Meath, and Marmaduke Coghill (1673-1783), who built Drumcondra House – which, curiously, later served as one of the powerhouses of Irish Catholic missionary work when it became the nucleus of All Hallows’ College.

Coghill helped form an Irish committee of SPG in 1714. But by then two Irish missionaries were already working with SPG in North America: Dr Francis Le Jau, who went to South Carolina in 17906 and was then in the Leeward Islands, and Robert Maule, who had gone to South Carolina in 1707. However, the most famous of early SPG missionaries from the Church of Ireland must the Irish philosopher, George Berkeley (1685-1753), who worked in Rhode Island for 2½ years and tried unsuccessfully to establish a missionary college in Bermuda, before returning to Ireland to become Bishop of Cloyne.

In many parts of the world, Anglicanism owes its origins to the work of SPG missionaries from Ireland. Charles Inglis (1733-1816) from Glencolumbkille, Co Donegal, became the first regularly consecrated Anglican bishop for an overseas diocese. William Wright, an SPG missionary from Ireland, arrived in South Africa on 8 March 1821, and his celebration of the Holy Communion on Christmas Day 1822 was the first public such celebration according to Anglican rites in South Africa. Bishop Harry Vere White, the historian of SPG in Ireland, has claimed this as ‘the beginning of the [Anglican Church in] … South Africa.’

The Irish missionaries who worked with SPG often made great personal and heroic sacrifices: Edward Cusack from Co Kildare was the first missionary to the desolate coast of Labrador; George Nobbs was the first missionary to the Pitcairn Islands and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers; Franics Balfour from Drogheda became the first resident bishop in what is now Lesotho; ‘Father Pat’, the pioneering Irish missionary in Canada, the Rev Henry Irwin from Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow, and Dr Marie Hayes from Raheny, Co Dublin, who died in the hospital wards in Delhi in 1908, are legendary throughout the Church of Ireland to this day. Today, those missionaries with SPG, or USPG as it is now known, continue to make sacrifices: Noel Scott is facing jail in Zimbabwe because of his outspoken resistance to the tyranny of Robert Mugabe.

CMS was founded in London in 1799, but soon had supporters in Ireland. The Hibernian Church Missionary Society, founded in 1814, is now known as the Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland). Its missionaries first concentrated on those parts of Africa and Asia not open to SPG missionaries under the terms of its charter. CMS Ireland’s major influence was in East and Central Africa, particularly in Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, but Irish Anglican missionaries from CMS have served on five continents in almost 40 countries from A to Z (Australia, Bangladesh, Burundi, Canada, China, Congo, Egypt, Greece, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Malta, Mauritius, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Romania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, Yemen and Zambia).

Like their SPG counterparts, CMS missionaries from Ireland also made great heroic sacrifices, even the point of death: the Moncrieffs, husband and wife, died in the Massacre of Cawnpore in India in 1857; George Lawrence Pilkington, from Tyrrellspass, Co Westmeath, worked as a Bible translator in Uganda, and was killed in Uganda in 1897 while working as an interpreter for British troops. In an outburst of anti-foreigner violence, the Rev Robert Warren Stewart from Dublin was murdered along with his wife Louisa and two of their children at Hwasang, in 1895. Two years later, the Rev Joseph Stratford Collins, who had worked in China for 10 years, drowned in the River Min in a whirlpool in 1897; to compound the tragedy, his wife, Mary Isabella Collins, and two of their children, Ethel and Philip, then drowned on their return journey home. The Rev Harry Graham was shot dead by pirates after seven years missionary work in China.

A unique outgrowth of the work of both SPG and CMS Ireland was the formation of two university missions in Dublin, modelled on the Oxford and Cambridge Missions to Delhi and Calcutta. These two university mission societies in Dublin predate the Maynooth Mission to China by more than 30 years or the span of a full generation. A series of meetings in TCD in 1885 was addressed by the inspirational Robert Stewart, who was home appealing for help for his educational work in China. At those meetings, over 40 students solemnly dedicated themselves to missionary work overseas, and these meetings led to the formation of what is now known as the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, which worked principally in China, and, five years later in 1890, of the Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur, which worked in India. Both university missions produced pioneering Irish Anglican missionaries, sending many doctors, nurses, teachers, priests and bishops to China, Japan and India from the late 19th century until the mid-20th century.

Dr Jacinta Prunty has referred to the Irish Church Missions, founded in Ireland in 1847. That period also saw the foundation of the Achill and Ventry missions in Co Mayo and Co Kerry, and of Saint Columba’s College, originally established as a training college for High Church missionaries.

Two other unique missionary enterprises with their roots firmly planted in the Church of Ireland are worth mentioning also: the Leprosy Mission, although it now works as global organisation, was founded in Dublin in 1874, and although it was interdenominational in character from the beginning, it has always received strong support within the Church of Ireland.

Some bishops of the Church of Ireland also became involved in their own mission enterprise at the end of the 19th century when they gave their support to dissident priests who had left the Roman Catholic Church in Portugal and Spain and wanted to form their own church in communion with Anglican churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury was supported by the Lambeth Conference, the worldwide gathering of Anglican bishops, in not giving his approval to the consecration of bishops for the Spanish Reformed Church and the Lusitanian Church in Portugal, fearful that this might be seen as proselytism rather than mission, and interference in the internal affairs of another Christian Church. Nevertheless, in 1894, Archbishop Plunket of Dublin, assisted by the bishops of Down and Clogher, consecrated the new Spanish bishop. The English Church Union sent condolences to the Archbishop of Toledo, but the links between the Portuguese and Spanish Churches continued, and eventually they became full members of the Anglican Communion.

Developments and failures in Anglican mission work

Today, the work among the new international communities in Dublin, or the new contacts made in Romania and China by CMS Ireland show that the mission agencies are seeking ways to respond a changing Ireland and to a changing world. However, if there have been successes there have also been failures on the part of Irish Anglican mission agencies and workers.

Like many of their Victorian Anglican, counterparts, the evangelical missionaries who served with agencies such as CMS Ireland moved away from the Pietistic understanding of mission to see the aim of mission as the founding of self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting churches. The Victorian missionaries are often said to have made only limited concessions to local culture and to have had too close a connection with western imperialism and colonialism.

Archbishop Randall Davidson of Canterbury famously urged a generation of schoolboys to offer themselves as ‘missionaries in the imperial work of the Church of England’, and his friend Bishop Henry Montgomery from Moville, Co Donegal, who became secretary of SPG, insisted ‘the clergy are officers in an imperial army.’ Yet, despite these imperial claims by Davidson and Montgomery, the two Dublin University missions worked largely outside British areas of colonial and imperial interest. Apart from Hong Kong, China remained outside the grasp of Britain, and the DUFEM missionaries worked without colonial interference or control. Similarly in India, Chota Nagpur was one of the few areas largely untouched by British colonial interference for many decades. SPG reported in 1901: ‘The Diocese of Chhota [sic] Nagpur differs from other Indian dioceses in that it contains no European troops, comparatively few Europeans, and no Government chaplain, so that almost the whole work is of a distinctly missionary character, and the European residents are ministered to by Missionaries.’

The martyrdom of the Stewart family showed that the lack of imperial links could leave missionaries vulnerable, but that vulnerability, as the mission found, could also be one of its real strengths in its work, and was turned to advantage.

Many of the mission methods used by the Irish Anglican missionaries were more advanced than the general assessment often made of missionaries. John Hind, the Belfast-born Bishop of Fujien (Fukien), was a pioneer in women’s ministry: he ordained six women, three of them Chinese, as deacons. Hind began his episcopate with the conviction that the mission to China must become the Church in China. He reversed the accepted seniority of the missionaries; in future they were to be assistants to Chinese incumbents, and would cease to chair the existing network of church councils; minutes of the synods would be in Chinese, the synod business would be conducted only in Chinese, and the synods would decide where the missionaries were to work. His aim was to bring the Chinese Church to being dependant as little as possible on outside help, and he realised that a time would come when it would be better, for the health and safety of the Church, for westerners to leave China.

The policy on the indigenisation of the church in China set out by Hind and Bishop John Curtis (1880-1962) of Zhejiang (Chekiang) from Dublin, reflects the radical missiology of Rolan Allen, an early 20th century Anglican SPG missionary in China. His thinking is similar to many ways to the ‘three-self’ principles (self-supporting, self-propagating, self-governing) that have guided the churches in China since the revolution in 1949, but which have been difficult if not impossible for many western-based mission agencies to accept to this day. In India, the DUMCN was quick to recruit locally-born and educated staff, and to place them in positions of responsibility, so that the mission’s work was quickly handed over to Indians. The wisdom of this approach was proved eventually when the Indian Government finally placed a moratorium on foreign missionaries in 1966, and the church in Chota Nagpur now stands on its own two feet.

The current state of mission work within the Anglican Communion

Twentieth century Anglican missionary theology and practice has been characterised by what has been described by the American Episcopalian theologian, Dr Titus Presler of Boston University, as the shift ‘from paternalism to partnership’. Partnership House became the name of the new shared headquarters in London for USPG and CMS, the Partnership for World Mission was established in the Church of England in 1978, and ‘partnership’ is a house style in all Anglican mission agencies, so that we no longer call our workers in the field missionaries but mission partners.

Presler says that it is one of the strengths of Anglicanism is that mission work has been organised by-and-large not by the Anglican churches but by the mission agencies themselves, which are voluntary organisations, supported by and dependent on the giving of individual members. But this too could be seen as a weakness: organisations that are responsible for planting new churches and dioceses that are not finally responsible to their bishops and dioceses at home show a marked weakness in their ecclesiology. In many ways this is symptomatic of the underlying weakness of the mission agencies, which have been strong on developing mission ‘activism’ but weak in developing mission theology.

In the past, Anglican mission agencies were divided on whether their purpose was to make converts to work for the expansion of the Catholic Church as it found its expression in Anglicanism. One emphasised individual salvation, the other emphasised the Kingdom of God through its sacramental and liturgical life, often coupled with a radical political engagement that reflected a particular vision of the Kingdom of God. By and large, all the Anglican mission agencies today accept the Anglican Consultative Council’s five-point definition of mission, first formulated in 1984 and developed in 1990. The ACC has said mission is:

• To proclaim the good news of the kingdom;

• To teach, baptise and nurture new believers;

• To respond to human need by loving service;

• To seek to transform the unjust structures of society;

• To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Sadly, many mission agencies continue to reduce mission to evangelism, and evangelism to a personal conversion experience that is little more than effecting a ‘feel-good’ temperament.

Today, there are 18 mission agencies or societies affiliated to or linked with the Association of Missionary Societies, which groups almost all mission agencies and societies working within the Church of Ireland: the Bible Society of Northern Ireland, the Church Army, Church Mission Society Ireland, the Church Pastoral Aid Society, the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People – Ireland, the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, the Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur, the Intercontinental Church Society, Interserve, Irish Church Missions, the Jerusalem and Middle East Church Association, the Leprosy Mission, the Mission to Seafarers, the National Bible Society of Ireland, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, the South American Mission Society, Tearfund Ireland, and the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

Some of those, such as the Irish Church Missions and the Church Pastoral Aid Society, can be defined as home mission agencies. Others, such as the Jerusalem and Middle East Church Association, are obviously foreign mission agencies. But in recent years the distinction between home and overseas mission has become blurred for many of the mission agencies in the Church of Ireland: for example, how do you categorise the work of the Mission to Seafarers? When CMS Ireland organises summer camps for teenagers or supports work among immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Dublin, or DUFEM gives bursaries for students in Dublin training for ordination to work in China, is this home or foreign mission work?

Some issues in Anglican mission theology today

The blurring of these lines has been reflected in the decision of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland last year to amalgamate the two mission councils, concerned with home mission and the work of the church overseas, and to form one General Synod Council for Mission. To use a buzz word that is popular today, we are all working together on building a ‘mission-shaped church.’

The principal day-to-day issues facing Anglican mission agencies today include:

• Working with HIV/AIDS.

• A drop in giving to all mission agencies throughout the Anglican Communion, and therefore becoming more dependent on the demands of the support base rather than responding to the needs of partner churches.

• Growing secularism and the general acceptance of post-modernism. Post-modernist thinking affirms the separateness of mission agencies at a time when they need to coalesce in a secular world.

• Muslim-Christian encounters, which are often confrontational but need to be turned into dialogue. An example of best practice in this field is the Anglican-Muslim dialogue initiative in Egypt. This topic is directly related to Dr Michael McCabe’s paper.

• The emerging needs of churches in countries in post-communist countries such as Romania and China to be equipped in and empowered for mission.

• Learning to distinguish between development work and mission – a problem that is addressed in Dr Laurenti Magesa’s paper.

• Ecumenism not only between the churches, but between the agencies within Anglicanism, who are competing with each other for a support base, and are always threatened when another agency is seen as shifting its ethos because of closer working relations with external bodies.

• The emergence of new churches that are not easy to define within the terms of Anglican ecclesiology, such as the Church of North India and the Church of South India; for example, is the China Christian Council a Church in ecclesiological terms? The dilemma for Anglicans about the proposals to consecrate four new bishops in China is unimaginable, and certainly could not be described within the time constraints of this paper.

• Seeking to guard against reducing mission to evangelism, on one hand, or, on the other hand, to good works.

• The emergence of a shallow fundamentalism that is lacking in real spirituality, and which promotes a feel-good factor but not discipleship.

However, despite these shared definitions and common commitments to mission, many real divisions remain within the Anglican mission enterprise. In a recent article in the Guardian on the current ‘Battle for the soul of Anglicanism’, Rev Dr Giles Fraser of Wadham College, Oxford, typified the two main Anglican mission agencies, CMS and SPG, as conservative, evangelical and liberal, high church societies that ‘carved up the empire, creating Anglican provinces of hugely different theological temperaments’.

Indeed, this is perhaps the worst legacy that we have received today in the Anglican Communion from our missionary ancestors. There are churches in Nigeria that are known this day not as Anglican churches but as ‘the CMS church.’ In South Africa, it is difficult to experience the full breadth of what we boast of as Anglican inclusiveness, because of the strong influence of Anglo-Catholic missionaries, many of them from Ireland.

This clear rift is also reflected in the current debate within the Anglican Communion, supposedly about the sexuality of one bishop in the United States, and the attitude of one diocese in Canada to same-sex relationships, although in reality the debate has a number of hidden agendas that may underline the real problem. These include a perception in many African Anglican dioceses that the dioceses of northern Europe and north America are rich, domineering, and demanding that churches in the two-thirds world should be shaped in their image and likeness in return for generous financial giving in the past; and perceptions, however misplaced, of over-bearing use of authority, lax moral standards, and a drift towards a liberal yet more catholic understanding of ecumenical relations that threatens the ‘Protestant’ character of many African churches. As Dr Prunty has pointed out, Christianity today largely belongs to the ‘two-thirds’ world, and the same is true of Anglicanism.

The rift threatens to divide the Anglican Communion. Already the Archbishop-Primate of Nigeria and other African bishops in Uganda and Rwanda are sending missionaries and priests to North America, not to convert non-Christians or to plant churches where there none, but to win away members of the Anglican or Episcopal Church. As this scenario unfolds, the mission agencies are caught in a dilemma: do they support the churches they once gave birth to and that still look to them for support, or do they support the bishops of their own churches at home.

The debate may eventually lead to a rift in the Anglican Communion, but it may also deeply injure if not divide many of the mission societies. And this is the sad legacy of an Anglican approach to mission that was based on enthusiasm and the voluntary principle but failed to develop a coherent theology of mission that was integrated with a coherent and consistent ecclesiology.

Biographical summary:

(Rev) Patrick Comerford is a priest of the Church of Ireland. He is Southern Regional Co-ordinator of the Church Mission Society, secretary of the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, a former chair of the Association of Missionary Societies, and teaches pastoral theology and church history at the Church of Ireland Theological College. He studied theology at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Kimmage Manor, and the Church of Ireland Theological College, holds a BD from Maynooth and a Diploma in Ecumenics from TCD, and is now doing postgraduate research at Milltown Institute. He has contributed to a number of books, including The Encyclopaedia of Ireland (Dublin and Yale, 2003), The laity and the Church of Ireland, 1000-2000: All Sorts and Conditions (Dublin 2002), Untold Stories: Protestants in the Republic of Ireland 1922-2002 (Dublin, 2002), Christianity (Dublin, 2001), and to many journals, including the Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Doctrine and Life, The Furrow, Search and Spirituality. He worked as a journalist for 30 years and was Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times until 2002.

This paper was delivered at the conference, ‘Beyond Christian Missions? Ad Gentes – 40 Years On,’ in the section ‘Mission: Perspectives from across the Christian Spectrum,’ at the Milltown Institute for Theology and Philosophy, Dublin, on 14 October 2005.

Sunday, 3 April 2005

Sermon on the death
of Pope John Paul II

The Revd Patrick Comerford

Southern Regional Co-ordinator,

Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland)


Saint John the Evangelist, Sandymount, Dublin.

Sunday, 3 April 2005: 2nd Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday),

Readings: Acts 2: 14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31.

May all our thoughts, words and deeds be to the praise and glory of the Eternal Trinity, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

“Peace be with you.”

“Peace be with you.”

“Peace be with you.”

We find this phrase three times in this morning’s Gospel reading. It is a phrase spoken by the Risen Christ three times, with a Trinitarian resonance that reminds me of the three times God says to Moses, “I am …”, or the three visitors who receive hospitality from Abraham and who remind him of God's commitment to fulfilling his plan for all creation.

This phrase “peace be with you” is a saying in the post-Easter story in Saint John's Gospel that identifies the Risen Christ, now living in the Glory of the Trinity, in the same that the phrase "Be not afraid" is phrase that identifies the Risen Christ in the post-Resurrection narrative in Saint Matthew's Gospel.

That phrase, “Be not afraid”, kept being repeated by commentators and analysts on all the media channels over the last few days as they were asked to comment on the pontificate of Pope John Paul II as they waited for his death. But as I was working my way through this Gospel passage in the past week, I realised that this other phrase of the Risen Christ, “Peace be with you,” was equally significant as I thought about the significance of Pope John Paul, and his impact not just on his own branch of the Catholic Church, but his significance for the whole Christian Church as one, his impact on the world-wide community of faith, beyond even the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and his significance for the whole world.

In some churches, we can be too glib about that phase, “Peace be with you,” when it comes to exchanging the sign of peace. We can be a little glib, not just with our handshake, but with what we are actually wishing each other, in our hearts.

The peace that Jesus wishes his disciples is not the usual sort of peace that we often wish one another on Sunday mornings: Sometimes, on Sunday mornings, it has become yet another saying robbed of its real significance, with no more heart-filled meaning than the supermarket till operator who says, “Have a nice day, missing you already.”

The peace Christ is bringing to his disciples this morning is not a cheap way of saying “Good morning lads.” It is a peace that the Disciples sorely need. It is a peace that a deeply divided church needs. The Disciples have been sorely divided by the dramatic and traumatic events of the previous week or so. They know they are a deeply divided body of believers.

One of them has betrayed Jesus, perhaps sold him for a pocket full of coins. Why, there are even rumours that he has now run off and killed himself, or that he is speculating in property with the money.

Another, a most trusted disciple indeed, has denied Jesus, openly, not once, but three times, in public.

He and another disciple went to the grave on Sunday morning, but weren't quite sure of the significance of the open, empty tomb. Indeed, it took a woman to wake them up to the reality of what was taking place.

And yet another disciple is refusing to believe any of this at all. Was he calling us liars? Was he ever a true believer? Was he thinking of quitting? After all, he hadn’t turned up for a few of the last meetings.

It is to this deeply divided body of Disciples that Jesus comes, breaking through all the barriers, physical barriers and barriers of faith, and says to them, not once but three times, “Peace be with you.” It is not a mere greeting. It is a wish, a prayer and a blessing for those Disciples. And it is a wish, a prayer, a blessing that Christ still has for his Church today.

We are still divided, separated from each other, in the same way as those early Disciples were separated and divided. These divisions are not necessarily along the old traditional fault-lines that once marked the separation between the different branches of the church: rather, they cross those barriers so that conservative Catholics and conservative Presbyterians find it more easy to make common cause with each other than with other Catholics or other Presbyterians who hold more liberal views.

We are like those Disciples: mutually suspicious, thinking others may not have realised the full significance of the message of the Risen Christ; finding it easier to know how others have denied Christ than to face up to our own denials; demanding of others a proof of faith that we would not demand of ourselves.

Those silly, petty divisions that were hurting and breaking the early Church are similar in many ways to the silly, petty divisions now threatening to tear the Anglican Communion apart. If we kept our eyes on the Risen Christ, rather than trying to make the worst of other's intentions, then we might allow ourselves to see that the same Risen Christ breaks through all barriers, physical, geographical, spiritual, the barriers of time and space, and the barriers that separate liberals and conservatives, Protestant and Catholic, the radical and the Orthodox. The Risen Christ breaks through all those barriers and wants to gather us together into one, healed and whole body.

I found it surprising over the last few days how generous most of the commentators were in their assessment of Pope John Paul's Papacy. As I watched some of the prayers on television, I remembered how [the Revd] Kevin Moroney used to say that the dedication of this church was celebrated on the feastday of Saint John Lateran. It is possible today for us to be more generous in our responses that we might have been in an Anglican Church a few generations ago, even an Anglican Church in the Catholic tradition, as a Pope lay dying.

Our first concern, I suppose, should be for our neighbours. In love, we should understand their grief, mourn with them, grieve with them. For Irish people, not just for Roman Catholics, it was an honour that Ireland was one of the first countries he had chosen to visit after his election.

Next, perhaps, we should hope that in the weeks to come, as his successor is being elected, they look for a Pope who will be a true witness to the Risen Christ; a Pope not afraid to say that the words "Peace be with you!" need to transform the whole Church, so that as the Body of Christ we reflect not the broken body on the Cross, but the Risen Christ; and a Pope not afraid to say that the message of the Risen Christ, “Peace be with you!” has real significance for the world today.

Meanwhile, we should be ready to give thanks for the life and witness of Pope John Paul II. Who can forget him kneeling in silent and humble prayer beside Archbishop Robert Runcie in Canterbury Cathedral? Like many, I have been frustrated with the way the ARCIC process of dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions has been stymied and stalled, often facing insurmountable roadblocks during this Papacy. But then there have been surprising moments of hospitality, when Anglican bishops have been welcomed as “brother bishops” by the Pope in the Vatican.

This Pope managed in a joint statement with Lutherans to publicly state that the differences between Lutherans and Rome at the time of the Reformation were differences of language and emphasis that should never have resulted in a breach or rupture.

This Pope has tried to mend fences with the Orthodox world, with his visits to Eastern Europe. If only the Orthodox Church in Russia had been prepared to be as open and welcoming in Moscow as John Paul was in Rome and in going to Athens, Jerusalem, the Ukraine and Romania.

John Paul will be remembered as the first Pope to have visited and prayed in a synagogue, to visit Auschwitz, to visit Yad Vashem. His dignified, silent prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem was no mere gesture: it was faith-filled proof that the God we worship is the same God Jesus worshipped in the synagogue, the same God the Disciples worshipped in the Temple, even after the Resurrection and Ascension. It was a faith-filled moment full of the resonances of sacramental healing needed by our post-Holocaust generations.

And yet, despite his deep-hearted empathy with Judaism, he was not afraid to speak out for the rights of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank ... whether they were Christians or Muslims was almost irrelevant. He was the first Pope to be open to the Islamic world. He visited mosques, met Muslim leaders, and continued throughout his papacy to take an active interest in Muslim-Christian dialogue.

He was a significant Christian leader who could challenge those post-modern trends that would sideline and marginalise religious voices, and say instead that Christianity is not merely a matter of private belief but has a crucial message for the world today. And despite his age, he could go against the trends, and make religion appealing to a younger, much younger generation.

In the past few days, commentators have emphasised his role in bringing democracy to his native Poland. But this was no selfish nationalism: its implications for all of Eastern Europe, indeed for all of Europe, have been broad and immense in the past 15 or 20 years.

Some women will object to his opposition to the ordination of women or his stand on contraception and abortion. Yet he was outspoken in promoting women's rights at work and in political and civil society. What has been labelled a “pro-life” stance was, at least, principled, for it extended to every aspect of life. That was why he appealed passionately in Drogheda for the IRA to abandon violence, why he took a principled stand against torture, the death penalty, wars of oppression, nuclear weapons, and the invasion of Iraq.

You may not have agreed with him on one, indeed on many, of these points. But he was a Pope who made it acceptable once again to say that the Gospel of the Risen Christ is a message not only for individual believers or the Church, but for the whole world, secular and political as well as religious.

If we are Disciples of the Risen Lord, then we cannot stay locked away in the Upper Room waiting for God to put everything right at the end of days. We must take courage from the Risen Christ, we must have an Easter faith that allows us to take to heart that message “Be not afraid”, and go out with the message, “Peace be with you”, a message that must be made real in the lives of our own section of the Church, throughout the wider Church, and that must have the power to transform the world we live in today.

This Sunday in Easter is traditionally called “Low Sunday”. But we can be in high spirits because of the Risen Christ. “Peace be with you!”

And now may all our thoughts, words and deeds be to the praise an glory of the Risen Christ, Amen.

This sermon was preached in the Church of Saint John the Evangelist, Sandymount, Dublin, on Sunday 3 April 2005.