Centenary of the Catholic Police Guild

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Given at Westminster Cathedral at the Centenary of the Foundation of the Catholic Police Guild Mass on 6 September 2014.

Forgive me, but as I stand before you I am tempted to imitate Pope Francis and say not simply ‘Buona sera’ but, more fittingly, ‘Evening, all!’

It is a pleasure to take part with you all in this Holy Mass marking the centenary of the Catholic Police Guild, in its earliest form the Metropolitan and City Catholic Police Guild. As you know, it was my predecessor, Cardinal Bourne, who gave his blessing to this initiative which started here, in this Cathedral, with Mgr Martin Howlet, a newly appointed Cathedral Administrator. He noticed the large number of policemen attending Mass and was inspired to start the Guild, the oldest vocational guild in our community today. The Guild happily still plays a crucial role in the life of the Cathedral and, of course, in high profile events such as the two Papal Visits that have taken place. Then, in 1974, just 40 years ago, the Guild officially became a national body with membership open to police personnel from every Force in England and Wales. So I give a warm welcome to all who have travelled to be part of this lovely centenary celebration. 

The purposes of the Guild are well declared in your formal documents: to be a welcoming and close knit organisation – a translation of the word ‘fraternal’; to help each other to have a better understanding of the Catholic faith and its relevance; to apply Christian principles to your work; to assist each other, and I quote, in ‘resisting temptations to injustice and disloyalty, demonstrating qualities of integrity, sincerity and truthfulness’. 

These are important and noble aims, always relevant to a public body and certainly relevant to policing today. This is especially true in your work, as in mine, where public trust is of the essence of what we wish to offer and achieve. You and I know the ways and times in which that public trust has been undermined and you and I know what hard work is needed in order to rebuild it.

Pope St John Paul II has perhaps given the snappiest expression of your calling: ‘Enthusiastically serve the cause of civic harmony and well-being, with sensitivity and Christian hope’ (Audience address, 12 April 1985). 

Civic harmony. Yes indeed, we are living in a time when all sorts of pressures are being put on that harmony. Some arise from poverty and deprivation, issues you have to deal with every day, seen so clearly on the streets of many cities and certainly here in London. As our society becomes a place in which people from so many different countries come to live and work, we face many issues arising from difference: difference of lifestyle, of customs, of religious belief. You have to deal with these realities, too. And just now we are all particularly aware of the tensions here flowing from cruel and tragic conflicts abroad. All of us are concerned with security. But you are on the front line. 

St John Paul II calls on you to respond to all these challenges with enthusiasm, sensitivity and Christian hope. Where do such qualities come from? 

Some propose to us that what we are to promote are ‘British values’ and among those particularly the values of tolerance and democracy. In my view, in our view, they do not go far enough. 

Take tolerance, for example. Tolerance is a fruit. It is not a root. Tolerance is the fruit of acknowledging the intrinsic value of every other person. Tolerance is the fruit of respect. If I do not really respect another person, then my tolerance will be short-lived and I will quickly become indifferent to that person or group and then, step by step, intolerant and eventually hostile. Tolerance will not sustain itself. No. So we need to understand and promote the truth that the tree on which tolerance grows is the tree of human respect and belief in the dignity of every human being. And the roots of that tree are planted in the good soil of our faith, and need that good soil, if tolerance is to survive and flourish. For it is because we know that God is the creator of every human person that every person deserves my respect, my patience and my tolerance. This is so whether that person is being held in a police cell, or confined to a hospital bed, or living in the house next door. This is true value that you and I want to bring to our society today. And it grows best, to its fullness, in the good soil of our Catholic faith. 

Democracy. Yes indeed. Yet during his visit here in 2010 Pope Benedict posed serious question about the foundations of our precious democracy. From where do we get the values that underpin our democratic system and which we wish to protect and promote through that system? What is the foundation of our moral patterns and code, our laws? Pope Benedict said: ‘If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy’ (Westminster Hall 17 February 2010). He went on to propose that within the teaching of the Church, particularly about what makes for civic harmony, lays a valuable store of wisdom and truth, accessible to reason and lit up by faith. Our Catholic Social Teaching, then, is a crucial part of our faith today and one with which I hope you are increasingly familiar and ready to share. It is encouraging to see that many people from business and indeed politics are turning to that source as they too face crucial issues of trust and public confidence and the fashioning of a healthy relationship between their corporate efforts of our wider society. 

Pope St John Paul spoke finally about ‘Christian hope’. How important! Hope is so central to the message we bring for hope speaks to the heart of each person in a way that is so telling and, often, so transforming. But we must be clear. It is Christian hope that the saintly Pope is talking about, not secular optimism, a vague belief that everything will work out OK because today we are pretty well provided for. Christian hope is quite different. Secular hope looks to an unknown future from a fairly secure present. Christian hope looks at an uncertain present from the perspective of a secure future. For our future is secured. Promises are made to us: that throughout this life and at its end God is drawing us to himself; that God will bring us home; promises that God will never cease to offer us the mercy and forgiveness we need to overcome the mess we make of things each day; that God will build and build again his Kingdom in our midst if we are God’s honest workers open to His truth and guided by His Holy Spirit. These promises are utterly secure. They are trustworthy. They are affirmed, made afresh, at every celebration of Holy Mass, here, among us, this afternoon. Let us embrace them again and shape our lives upon them, building day by day on these firm foundations. 

So today, as we celebrate this notable centenary, I can do no better that repeat again the fine words spoken to you in 1985. Please do enthusiastically serve the cause of civic harmony and well-being in our cities and communities. Please do so with great and enduring sensitivity. And please keep fresh in your hearts the great message of Christian hope. 

May God bless you all.