Celebrate St. Patrick with Civility
By Patrick Winn
During The Troubles of Northern Ireland in the 1970s-1990s, ostensibly devout Protestants and Catholics emulated the worst of America’s Civil War 120 years earlier. 
Topics implicitly forbidden at Thanksgiving dinner in America, namely religion and politics, preoccupied gatherings, meals, discussions, and Sunday sermons. Catholics complained and fought over religious discrimination. Protestants accused non-royalists of treason. Calling the shootings, beatings, and personal disappearances of the era The Troubles was classic British understatement.
In pursuing their ambitions to the natural conclusion of violence, both sides blew up factories and workplaces and then complained about unemployment. 
Schools lost teachers to threats or acts of violence, and their well-attended funerals featured eulogists who lamented poor education. 
Debates about preserving the British National Health Care System coincided with bombing hospitals and clinics, killing patients and doctors. 
The poor also suffered when post offices were destroyed, effectively stopping the delivery of “the dole” in the mail. 
So here we are approaching St. Patrick’s Day 2020 (also Election Day in Illinois). And the world watches to see if the Emerald Isle will once again become violently riven by politics and religion as a result of Brexit. 
With the unexpected ascendance of Sinn Fein in Ulster’s legislature, Ireland’s Catholics, North and South, remain suspicious of religion but hopeful of the Church’s ability to reclaim the moral position it held when a Catholic priest administered last rites to a mortally wounded British soldier. A then-rebel and now parliamentarian observed, “The only organization that can do anything is the Church.”  
As we in America celebrate St. Patrick this month, let’s use the “We’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” adage to recover what adherents on both sides of The Troubles observed. Once again, during times of extreme division, “the only organization that can do anything is the Church. Only the Church ha[s] the status, the credibility, and lines of communication with the relevant parties to achieve peace,” continued a statement from that former Irish rebel, Gerry Adams.
St. Patrick is traditionally reputed to be of Italian-Briton ethnicity. As his ethnicity merged with his adopted faith, his legacy would effectively link with St. Francis of Assisi six centuries later to plead for peaceful leadership: let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. 
Part of Catholic Charities’ mission is to work for justice with others of good will. It’s why we advocate for civility and personal tolerance while holding fast to our own faith and beliefs. 
That means a willingness to acknowledge, if not accept, the perception by each of the other. A focus on the Irish and English, Israelis and Palestinians, Indians and Pakistanis, all resemble the political, religious, and moral conflicts on our own shores. It’s time to reclaim the leadership of the Church to use “... the status, the credibility and the lines of communication” that lead to civility and away from moral and political anarchy.
That would indeed make for a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.