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In New Hampshire, everyone wanted to talk politics

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Sunday at Our Lady of the Mountains Church in North Conway, N.H. we heard about love and forgiveness in our spiritual and personal lives. We then heard Deacon Jack Carey eloquently remind us about our civic responsibility to help promote a more civil environment in our civic culture. While not addressing the U.S. presidential campaign specifically, you couldn't help thinking that he was talking about the recent Republican debate and the contentious political aftermath. With the important first-in-the nation primary in New Hampshire in full gear, the message wasn't lost on the packed church. It was more than timely, the messages we heard were providential. After Mass, several people came up to me outside the church to say hello and expressed support for what Deacon Carey said in his homily. I told Deacon that his message was "right on." I said I wish that all the presidential candidates were there to listen to this conversation outside of church.

Jamie O'Brien, who is originally from Charlestown and an usher at the church, said this conversation reflects the values of the people from the parish. Everybody wanted to talk politics and they were well informed.

Interestingly enough, 3,000 miles away, Pope Francis had just told 1,500 young adults representing more than 35 countries at the 100th Anniversary of the Eucharist Youth Movement at the Vatican, "You should strive to be leaders for good and honor your grandparents, visit them and ask them about what they have experienced and seen in order to learn from them. They can often surprise you with their wisdom and faith." But I also thought, we can all learn a lot about the value of hard work and family loyalty from older people.

After Mass, many of us headed over to May Kelly's Irish Cottage Restaurant in North Conway, along with several of my grandchildren and their parents. Everybody sang happy birthday to my nine year old grandson Braeden. An Irish music group provided the music. At a coffee shop, a young father introduced himself and said, "Hi, Mayor, did you watch the recent Presidential debate on TV?"

Yes, I did.

"I thought it was informative and entertaining," he said. "But it's receiving a lot of negative attention up here," he said.

I told him you've got to look for personal moments of kindness which give people a good insight into the character and personality of the candidates. Sure, there is sometimes political showmanship involved, but we also have to look for the healthy level of respect that the candidates in TV debates demonstrate to the voters and to each other. Unfortunately, the candidates are often reluctant to show their personal and softer side of themselves, but believe me, it's there. To attract media attention, they too often try and draw personal contrasts with other candidates, which can often get contentious. When the press tries to add to the conflict, they can become part of the problem, as we often see.

We need people committed to fair and responsible public discourse to step in and remind the candidates that, yes, we deserve a spirited debate and campaign, but one rooted in respect and responsibility, not rancor and division. These clashes between politicians are unhealthy for our political process.

That's why I love listening to older people share their experiences and vision. Just like Pope Francis said recently at the Vatican with the group of young people, and heard again on Sunday in New Hampshire. While talking to several New Hampshire voters at Kelly's Irish Restaurant, we were talking about what they were looking for in a new president. One thing for certain was integrity and decency, they said.

What better place to begin a more civil debate in America than right here in "The Live Free or Die," state, I thought.


Raymond L. Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Mayor of Boston.

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