Scotland's Cardinal O'Brien Urges a Re-Christianization

Voices Concern About New Age Mysticism, Family Life, and More

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

EDINBURGH, Scotland, NOV. 30, 2003 ( Cardinal Keith O’Brien called for a national effort to re-Christianize Scotland and urged resistance to tide of secularization, especially concerning the celebration of Christmas.

At a National Mass on Saturday to mark his recent appointment to the College of Cardinals, the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh used his homily to defend Scotland’s Christian values and to urge Christians in other denominations and all people of good will, to do likewise.

At the Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral, he concluded with a call to «all our peoples to reconsider the basic Christian message which has been handed on and lived in our country for almost 2,000 years now.»

He also urged every local authority in Scotland to erect a Nativity scene in their area at Christmas.

«I think it only appropriate that there be a Nativity scene at the center of the celebrations of each of our communities,» he said. «Without this there is left a gaping hole at the heart of the season of good will.»

Excerpts from the homily appear below.

Marriage and family life

Since my appointment as cardinal I have shared with my own congregation’s particular concerns which I also share with many people of good will.

In our country as in many other countries throughout the world there is a deterioration in standards with regard to marriage and family life. I see it as one of my priorities to help our young people better prepare for the sacrament of matrimony; to have added support for them in their early years of married life; to give appropriate help in bringing up their children; and as they live out their married life to be enabled to learn from those in stable unions.

At a recent meeting of the National Secretariat for the Laity of our Catholic Church, representatives of the main organizations, groups and movements in our Church, with a particular focus on working with families, spoke out about marriage and family life. Among other things they said the following:

«It is in the best interests of Scottish society, and is therefore a duty incumbent on all who are active in public life, to respect and foster family life. All legislative and fiscal policy must take account of the effect that it will have on this core institution of our society and ensure that it is strengthened and not undermined.»


Marriage and family life is but one of the very many concerns which I and others have at this present time. I think that these concerns have grown in recent years quite simply because of the unwillingness of many people to recognize and reaffirm the Christian identity of Scotland and its peoples.

Consequently I have seen as a major project for the years given to me to serve as cardinal the task of «Re-Christianization of Scotland.» This is indeed a major task, a project upon which one should not enter upon lightly, and it is one which I cannot in any way face alone. Consequently I appeal at this celebration for the ongoing help and support of all members of my own Church. But I also appeal to the members of the other Christian Churches in our country as well as to our civic leaders who have been elected by them.

Other concerns

We might say at this present time that, despite the baptism of our country some 1,600 years ago, the message brought to us which found a ready audience among our ancestors is marginalized and ignored. As a people we are the poorer for it!

At a time when our society craves the moral and spiritual compass our faith can provide, we see people of all ages turn to other influences and beliefs in the search for spiritual meaning in their lives. Yet the increase in New Age mysticism, alternative therapies, drug experimentation and secular humanism has been accompanied by a huge increase in discontent and unhappiness as measured in opinion polls and surveys.

Our material well-being has not been matched by spiritual well-being. In the midst of our wealth and success it seems that as a people we are more fearful, pessimistic and depressed than ever!

At a time when Christians and Christian leaders should be shouting from the rooftops about the benefits that come from belief in God, we seem paralyzed by our own predicament, wary of causing offense, and are all too willing to accept the conclusions of our detractors that Christians are a spent force in the land. As the message of Christ continues to illuminate the lives of millions of new believers around the world, here in the ancient land of Scotland, although we were among the first to hear the Gospel message, we no longer respond to it as once we did.

We no longer seem to notice when our Christian identity is attacked and marginalized. We are not ready to respond to the attacks which take place at this present time with regard to our basic moral teaching.

Even in recent days we have seen examples of attempts to de-Christianize our country. A major charity refused to allow its shops to sell products that have a Christian theme in the run-up to Christmas! Further, the great majority of Christmas cards have no mention of the word «Christmas.» Mention is simply made of «Seasons Greetings,» as if we were singling out this «Winter Season» as a time of special celebration.

Causes of hope

However I would hate you to think that I am being too pessimistic at this present time. Rather the opposite. I see in what I have already said above an outline of some of the challenges that I and others are called upon to face.

My motto chosen some 18 years ago when I was appointed archbishop consisted of words from Psalm 99: «Serve the Lord with gladness!» And the theme for my own pastoral plan, chosen a few years ago is: «Together in Hope.» I link these words with the words of Jesus to his first followers including St. Andrew: «Launch out into the deep!»

There is no excuse for despair at this present time. Rather there is much to be grateful for. I call in you all to realize that:

— We live in a civil, democratic society, which sees freedom of religion as a cornerstone;

— We will not suffer the persecutions that many other countries endure when spreading and teaching their faith;

— There still exists a «bedrock of belief» upon which we can build.

We realize that in our courts of law, oaths are still sworn on the Holy Bible; the two greatest festivals in the Christian calendar, Christmas and Easter, remain as holidays to be enjoyed and celebrated with our very calendar based on these events. Our Christian churches work more closely together than ever before and serve society in more ways than ever. At least three-quarters of our population describe themselves as «Christians.»

It is to our churches that we turn week in and week out, with 600,000 Scots each Sunday faithfully attending Christian churches to bear witness to their faith. As we know, it is also in time of national grief, shock or sorrow that it is to our Churches that people turn.

Facing the future

It is with all this in mind that I believe that the time has come for a concerted and determined effort to re-Christianize Scotland while also being aware of those of other faiths in our midst. It is in the spirit of collaboration that I call on women and men of good will in the Christian community to join me in this effort. I further ask our politicians in local and national government to respect the beliefs of the majority of our electors and the Christian origins of our country. I ask serious consideration to be given to the following points.

1. I ask all our peoples to reconsider the basic Christian message which has been handed on and lived in our country for almost 2,000 years now. This is the standard by which we should be living our lives and the standard which we should be handing on to our young. We must focus on the fundamental teaching of Jesus Christ, first of al

2. I ask you all to recognize the feast of our patron saint, St. Andrew on 30 November each year. Help would be given in this if our Parliament recognized this day, St. Andrew’s Day, as a national holiday. In this way, we bring to the fore the fact that as a country we have as our patron one of the great followers of Jesus Christ, who did spread the Christian message in an outstanding way.

3. Aware that some 24 hours from now I will dedicate with other Christian leaders the city of Edinburgh’s Nativity scene in Princes Street Gardens, I congratulate this city and all the city and town councils in Scotland who have erected such scenes. I would ask each and every council and community in Scotland to consider doing likewise.

Aware of the remembrance memorials which are the focus of our prayer on Remembrance Sunday and aware also of the ways in which considerable sums of money are spent on Christmas displays, I think it only appropriate that there be a Nativity scene at the center of the celebrations of each of our communities. Without this there is left a gaping hole at the heart of the season of good will.

4. I would call on all our peoples to ensure that there is a real Christian commemoration of the feast of Christmas by the cards that we send, the celebrations we undertake, and the way in which we observe Christmas Day itself. Surely there is value in our following the lead of parliamentary colleagues in Westminster and assure our shop workers that they need not face Christmas Day opening. Christmas is the time to think of one’s family and the value of home life, rather than shop life.


I indicated that I am aware of something of the enormity of the task facing me as an archbishop and as a cardinal at this present time. However I am also aware of the tremendous support and help which I have already received. I am sure that that support and help will continue in the years which lie ahead.

I similarly offer my own help and support in every way possible to those who seek it and perhaps also to some of those who do not seek it in my future service. On a recent visit to one of our primary schools I was asked, «Why do cardinals always wear red?» I indicated that red is the color of blood and that throughout the Church’s history cardinals have been called upon to shed their blood for Christ.

Perhaps I will not be called upon to shed my blood literally. But I assure you that I will spend myself in service of Scotland, of Scotland’s people, of all people of good will in the years which lie ahead.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation