Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day at Belfast

This morning I went to the City Hall at the centre of the Belfast city to watch the march of processions to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This day is celebrated on 17 March of every year. St. Patrick is revered by Christians throughout the world as a great Saint who could uphold the values of Christianity. As reflected through his Confession and the Letter to Coroticus he preached the principles of Christianity. St Patrick also baptized many converts into Christianity. What most attracted to me among the preaching of the Saint was that one could not be born a Christian but had to be a Christian by following the principles. I would prefer to extend this principle to other religions as well, particularly to my religion that is Hinduism. Here, Mahatma Gandhi comes to my mind. He preached peace and nonviolence and believed all religions are great and represent different paths to God realization.

St. Patrick was born in the north of the Britain, now called Wales, at around 390AD in the name of Patricius. At the age of 16 he was captured by raiders and made a slave in Ireland. While keeping sheep in Ireland, as the story goes, the boy had developed deep religious convictions and had rich experiences in Christianity. In Ireland he developed deep devotion and conviction in the principles of Christianity, and the preacher developed in him from there. Though he escaped from the captivity and returned back to Britain, he came back again to Ireland to preach the gospel of Christianity, and later became the patron Saint of Ireland. St Patrick implored people to return to God through Jesus Christ. In his Confession St Patrick says ‘I am Patrick the sinner’ and expressed the belief that ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of the God.’ But his dictum that a person had to become Christian not be born a Christian is firmly based on the belief, to quote Bible, ‘Expect a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ As I understand, it means that though man sins, but by virtue of faith and sincere following of principles of Christianity and dedication to God, one can leave the path of sin and move towards God realization.

I confess I do not have deep knowledge about St Patrick. Though I have a deep sense of conviction that all regions are great life systems which need to be studied, I have not studied them yet thoroughly. Once, about two decades ago, I read the New Testament as a boy but I could understand little then. But my understanding of Christianity says it is one of the great religions of the world. Its philosophy ‘love thy neighbour’ is something that goes deep into me. Watching some of the movies like The Passion of Christ impacted me too. Here is the Saviour who went through all pain of life to save the disgruntled civilization. I was deeply influenced by the Christ’s saying that ‘Father Forgive them, for they do know not what they do.’ Hence, this forgiveness which is a crucial principle of Christianity needs to be cultivated by the human beings of our society. Perhaps, extending the argument further, this Northern Ireland, which has passed through so many violent tumults, could have been an ideal place if all the conflicting parties could have followed the Christian principles of forgiveness and love in its true spirit.

My interests in the religion attracted me towards the celebrations marking St. Patrick’s Day. In fact I have never earlier witnessed such a colourful celebration among the followers of Christianity. Though in India I observed people of Christian religion observing various festivals like Ester, Christmas, etc., here it was a golden opportunity to see the processions at the City Hall. I observed people from different places crowding the City Hall entrance to witness the processions from a close. So much enthusiasm in the celebrations, so much cheerfulness! I could see parents carrying their children on shoulders so that they can have a view of the processions. The jamboree, the colour, and the enthusiasm in the place made me think: how can the human beings who are so good and happy social animals can be involved in ghastly acts of sin. I took some of the photographs for my satisfaction. I could see children playing around, with artificial moustache and beard, perhaps to look like the Saint. The colourful dresses, mostly in green and colourful attires like beautiful headgears and bands and also sound making instruments instantly captivated my mind.

I enjoyed the processions. I liked the one in which there were three or four women playing butterflies, with big wings. They were fluttering their wings, while cheering the crowd with serene smiles. It captivated my mind. On the top of this group of butterflies there was a lady with two artificial horns, with colours on face. She was jeering at the crowd, perhaps she was depicting the evil. To decipher the inner meanings of the processions was no doubt a difficult task. The processions were in another sense full of fun and joy. The scene of the people, jostling each other, for a favourable location to have a glimpse of the processions is something that can be seen and measured from a point of view of enthusiasm they display on these celebrations. Putting in another way the celebrations were not mere celebrations and marches on the streets of Belfast, rather these were marches of life on the road of humanity, with an aim to impart a greater lesson to mankind that in love and togetherness the human society can conquer all difficulties both inner and outer. Perhaps that was the lesson I could draw from the celebrations on St. Patrick’s Day at the heart of Belfast on 17 March 2010.