Bishop of Derry contrasts celebrity with Mother Teresa’s legacy

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, David Bowie and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, David Bowie and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Bishop of Derry, Rev. Dr. Donal McKeown, has spoken out against a culture which venerates those for whom celebrity status is the ‘only thing worth dreaming of.’

In his Homily on World Day of Peace, Dr. McKeown contrasted the self-sacrificing efforts recognised in the canonisation of St. Mother Teresa in 2016, with the much lauded achievements of those within the entertainment industry who have passed away in the past year.

Bishop McKeown.

Bishop McKeown.

In his Homily delivered on New Year’s Day, Dr. McKeown also levelled criticism at renewed calls for re-armament and confrontation by political giants across the world and said the real need was for “hospitals not bombs.”

Dr. McKeown said he had felt “very out of touch of various occasions in the last year.”

He said: “I had known something about Fidel Castro and Zsa Zsa Gabor and knew a little about Leonard Cohen. But when some other celebrity deaths were mentioned on the media, I couldn’t tell you the names of any songs sung by George Michael or David Bowie. I had no idea who Carrie Fisher or Princess Leah was and I had never ever heard of Rick Parfitt. But, apparently, for many people, they were heroes, people with fan clubs, whose posters hung on walls and who were feted around the world as great role models.

“But last September, I had the opportunity of being in Rome for the canonisation of a real hero, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

“That was someone who was not just famous for being famous. She left behind her, not a series of songs that will be quickly forgotten nor a history of drug-taking and unsteady relationships – but a track record of caring for the needy and the ‘unfamous.’ And her life story was all the more counter-cultural as she was canonised in a year when giant political egos clashed and votes were won with the promise of building walls, not bridges, and with a clarion call to make some country great again.”

Speaking about Pope Francis’ call to people to dedicate themselves to non-violence, Bishop McKeown said: “We need hospitals rather than bombs that destroy hospitals; we need schools that teach people to shape the world rather than populist rhetoric that so often rides to power on the backs of the poor.”

Dr. McKeown also said that Jesus himself was the idea role model for people in today’s society.

He said: “He resisted the temptations to be famous for being famous. He sacrificed himself for others rather than using others for his personal glory. He offered a model of faithfulness and compassion rather than of frivolity and escapism.”

Bishop McKeown said while some people were blessed enough to grow up in stable environments, other people had grown up scarred by bad experiences, many of whom “never knew there was anything other than violence in order to resolve conflict.

“And the culture seems to invite them to take as role models - as the best that human beings can aspire to be - individuals for whom celebrity status is only thing worth dreaming of, whatever price they pay,” he said.

“In a world where we encounter much depiction of violence, it can be hard to develop a peaceful heart.

“We live in a cultural environment where many commercial forces struggle to colonise our imaginations. We are in a situation where many parents are made to feel that they are under privileging and neglecting their children if they fail to bring them to Disneyworld.

“The modern hero kills the baddies – and we are asking our children to believe in a God who absorbs pain rather than inflicting it.”

Bishop McKeown said the ‘non-violent heart’ that Pope Francis talks about will be created by “sowing the seeds of peace in young hearts, modelling a different set of values and nourishing youthful imaginations with visual portrayals of how God sees the world.”

Speaking about the situation locally, the Bishop said: “Faith will live on where there are communities of people who become increasingly fluent in the language of forgiveness and reconciliation.

“In Northern Ireland, we have seen many wonderful people with those sorts of hearts – and for many of them faith was at the back of their ministry.”