Martyrs of Indifference: a Thought for International Women’s Day

Pope Francis used an arresting phrase when he referred to the four Missionaries of Charity killed in last Friday’s attack on a nursing home in Yemen as ‘martyrs of indifference’. Neither the Missionaries themselves nor the twelve people killed with them, mostly volunteers at the home, merited much news coverage. In fact, I don’t remember seeing any outside the Catholic media. Have we really become so indifferent to murder? Or is it that the people who died were linked with the service of the poor and elderly and so of no interest to a world which is much more concerned with youth, money and power? Either way, I think it throws a useful light on International Women’s Day.

While it is undeniably true that women are still at a disadvantage in many areas of life in many parts of the world, including our own, concentrating on that disadvantage can have a dehumanising effect. When we cease to see people as people and crudely categorise them as oppressors and oppressed, for example, we actually destroy the hope of working together to improve conditions for everyone. Surely International Women’s Day, in its celebration of women’s achievements, should not overlook the fact that it is the common good we seek, the good of every man, woman and child on earth?

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Secular Saintdom and the Real Thing

The death of Hugo Chavez at the early age of 58 is presumably a tragedy for his family who, in the ordinary way of things, would have expected him to live many years longer. It may also be a tragedy for the people of Venezuela, although I have some reservations on that score. What cannot be in any doubt is the way in which his death has shown us, yet again, that the appetite for saints is not diminished. Even the BBC, which is not known for its enthusiasm for religion, seems to have decided that Chavez should be treated with the reverence accorded the unassailably good. It is all rather rum.

When you drive religion out, you end up with superstition and perhaps worse. The deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, or, in a South American context, of Eva Perón, show something similar at work. Could it be that our need for heroes and heroines can never be extinguished? If so, on this International Women’s Day, I’d like to suggest that, after Christ, the most perfect — in every sense — being who has ever lived is Mary of Nazareth, Our Blessed Lady. She is indeed an inspiration, and the real thing.

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