The phrase ‘historic moment’ is often overused when referring to speeches and events. However, last month’s visit to St John’s College by Lord Christopher Patten rates as one of the truly historic moments in the College’s history.
Lord Patten served as the last Governor of Hong Kong, working as best he could to embed democratic institutions for the sake of the people of Hong Kong. He remains as revered by the people of this great state as he is reviled and denounced by the Communist Party. He is currently the Chancellor of Oxford, a position held for life.
In attendance were Their Excellencies the Governor of NSW Margaret Beazley AC KC and Mr Wilson, Chancellor of the University of Sydney Belinda Hutchinson AC, The Right Honourable Lord Hintze AM, former Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott AC, former Ambassador to the Holy See John McCarthy KC, former Federal Member for Gippsland and Chair of the Australian Turf Club Mr Peter McGauran and many other dignitaries and guests.
A towering figure of 21st century diplomacy, Lord Patten assisted in securing peace in Northern Ireland and also served as a European Commissioner, in which capacity he would travel internationally more than 180 times per year. His style of diplomacy is kind and empathetic, delivering an unflinchingly strong sword of justice and integrity.
During his speech to the College’s students, he highlighted the importance of a university and Christian education that encouraged respect for differing opinions while advocating without fear for the truth. He described how as European Commissioner he assisted Sudanese children fleeing genocide, their path across the desert marked by countless bodies. He developed his theme of service to others and the truth by describing Pilate’s interrogation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest trial ever held.
In the words of Lord Patten,
One of the things that you should do at University is to gain the confidence and the knowledge to understand the difference between lies and the truth, and to relentlessly pursue it.
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Chris Patten has just been made a Knight of the Garter – England’s highest civic honour. He is one of two new such appointments recently announced.