April 7, 2009

John Sentamu wants a day off on St. George’s Day

by David Masters

Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has called for St. George’s Day, 23 April, to be made a public holiday.

The Archbishop, who was born in Uganda, said a holiday to celebrate England’s patron saint would help create a sense of national unity.

Speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival, Sentamu urged the English to become more confident and comfortable in their national identity, or risk racists and extremists stealing that identity.

“The truth is an all-embracing England, confident and hopeful in its own identity, is something to celebrate,” Sentamu said.

However, he warned that “where there is no awareness of identity, there is a vacuum to be filled.

“Dissatisfaction with one’s heritage creates an opening for extremist ideologies.

“Whether it be the terror of salafi-jihadism or the insidious institutional racism of the British National Party, there are those who stand ready to fill the vacuum with a sanitised identity and twisted vision if the silent majority are reticent in holding back from forging a new identity.”

To explain how a positive English identity can be created, he cited the example of the flag of St George, which in recent years has been transformed from an extremist symbol to an icon of support for the England football team.

“Previously an icon of extreme nationalists, a sign of exclusion tinged with racism, the flag of St George instead became a unifying symbol for a country caught up in the hopes of 11 men kicking a ball around a field,” Sentamu said.

“As is often the case with cultural revolutions, the change came not through a directive from the top, but from those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy.”

Sentamu’s call to turn St. George’s Day into a national holiday was cautiously welcomed by religious think-tank Ekklesia, who believe that St George should be recognised as a symbol of dissent against the abuse of power.

Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley said: “It is welcome that the Archbishop has joined the discussion about whether St George‚Äôs Day should be a national holiday.

“But he has yet to explain how he would separate St George from ideas of conquest and empire which are unhelpful and ill suited to encouraging a healthy sense of identity.”

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