Friday, August 7, 2015

Pope Benedict XV and the Easter Rising

The history of Ireland is littered with great intersections of historical and religious history, one such example is the 1916 meeting of Count Plunkett with Pope Benedict XV, as World War I raged throughout Europe. Benedict XV, who has a statue erected in his honour in Istanbul of all unlikely places, because of his efforts to bring peace during the First World War, was approached in the Vatican by the Irishman, George Plunkett.

Plunkett and his family were fascinating then and they seem even more so now. The Plunketts were relatives of the great Irish Saint Oliver Plunkett, who was influential enough in centuries earlier to have confirmed tens of thousands of Irish people and succeed in reforming the clergy before he was executed by the English as part of the farcical Popish Plot. As nobility, they had privileges that weren't afforded to other people. One such privilege being a private audience with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XV.

Plunkett's son, Joseph, was one of the instrumental figures in planning the Rising, eventually being executed in Kilmainham for his role, after marrying his childhood sweetheart who converted from Protestantism. Having had inside knowledge of the Rising, Count Plunkett delivered a letter to Benedict declaring the plans for the Rising. Benedict gave him his blessing and wished the rebels luck against the Protestant British forces.

This little anecdote is one of countless such exchanges between Catholicism and the national identity and destiny of Ireland. More and more, there are movements to deny the importance of this. Some like to pretend that the Church here was never more than Magdalene laundries and pervert priests, but it was not for flawed clergy that countless generations gave their lives in order to live their faith at any cost, but rather it was for the faith itself, in Our Lord and His Mystical Body.

The last number of months have seen an  increasing intensity in articles in the Irish press that slander the good names of the Catholic men and women who fought and died in Ireland's 1916 Rising, an act that began a chain of events that eventually led to independence. The Irish state's Catholic origins pose a threat for rampant secularists, who in recent years have made History the only main non compulsory subject in the Junior Certificate program, replacing it instead with short courses on How to Care for a Dog, Chinese language and Physical Exercise (I wish I was being sarcastic here). This iconoclasm has arisen from those who are so mortally ashamed of the lack of involvement on behalf of Atheists, Protestants and others in Ireland's history, that they rightly deem it detrimental to their cause if young people were to learn about the heroic role that the Catholic faith played in the lives of ordinary everyday people as well as those military and social leaders who gave their lives for their country. 

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