By John Bell
Because I’ve been working away from Britain – in Asia and North America for the last three weeks – my knowledge of domestic affairs has been limited to news headlines on the internet, most of which have featured tragedies or controversies in national life.
Since coming back, I’ve been made aware of how tragic events have summoned out in a wide range of people expressions of altruism and kindness; virtues which are present in everyone, but which are summoned out by tragedy in the same way as when we’ve been physically hurt, natural antibodies and resistance mechanisms come to our aid.
As cruelty is a universal phenomenon, so is its nemesis – kindness.
I saw this beautifully demonstrated on Sunday when I visited a church in Kanata, a town not far from Ottawa, the Canadian capital. There the English speaking congregation are very happily pastored by a Francophone minister who was about to begin the worship service when he looked to the back of the building with surprise in his eyes and announced,
‘I think we have visitors’.
I presumed that he had recognised some latecomers from a conference which had taken place in the church the previous day. But it was clearly something else as he began to say persistently, ‘Welcome, welcome! Come in. Do come in.’
Eventually around a dozen children in Asian and Middle Eastern national costume walked shyly towards the front, followed by two men dressed in brown. One carried a large plate of pastries, the other had a picture frame under his arm. At the back of the church stood twenty adults who were part of the same group. Everyone in the congregation rose and applauded enthusiastically.
The man carrying the pastries said,
‘As you will have recognised, I’m the imam of your local mosque and, as you may know, today is the first day after the long period of fasting we call Ramadan. So we wanted to come here to share our food and to say thank you for how when recently a mosque in Quebec was bombed, the people of this church prayed for us and sent us messages of support and solidarity.’
His colleague then presented the church with a beautifully engraved letter of gratitude signed by the imam and the mosque president. Then the minister and the imam embraced, and with a smile the imam said, ‘Now continue doing what you really came for’ and he and his friends left to rapturous applause.
It was a very moving event, but it always is when you see before your eyes what Desmond Tutu articulated in the words:
Goodness is stronger than evil,
life is stronger than death,
light us stronger than darkness,
love is stronger than hate.