A silver lining

The first reading for the Eucharist on the day I am writing this goes, “love each other … and always welcome strangers” (Hebrews 13). This sounds like David’s pebble flung against the mighty shield of Goliath Trump. The mind-set of the new US president, and he is not alone, would have us build mental and physical walls to keep out those who are different. But while we lament this dark shadow all around as we enter a new year we might spare a thought for a silver lining on this cloud.

I refer to the new Secretary General of the United Nations, Antόnio Guterres, who, in the opinion of Angelique Chrisafis and Julian Borger in The Guardian, is “perhaps better qualified than any of his nine predecessors for the world’s most demanding job.” That is quite a claim when among the nine was Dag Hammarskjold whose peace efforts in the Congo were so intense they cost him his life. Last week I visited the site, near Ndola, where his plane came down in mysterious circumstances in 1961. So what makes these writers so enthusiastic about the new Secretary General?

When Guterres resigned as Prime Minister of Portugal in 2002 he went to the slum areas of Lisbon and gave free tuition in maths to poor children. And, significantly, he would not allow journalists or photographers to go with him. Later he was UN High Commissioner for refugees and, on a visit to Lebanon, was seen sitting “cross legged on the floor of a tent talking to children. He really listens and he asks questions and he’s very moved by what he hears.”

Guterres, 67, grew up under the dictatorship and after the revolution in 1974 emerged as a leading socialist whose driving force was his progressive Catholic faith. He became a “fearsome orator with an ability to verbally destroy his opponents … and became known as a talking pickaxe.” At the same time he was quick to understand other points of view and build consensus.

His first wife, a psychiatrist, was critically ill and receiving treatment in London while he was in government and each week-end he flew to the UK to be with her. He said she taught him that, “when two people are together, they are not two but six. What each one is, what each one thinks he or she is, and what each one thinks the other is.” And what is true of individuals is true of countries, he says, “one of the roles of the secretary general is to bring these six into two so that misunderstandings and false perceptions disappear. Perceptions are essential in politics.”

“Your light will shine like the dawn …your integrity will go before you” (Isaiah 58). There are some great public men and women to whom these words apply.

5 February 2017          Sunday 5 A

Isaiah 58:7-10             1 Corinthians 2:1-5     Matthew 5:13-16

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