Cardinal O'Brien urges Scots to learn about their patron saint.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Cardinal O'Brien urges Scots to learn about their patron saint.  

In an article in today's Sunday Times, Cardinal Keith O'Brien will call on Scots to learn more about their patron, St. Andrew whose feast day will be celebrated tomorrow, 30 November.

Commenting on an opinion poll showing almost half of respondents think St. Andrew was Scottish, the Cardinal describes the finding as "nothing short of alarming" he also adds his voice to calls for a public holiday, saying Scotland must "grasp the thistle and create a national public holiday."

The full text of the Cardinal's article is shown below.

ENDS

Peter Kearney
Director
Catholic Media Office
5 St. Vincent Place
Glasgow
G1 2DH
0141 221 1168
07968 122291
pk@scmo.org
www.scmo.org  

Note to Editors:

Cardinal O'Brien will celebrate Mass on St. Andrew's Day, at St. Mary's Cathedral, Broughton Street, Edinburgh at 12.45pm


"The celebration of the feast of St Andrew has taken place in Scotland since earliest times and, indeed, Scotland should feel honoured to have Andrew, a fisherman from Galilee who was Jesus s second apostle, as its patron saint.

However, how many Scots today are familiar with the religious history and significance of St Andrew? The results of an opinion poll published in this newspaper provide depressing testament to a widespread lack of understanding. In recent years our interest in Andrew has increasingly revolved around the secular idea of a national holiday.

Knowledge of the saint and his life is disappointingly scant, the name Andrew has slipped to 20th place in the current ranking of Scottish boy s names and the fact that almost a third of young people don t know who Scotland s patron saint is and almost half of all Scots questioned in the Sunday Times poll think that St Andrew was Scottish is nothing short of alarming.

While the Catholic Church continues to regard St Andrew s day as a solemnity or holy day, for most Scots 30th November is a day to be marked in other often disparate ways. Saltires fly on the Forth road bridge, children are encouraged to paint their faces and the Scottish government announces almost half a million pounds towards St Andrew s Day celebrations, none of which seem to mention or celebrate Andrew himself.  

How many of these schoolchildren know what the white cross they paint represents? Or for that matter how many of the politicians who fund these jamborees know who Andrew actually was? Where in our country are the statues of him or memorials in his honour?

For 15 centuries the church has revered and guarded the memory of Andrew. It has respected and upheld his memory preserving it from expropriation and destruction at the hands of reformers, kings and politicians. It is appropriate that civil society should mark the feast day of our patron and fitting that secular events take place, but we would do well to remember that what is seen today as a holiday started life as a holy day ” and, despite the welcome presence of many new faiths in our society, Scotland remains at heart a Christian country.

To turn our national day into a secular event only, would be to eviscerate it completely. It would become no different from the empty bells and jingles that signify Christmas without Christ or the festival of chocolate, which is all that's left of Easter without the resurrection.  

St. Andrew s day, should be Scotland s national day of prayer, for our nation, our people and our future. We cannot cement this day in our national calendar until we grasp the thistle and create a national public holiday. We must not allow any future generations of Scottish children to grow up in this country without some rudimentary knowledge of their patron.

If we are truly to endorse a curriculum for excellence in our schools it must impart information about our patron to all Scotland s children. Teachers must be given greater scope to retell the history of our patron saint ” our education system should never pander to misguided and baseless fears that in doing so we may upset members of other faiths.

While civic events are useful, spiritual action is crucial. It is in prayer and worship that we truly honour St Andrew. There is no reason why the two cannot be combined. Every year on the feast of St Andrew I celebrate mass in St. Mary s Cathedral, politicians and civic leaders are always invited and at the end of the celebration one of them is invited to address the congregation. Last year Alex Salmond, our first minister, spoke and this year Jim Murphy, the secretary of state for Scotland, will address us.

This feast day mass has become the spiritual focal point for our national celebrations and I hope it will remain so.

On many occasions in recent years I have spoken about the growth of secularism in our society, St. Andrew s day gives us an opportunity to counter this with prayers to our patron saint. We should ask for his intercession for the good of our country and in so doing illustrate to all Scots in our increasingly multicultural nation part of the Christian identity and ethos which makes us who we are.

We in Scotland share St Andrew, who is also patron of Russia, Greece, Spain, butchers, and fishermen and among other things, rope makers. He is believed to have been martyred at Patras in Greece on November 30 in the year 60 on a diagonal or saltire cross.

According to legend Saint Regulus was a Greek monk who, in the fourth century, came to Scotland with the bones of Saint Andrew and was shipwrecked on the shores of Fife at the place which is now St Andrews. He acted on a dream in which he was warned to move as many of the saint s bones to the ends of the earth for safekeeping.

The Regulus legend was opportunistically used by mediaeval Scottish kings in an early example of secular powers commandeering religious affairs. It allowed them to authenticate the apostle as patron saint of Scotland, thus giving our nation a top-rank patron saint and a separate identity from England during a period of territorial aggrandisement by our southern neighbour.

In any event by the 11th century, the town of St. Andrews had become a significant pilgrimage centre, visited constantly by thousands of pilgrims. Queen Margaret, endowed a ferry service across the river Forth and hostels, at north and south Queensferry, to meet the needs of these pilgrims.

Today our politicians debate plans to build another crossing over the Forth, but it has nothing to do with meeting the needs of pilgrims wishing to venerate our patron.

The saints relics were eventually housed in the great medieval Cathedral of St Andrews. Twice a year they were carried in procession around the town.In June 1559 the interior of St Andrews Cathedral, including the shrine and relics, was destroyed by reformers who had accompanied John Knox to the city.

For more than two centuries Scotland had no tangible link with Andrew until 1879 when the Archbishop of Amalfi gifted one of his relics to St. Mary s Cathedral in Edinburgh. Ninety years later Pope Paul VI gave my predecessor Cardinal Gordon Joseph Gray a further relic in St Peter s in Rome in 1969.

In 1982 both these relics were housed in the altar to the north of the High Altar of St Mary s cathedral, which now serves as the national shrine to St Andrew, successor to the shrine destroyed in 1559. It was here in May 1982 that Pope John Paul II knelt and prayed to Scotland s patron.

Sadly, little of this fascinating history is widely known in this country. Before we celebrate another St. Andrew s day, I hope we will have begun to change that.  

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