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January 13, 2021

Echoes from the North

Democracy is a gift, and while not a perfect system, it allows for freedoms and rights that can be easy to take for granted.

Built in within the system is a necessary structure for checks and balances, and it allows for a people’s participation in electing  representation. The example of leadership in response to crises is integral for the functioning and safety of a society.

What unfolded on January 6 at Capitol Hill is a failure of many parts of that whole and a culmination of a consistent effort to cast doubt on all the pillars of democracy, from media and elected officials and process, to eventually the Supreme Court and the halls of Congress.

Many would have followed the insurrection as it occurred live, but the videos which emerged after gave a more sobering view of the violence against democracy, none more apt than the mob beating a police officer to death using a pole with a US flag attached.

In October of last year, the editorial ‘Sacred truths to build a better world’, emphasised the dangers of building a cult of personality in the ostensible desire of protecting what is perceived as a ‘truth’ to one group. On Capitol Hill, the world saw the inevitable result.

The editorial of the National Catholic Reporter, ‘Catholics need to confess their complicity in the failed coup’, takes to task the blind support given. Some Catholics too, have “blood on their hands”. “…and some Catholics have remained silent, or worse, cheered it [Trump’s rhetoric] along, including some bishops, priests, a few sisters, right-wing Catholic media and too many people in the pro-life movement.” Look to the heated exchanges which occurred in this paper’s Letters to the Editor, during the US elections last year.

It is significant to remember that the people in the time of Christ, were looking for a Messiah to save the populace from the tyrannies of Rome. In today’s gospel, Christ utters a simple phrase to His followers, “Come and see”.  And they were taken down a revolutionary path, but certainly not in the way envisioned, without bloodshed—except His own—and without violence—except to Himself.

The event in the US, a country which has been traditionally positioned as the watchdog of democracy globally, is not without resonance for us here who have been fortunate to have had electoral processes that were, by and large, free from physical violence.

There were echoes, though, of rigged elections, and ugly rhetoric emerged after, which persist today along political party lines.

Strong leaders set the example of grace, exemplary behaviour and above all, condemn, in the strongest terms possible, acts of physical and/or verbal violence against citizens.

Should a leader not do that, then it sends a clear message that their vision is for their own aggrandisement and not the common good.

Pope Francis in his response to January 6 said: “Violence is always self-destructive”. He continued, “Nothing is gained with violence and so much is lost…I exhort the authorities of the state and the entire population to maintain a high sense of responsibility with the aim of calming souls, promoting national reconciliation, and safeguarding the democratic values rooted in American society.”

We must safeguard our own democracy, and take a firm stance against those individuals who utter racist and divisive statements to support their own political leaders. The precedent of where this can lead has again been set in our contemporary history.