St Patrick spent six years as the shepherd-slave of a Druid ‘king’ in Antrim, where he became a tough, hardbitten man of prayer, picking up his Christianity from fellow-slaves. He
had learned precious little Christianity from his father, a deacon, and his grandfather, a priest, before being kidnapped at 16 by Irish pirates on the coast of what is now Wales. He escaped, but could not settle
down at home, and decided to complete his interrupted education by studying to become a priest, and went back to Ireland as its first missionary bishop.
St Patrick was the first person recorded as speaking
out against slavery. And well he might, for he knew its horrors from bitter experience. “But it is the women kept in slavery who suffer the most – and keep their spirits up despite the menacing and the terrorising
they must endure. The Lord gives his grace to his many handmaids, and though they are forbidden to do so, they follow him.”
How did Patrick as he did, acquire the political clout to do something about
slavery, human sacrifice, and war? He did so “by placing the bishops next door to the kings,” wrote Thomas Cahill. “Patrick hoped to keep an eye on the most powerful raiders and limit their depredations.”
Patrick also understood that the Irish love a good show so he rode all over Ireland in a chariot and episcopal regalia. He also knew how to compromise. He would have liked to set up his stronghold in Down, but King
Laoghaire was lukewarm, whereas Prince Daire gave him land, so Armagh became his seat.
Either within Patrick’s lifetime, or soon after his death, the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and murder and
intertribal warfare began to decrease. But human sacrifice was a more sensitive issue. The motives for it were not always base and selfish. Sometimes they were noble and altruistic, like offering oneself in
sacrifice to the gods to save one’s people from famine. Some, like Lindow Man, died willingly. Their bodies, preserved by the chemical properties of the peat ground they were buried in, show their faces at peace.
They even have smile lines around their eyes.
So, knowing the natural mysticism of the Irish, Patrick declared that such sacrifices were no longer necessary as Christ had died once for all of us.
He emptied himself to the last
And was obedient to death –
To death upon a cross.
The story resonated with the Irish, answering their deepest needs,
so they could put away their knives and abandon their altars. It is our lives God wants, not our deaths. Our lived lives are our sacrifice. Patrick bought Ireland’s slaves a soul and their kings a conscience.
RAPE: DEAFENING SILENCE
Rape is the crime that dare not speak its name – but human rights workers aim to change that. One, Amnesty International, took the opportunity of last
week’s International Women’s Day 2001 to publicise the on-going reality of rape and torture for women, particularly those in war zones, where rape has become an instrument of war used to break subject peoples’
Our story earlier in this issue tells part of this story, but although women have to bear these terrible experiences, it seems we cannot bear to listen to their stories – the silence is deafening.
The screams of the 20,000 women held in rape camps in Bosnia, of all the women and girls in the Rwanda refugee camps, of whom not a single one escaped rape, they all remain unheard. As do the cries of the 700,000
women raped in the United States every year.
The Amnesty report does not detail the situation in Australia – local branches of Amnesty do not comment on local abuses – but one can be sure that the bullying
culture the recent spate of school abuse stories revealed is not confined to boys’ schools.
There is a little light at the end of the tunnel, however. The United Nations is trying to set up an International
Criminal Court (ICC) and has also proposed that rape in conflict situations be declared a war crime.
The ICC needs 60 countries to ratify it before it can come into being. So far only 29 have done so.
Australia is not among them. If Australia were to do so it would be significant, as it is seen by many nations in the region as a leader in terms of human rights standards.
In ratifying the ICC, we would
also acknowledge the pain of millions of women, show that we do not tolerate rape and torture and also show that we care.