Wednesdays in Parliament are always hectic, with committees, Prime Minister’s Questions and journalists vying for interviews. Therefore, on Ash Wednesday this year I decided to go to 8am Mass at Westminster Cathedral to ensure that I wasn’t trying to squeeze my faith in during a busy day.
I met several of my colleagues at the cathedral and together we walked back to Parliament, chatting easily about Lent, Brexit and predictions for PMQs. For me, first business of the day was my 9am science and technology select committee meeting on ocean acidification, so I headed to the room, forgetting about the ash cross on my forehead.
Some media outlets suggested that I had experienced negativity from committee members. However, this could not have been further from the truth. They were curious as to the significance of the cross and appreciated the explanation I gave them. They were genuinely keen to learn something new about my faith, just as I am when I often ask Muslim, Hindu or Sikh friends about certain aspects of their faiths.
One committee member, out of simple courtesy, reminded me that the session would be broadcast. I thought no more of it as we started hearing disturbing evidence on the state of our oceans. My surprise came the next day with a phone call from the BBC, which wanted to write an article about my open display of faith.
Off the back of this, I have been inundated with messages of support. These have come from people of many faiths and from wider secular society. While most people do not share my faith, they support my right to practise it.
Freedom of religious beliefs and practices is an important part of our democracy. Forcing anyone to hide their faith is, I believe, a form of intolerance. My Christianity teaches me to respect those of other beliefs, and I would include those of no faith in this. But I also expect respect and acceptance of my beliefs from wider secular society. When this acceptance is threatened, we move into dangerous territory. For Christians in many parts of the world, living their faith means putting their lives in danger. I am able to practise my faith freely.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection