Friday 21 May at 09.45 and refer to the need for Christians to serve one
In a call for new thinking on the question of shared communion, he will say;
"If we are to be truly in communion with each other, we should celebrate our
differences, and the richness they bring, and be prepared to serve each
other and allow ourselves to be served."
He will also ask the Assembly to remember Scotland's shared Christian
heritage and "go back to our roots before we go forward “ never forgetting
our common ancestry!"
Lastly, in a call for greater prayer amongst Christians, he will say;
"we must indeed be a praying people. We must give God his place in our lives
in this Christian country, Sunday by Sunday, and day by day. If we are
praying as Christ prayed to the Father in heaven, then how can we ignore the
plight of the unborn; how can we wage war; how can we kill one another;
how can we stockpile weapons of mass destruction in our own country"
Cardinal O'Brien's address ends with a call for prayer in Scotland's schools
and renewed celebration of "the great Christian festivals as of old,
especially Christmas and Easter" as well as a plea for recognition for St.
The full text of Cardinal O'Brien's address is shown below.
Note to Editors:
1. Moderator, Dr Alison Elliot was with Cardinal O'Brien in Rome last
October shortly after the announcement was made of her appointment as
Catholic Media Office
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GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND
ADDRESS BY CARDINAL KEITH PATRICK O BRIEN
ASSEMBLY HALL, MOUND PLACE, EDINBURGH
FRIDAY 21 MAY 2004
My first words are those of thanks to the Moderator and to all of you
gathered here at this General Assembly for your very
warm welcome to me this morning.
As it is a great pleasure for me to be here with you today, so it was a
tremendous pleasure for me to have as my guests when I was created Cardinal
by Pope John Paul II in Rome in mid-October of last year, so many guests
from the Church of Scotland and other Churches. I should say rather than
˜guests the word ˜friends “ as indeed friends they were and still are,
including among them Dr Alison Elliot, the present Moderator of the General
Assembly and then General Convenor of ACTS.
I appreciate the time given to me this morning and I wish to use it well. I
intend speaking of three things “ and to use a visual aid for each subject.
Iona Silver “ back to our roots:
When in Rome, one of the gifts which meant a great deal to me was this
little compass of Iona Silver “ and the accompanying message, given by a
former Moderator and his wife.
The silver embraces a compass and the inscription reads: May the Iona
Silver be a symbol of our common ancestry in the Celtic Church. May the
Cardinal points of the compass help you on your way forward .
This visual aid reminds me of the first point which I want to make to you
this morning: let us go back to our roots before we go forward “ and never
forget those roots and our common ancestry! When I use those words you
might ask just where do we go back to? I think the answer is
(a) We must first of all go back to Jesus Christ and his teaching in the
words of Sacred Scripture; we must go back to our shared baptism into Jesus
(b) We must then go back to the great teaching tradition of the Christian
Church. We have at our disposal those great creeds containing the doctrines
of our faith: the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian
(c) We must go back to that magnificent corpus of teaching from the
writings of the fathers of the Church down through the early centuries when
they elaborated on the teachings of the Christian faith in a very beautiful
(d) And we must go back to both the teaching and the praying example of the
Church down through the centuries when Scotland was indeed very much a
country. Think of the great women and men of the past, including St
Margaret of Scotland,
the 900th anniversary of whose death we commemorated in 1993; St
Ninian of Galloway
whose 1600th anniversary we celebrated in 1997; St Columba of Iona
and St Mungo of
Glasgow whose 1400th anniversaries we recently celebrated; and do not
forget our own
John Duns Scotus from the Borders, whose theological thought and deep
spirit of prayer
had such an influence throughout Europe. Monasteries and abbeys dotted
from north to south; magnificent cathedrals were erected so that the
peoples of Scotland
could join in suitable prayer and praise of Almighty God; the gospel
was lived and spread
from churches great and small throughout the land.
We must go back and be aware of our common ancestry in the Christian faith
as we attempt to move forward ever more closely, inspired by the prayer of
Jesus Christ himself ˜that all may be one . We must be aware of our common
Christian origin beginning with our common baptism into the Body of Jesus
Christ, as we continue on our journey together ˜no longer strangers but
pilgrims , as Pope John Paul II said here in Scotland over 20 years ago.
Towel “ symbol of service:
My next visual aid is this simple towel.
It is not the exact symbol which I wanted to bring with me - that was a jug
of water and a basin, along with the towel. My original thought was to take
that jug and basin, kneel before the Moderator and wash her feet. In doing
this, of course, I would have been trying to imitate the example of Jesus
Christ whose words are still with us: If I have washed your feet, you
should wash each other s feet. I have given you an example so that you may
copy what I have done to you . The towel is a symbol of that service which
I want to show to you today and throughout my ministry in this country as a
When we consider where to go in the Scriptures to find the basis for our
Sacrament of Communion, most people would immediately think of the Last
Supper as the context “ that meal Jesus had with his friends on the night
before his death. The words of institution which we use are from the
Synoptic accounts of the Last Supper “ from Matthew, Mark and Luke. The
Gospel of John is different “ he does have an account of the Last Supper but
there is no mention at all in John s Gospel of bread and wine. Instead, the
Last Supper is the context for the washing of the feet. I wonder if John,
being the last one to write his Gospel, wanted to focus on the ultimate
objective of Eucharist: ongoing, continuing love; ongoing, deepening unity.
Perhaps John gives us a pattern to follow. We are invited to seek intimacy
with the Body of Christ in one another, a unity that at present does not
include the signs of bread and wine. Perhaps it is the will of Jesus that
we should become so united in faith and love with him that we appreciate
this model of service to achieve that unity.
There is communion with the Body of Christ when Jesus takes bread and wine
and says: This is my body; this is my blood; do this in memory of me .
However there is also a deep communion when Jesus kneels before his
disciples and washes their feet. This moment of tenderness is a moment of
communion. In touching their bodies, Jesus recognises that each one is a
temple of God, a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that we have the mission to wash one another s feet as a reminder
to us that we are God s own creation, temples of his living Spirit. As
members of Christ s body, we yearn to be in communion. We love each other.
If we are to be truly in communion with each other, we should celebrate our
differences, and the richness they bring, and be prepared to serve each
other and allow ourselves to be served.
I think we must reach out also from our Christian gatherings to those of
other faiths. None of us will ever forget the disastrous terrorist attacks
in America on 11 September 2001. Sometime after that, I was with other
Christian Leaders and other peoples of good faith in a mosque in Edinburgh.
Naturally, we removed our shoes for prayer. We were immediately aware of a
certain ˜levelling ! We united in prayer with our Muslim friends, realising
that we were all creatures of an all-powerful creator; we needed the
solidarity of one another; we were aware of our call to serve in love; and
we needed one another in the war against international terrorism.
Rosary “ our prayer together and on our own:
The third symbol which I bring with me is that of a simple wooden Rosary.
When gathering with leaders of other faiths at Dunblane a few years ago,
each person present was asked to produce a symbol of their religion and
speak to it. The symbol which I brought was that of a Rosary. My Rosary
summed up for me the scriptural origins of my prayer in the ˜Lord s Prayer
and the greetings to Mary in the ˜Hail Mary .
From the beginning to the end in that prayer of the Rosary, I am brought
through the great mysteries of our Christian faith and am aware that I am
again going back to the roots of Christianity with that prayer having
inspired people from the Middle Ages.
But no matter how we pray or when we pray “ we must indeed be a praying
people. We must give God his place in our lives in this Christian country,
Sunday by Sunday, and day by day. If we are praying as Christ prayed to the
Father in heaven, then how can we ignore the plight of the unborn; how can
we wage war; how can we kill one another; how can we stockpile weapons of
mass destruction in our own country. If we are people of prayer, can we
pass by on the other side, while our neighbour is hungry, thirsty, homeless
here in Scotland or in the Third World; can we shut our door when asylum
seekers and refugees legitimately seek entry into our country?
We must pray at home with our families; we must ensure that relationship to
God in prayer is at the root of everything which goes on in our schools,
Catholic and non-denominational; we must be aware that our peoples celebrate
the great Christian festivals as of old, especially Christmas and Easter and
remembering also the feast days of our great saints, especially St Andrew,
our Patron. Our prayer must be at the root of all our action.
In concluding my words this morning, I remind you again of these symbols:
Iona Silver, a towel and Rosary beads.
Let us get the relationship right between work and prayer, which ensures
that prayer is all important in our lives and our good works follow. Let us
always work as if all depends on us and pray as if all depends on God. And
let us keep in mind also those words of the great St Benedict, founder of
monasticism: To work is to pray .
As we remember our common roots; as we remember that call to service which
goes out to us all; let us also remember that basic importance of our prayer
together. We go forward for our own good and for the good of all peoples;
for the sake of our Churches and for those of other faiths and of none; for
the ongoing growth of Christianity in our country and in the world, working
together with all peoples of goodwill.
May God bless the Moderator and this General Assembly in all your
deliberations. May we all continue to pray and work together for the
wellbeing of our nation and may the faith of all peoples in our country strengthen and grow. Thank you most sincerely.