St Patrick’s School, Donegall Street
For #CelebratingDiversity, we’ve asked the members of the North Belfast Heritage Cluster to reflect on what culture means to them as individuals! We’ll be sharing their responses throughout September, giving us an opportunity to explore how different groups view culture. Our third Q&A features Fr Tom, our representative for St. Patrick’s School on Donegall Street! The Jesuits are currently in the process of completing their move into the Old Schoolhouse where they will be involved in a ministry for young adults.
1. What does culture mean to you?
The Canadian philosopher/theologian, Bernard Lonergan, defined culture as ‘a system of meanings and values’. I see culture as the way people express the meanings and values that are important for them in ways in which they live and express their identity both in everyday life and in the high moments of significant festivals, celebrations and commemorations.
Another way of speaking of culture is to talk of our traditions, our ways of doing things. This can refer to religion, sport, music, drama, art, etc
2. What do you think of your culture?
I think it is part of who I am, I value and respect it but would not want to be totally defined by it. I would always want to be open to learn from other cultures and to be enriched by the encounter with them. I would hope that other cultures would be similarly enriched by contact with mine. In the midst of the variety of cultures, there is a common humanity in which we all share.
3. Three things that define my culture?
a) sensitivity to the spiritual dimension of life expressed in formal worship and personal prayer
b) respect for all human persons and communities and a willingness to be open to welcoming the stranger
c) appreciation of music, drama, art, architecture, as an expression of respect for the past, openness in the present and hope for the future.
4. Has the place you live shaped or moulded your culture?
I have lived in North Belfast (with some breaks) for 17 years. Prior to coming here, I lived in Dublin, Toronto, Limerick and Galway.
Living here has shaped me through personal contact with the cultures that are to be found in this part of the city including the different religious and political cultures and the culture of those who have come here from other parts of the world. Hearing the stories of the past and the hopes of fears of those whom I have met has moulded in me a desire that every culture be given its place in our wider community and that everyone should feel safe and at home in our streets and neighbourhoods.
The painful stories I have heard of the sufferings of people in the years of The Troubles have alerted me to the importance that there is space in our wider community for people to tell the stories of their own culture and tradition.
The down to earth honesty, the good humour and the friendliness of the citizens of North Belfast have influenced how I look at my own culture and the broader society in which we find ourselves. It has also helped me not to take myself too seriously which has been very good!
5. Favourite/least favourite part of my culture?
Favourite = the reverence for God shown in public worship and for the other persons shown in respect for the rights and dignity of each and all in the way in which society is organised and run.
Least favourite = the way in which we sometimes think or act as if our culture is the only or the best one.
6. Part of my culture that you feel is misunderstood or misrepresented?
Religious sensibility can sometimes now be seen as something that belongs on the past and is not relevant in the modern world. Religion is often popularly presented as a series of ‘dos and don’ts’. While there is certainly an ethical dimension to religion, this can only be properly understood in the context of a personal relationship with God encountered in communal worship and personal meditation, which leads to respect for the gift of life in every human person, in respect for all cultures and in care for the earth. Popular presentations can miss out on the ways in which people are enriched by religion, experiencing peace and consolation and being moved to reach out to their sisters in brothers in the wider community both at home and abroad in a spirit of respect wanting to serve the common good and promoting fairness and equity in the ways in which society is organised.