Saint Patrick and Anna Lo

(March 2007, Unpublished)


Saint Patrick was an immigrant who experienced what we today would call racism. It came at him from two sides, from the Irish and the British. The Irish didn’t fully accept him because he was British. The British didn’t like him because he had gone to Ireland and identified himself with the Irish. He wrote, ‘We have become like strangers. Perhaps they do not believe that… we have one and the same God as Father. They think it a disgrace that we are Irish…’ And he answered his critics – who were Christians, ‘Have you not all one God? Why has each of you deserted his neighbour?’ (From the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.)

Racism is still with us, though we often like to imagine it isn’t. Not long ago, I spoke to a Nigerian woman who told me of having racial abuse hurled at her because of her colour. She said it seemed to be the rule that the darker your skin the more intense the racism. What annoyed her about this was she said Irish people have the illusion that they are not racist; they think it’s only other people who are like that.

I know a Palestinian man, married, with a family, who has been driven from his home three times.

I know a Chinese woman who was kicked to the ground as she walked along a city street in broad daylight, and had racial insults hurled at her. She said what hurt her most was not the physical pain, or even the humiliation, but that no one offered to help her, asked her if she was alright, or offered to call a doctor or the police. Instead, people pretended they hadn’t seen anything, they walked around her, and kept going. They literally side-stepped the problem. They “didn’t see” what had happened before their eyes – ‘I don’t want to get involved.’

That Chinese woman was Anna Lo. On March 7, she was elected to the Legislative Assembly in Stormont. (She had got involved.) Since then there has been a lot of embarrassing self-congratulation around her election – the first Chinese person to be elected to a legislature in Europe; aren’t we very liberal? etc.

The population of the Republic is growing because of immigration, with family size among Irish-born people below replacement level. The economy grows because of immigration, indeed would stagnate without it. After two hundred years as a nation of emigrants, we are becoming a nation of immigrants. The United States is a nation of immigrants, and has been immensely enriched by that fact.

All human beings were created in the image and likeness of the one God. All were redeemed by the death of Christ. ‘There is not, there never has been, and there never will be a single human being for whom Jesus Christ did not die’, declared an early council of the church. All humans have the same origin, and are called to the same destiny – union with God. Set alongside those considerations, differences of colour, race, class, creed, or social status are insignificant. Rather than see those things as sources of division, why not welcome them as variety which gives spice to life?

Jews, who have more powerful reasons than the rest of us for knowing about the evils of racism, ask the question, ‘Why did God make everyone descend from Adam and Eve?’ They answer, ‘It was so that no one could say, “My people are better than yours”.’