4 MAY 2008


I welcome you all to this Mass of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus into
Heaven.  I welcome in a special way those listeners who are sick and
those who live alone.

The lifting up of Jesus to die on the cross announces another lifting up – his lifting up by his ascension into Heaven. 

•    There he appears in the presence of God to plead on our behalf. 
•    There he always lives to make intercession for those who draw near to God.

We try to draw near to God. Jesus Christ – our leader – goes before us
into the glorious house of the Father.  Now we live in the hope of one
day being with him forever.  Only the sins of which we do not repent
can stop us.

So let us tell God that we are sorry for our sins…


Yesterday evening I returned from a visit to the Holy Land.  I went there with the other three Church Leaders:
•    Archbishop Alan Harper, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh
•    Dr John Finlay, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and,
•    Rev Roy Cooper, President of the Methodist Church. 

It was a most memorable and extraordinary experience.  We met many people there – parents, teachers, pupils journalists.  We also met religious leaders, political representatives and those working in inter-faith dialogue and initiatives for peace.  We visited many places – Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Gaza, and joined in many events but two in particular stand out for me. 

The first was the graduation ceremony at the Holy Family Catholic School in Gaza. As I drove to the school I was shocked by the physical desolation of the surrounding area.  The refugee camps, the lack of infrastructure and resources, and the sense of isolation from the rest of the world.  Yet, inside the school there were families who had come together to celebrate the success of their children.  They were full of joy and pride like all parents are when their children do well.  They radiated dignity and determination not to be weighed down by the situation which surrounded them. 

As I watched the ceremony one thing, more than any other stood out in my mind.  It was the huge importance which all of those present – Christian and Muslim – attached to the bond of the family, based on marriage.  Mothers and fathers were dressed in their best, full of pride.  The children put on an incredible show of dancing, music and theatre.  It was clear that they wanted to lift the hearts and minds of their parents and friends in this rare moment of joy and celebration. 

It was a remarkable event so inspiring and moving – something I will never forget.  It was clear to me that for all of those present, their school – the Holy Family School – was a common and honoured theme around which the parents and children of both these great religious traditions of the world were united.

The second memory that stands out for me is that on the last night of our visit we had the great privilege of attending the Sabbath Service in a synagogue in the holy city of Jerusalem.  Afterwards, the Rabbi invited us to join his family for the Shabbat meal.  This, for me, was another very moving and memorable experience.

The Rabbi explained that one of the most important aspects of the Shabbat meal for the Jewish people was the gathering of all the family members who could attend.  He explained that after the destruction of the Second Temple, the altar of sacrifice and praise had moved from the Temple to the home.  For the Jewish people, God is present in the meeting of the family, which is based on marriage, as well as in the synagogue and temple. 

For our Shabbat meal all the family were there, from the youngest grandchildren to grandmothers.  The Rabbi blessed the fruit of the vine, washed the hands of all those present and broke the Sabbath bread – rituals and gestures which we use in our Mass. Then together the whole family sang songs of praise and blessing.  The whole atmosphere was joyful, serene, prayerful and, at all times, relaxed.  They were a family bound by love, faith and prayer. 

Something which unites the three great faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam is their common belief in the family as the fundamental building block of a strong, cohesive and successful society.  All of these great faiths believe that God has revealed the family, based on the marriage of man and woman, as the most important relationship in society, worthy of special respect, support and promotion. 

No-one suggests that marriage or family is always easy.  Like most things worthwhile it often requires, generosity, forgiveness and commitment.  These are not popular virtues in many parts of the western world today, not least here in our own country.  The family is under increasing threat.  Some of it is external, some of it internal. 

This is why it is so appropriate that Pope Benedict XVI, on this occasion of World Communications Day, seeks to remind the media in particular of its responsibility to act in support of and to reveal to the world the beauty of the family. 

The media has an important role to play in our society.  It has immense influence.  But influence is not neutral in terms of value.  Whatever influence we have we can either use it to build up things that are good and which support and develop our society or things that are evil and which undermine the virtues and values on which society is built.  In other words, we can use our influence to ruin and destroy. 

That is why in his message for World Communications Day this year, Pope Benedict emphasises to the media that with this influence goes responsibility to promote respect for the family.  Soap operas, including those designed to appeal to the young, are a particular area of concern.  Why are the values of so many parents and families undermined and challenged by those who write and broadcast so many of these programmes on our televisions?  Why are the values of family and marriage, values which the great religions of the world share, so under-represented in the entertainment offered by the media, especially to our young people?

When it comes to the family there is much at stake.  The family has natural and obvious rights.  The media and legislators are called to respect those rights.  Governments have a duty to legislate in favour of families, built on marriage between a man and a woman.  Nothing can replace marriage and family as the fundamental unit of society.  Granting the same or largely similar rights to other types of relationships is to undermine this fundamental building block of our society.  It also further erodes the values which hold societies together and to directly contravene the revealed will of God.  

Pope John Paul II, once said that the future of the world rests on the future of the family.  The essence of Pope Benedict’s message is that the peace of the world depends on the defence, promotion and support of the family based on marriage.  Many people pay lip service to the family but not everyone is willing to invest in the family.

The family that I have experienced in the last few days in another culture, among other faiths, especially in the midst of suffering, is a one of great beauty.  It is one of hope, and something that we should treasure.  The media has a duty to present the beauty and the hope of family life and marriage.  The image presented in Irish and British soap operas seldom reflects this beauty and this joy.

In his message for World Communications Day, Pope Benedict asks the media to be at the service of greater justice and solidarity.  Because of its ability to enter almost every home, to connect us in an incredible way to the rest of the world, the media is uniquely placed to be at the service of justice and solidarity.

Today is also the feast of the Ascension.  In the First Reading the disciples are asked why they stand looking into the sky.  In the Gospel they are told to go out instead, baptise all nations and teach the commandments Jesus taught us.  In other words, it is over to us now.  As we await the second coming of the Lord, our challenge is to make the commandment of love a reality in our world.  Marriage and family life rest on this very commandment and derive their beauty and power from it.  Our challenge, on World Communications Day, is to challenge our media to support us in the task of building a society which respects, promotes and celebrates the value of marriage and the family.  It is in doing this that we will offer a more certain hope to our world.