Politicians could learn from Francis: Farm Street debate

Farm Street Church hall in Mayfair, central London was packed for the first Faith Matters Question Time session, which considered Pope Francis' vision for the Church and what it means for the world. The panel was comprised of Labour peer Baron Maurice Glasman; Julian Coman, assistant editor of The Observer; Lib-Dem MP Sarah Teather and Catholic poet Sarah de Nordwall. They discussed topics including the Prayer Encounter at the Vatican when the Israeli and Palestinian leaders prayed with the Pope for peace in the Middle East, and whether the Church should be involved in politics.

Baron Glasman said: "The Church has the unique tradition of being able to hold tension and conflict and foster discussion. I would just like to say to Catholics to be confident in your tradition and engage with the world. This is your time.”

He went on: “The old orthodoxies are dead. The idea of the big estate and more markets being the solution to everything doesn’t work …"

Julian Coman said: “I don’t see how you can be a Church for the poor and stand aloof from politics  … What's been striking about Pope Francis is there has been a double openness both within the Church and outside it. Within the Church that's been evident in the new emphasis on collegiality. Francis has also shown a clear and sincere willingness to engage with those outside the Church.

"When Rush Limbaugh, the American shock jock, accused the Pope of 'Marxist tendencies' in his emphasis on a Church for the poor, Francis responded that he knew many Marxists who were good people. Truly there is a new approach to dialogue at work here." 

Sarah de Nordwall stressed the importance of fasting and prayer for peace and the common good. "Do you remember last September 7th?” she asked. “We were all quite hungry because the Pope asked us to fast and pray that Britain and the US would not get involved in military intervention in Syria. Well that hasn't happened, though there is still a lot of work to do."

Echoing one of Pope Francis' recent homilies in which he said we cannot simply blame political leaders for all our woes, she added: "Secular humanism presents itself as a neutral ground around which all other ideals have to be calibrated. But this is not true. We all share responsibility for the public space and we all have a right to be there.”

Sarah Teather said: “When I hear Pope Francis my heart burns. I want to go out and engage with the world, not to reject it. I think he captures the public imagination with his style of intimacy. I have huge admiration for the leadership he has offered on Lampedusa and refugees. Politicians could learn much from his courageous leadership.”

The session was hosted by Father Dominic Robinson SJ who reminded the audience that Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium had called the world of business a noble vocation ‘provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all’.” He concluded: “We have high level politics but we are also all involved in small level politics; committed citizenship,” and added that he hoped the event would be the first of many Faith Matters Question Time sessions to be held at Farm Street Church.

More information about events at Farm Street.