On the wall of one of our primary school classrooms was a large map of the world. The teacher would say proudly “Look, children, all the red is ours.” There was a lot of red – Canada, Australia, parts of Africa and Asia. It was our empire, she told us.
Living in Wales, a country conquered by the English many centuries before, living in an Irish Catholic community, the red hardly impressed us. We were aware of Irish and Welsh and glimpses of tensions in the community where being Irish could count against you in various ways but young as we were, we knew that the red on the map wasn’t ours.
Years passed. Great Britain did not seem so great when I learned it was achieved by conquest, and I disliked our island’s history of the invasion of Wales, Ireland, Scotland by the English. It was forced union. The red on our primary school map faded as empire became commonwealth and I now knew that empire had been established by conquest. I disliked empire. So does the bible, I came to discover. It is arrogance and power, dominating other peoples, using and abusing them for the enrichment of the conquering powers.
The horrors of slavery opened up in our history studies, the vile traders, especially from England and the United States, the pride of Spain and Portugal in South America, the penal settlements in Australia, and I came to loathe the conquerors of whatever nation, but especially of the country where I now lived. Social history taught us the horrors of the industrial revolution, the working conditions in factories and coal mines, and I marvelled at the cruelty of wealth and power and establishment, and the poverty and misery of the masses of the people.
I saw the Church and the churches were part of the problem. They weren’t the solution. Men of the church in league with the rich and the powerful, benefitting from their wealth (the poor didn’t build those churches), and subservient to that wealth almost everywhere.
In Rome, I discovered how corrupt the church had been. Our history professors told us we had to know. The world knew. So should we. Good men and saints stood out, we admired their courage and goodness, but the power and wealth of the church attracted the wrong men to want to use and control it.
Constantly I had to free myself from prejudice and even loathing – the English, Spanish, Portuguese, American, Germans, Russians, Popes and religious rulers (and I didn’t know a single one of them, I only knew Welsh and Irish people. That’s how prejudice works – not knowing people, seeing only “them”). Please God, I am free of prejudice now, but the fight has been hard. On Racial Justice Sunday I join my prayer and life with all those suffering prejudice because of their race, colour, religion, nationality, any.
God bless us all,
(9th February 2020)