Ireland no longer a ‘bastion of Catholicism’

Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.

Dublin archbishop notes worrying stats

DUBLIN (Zenit.org) — The archbishop of Dublin says he hopes the International Eucharistic Congress to be held next year in his city might encourage the church in Ireland as it seeks renewal.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said this June 2 when he addressed international delegates in Ireland for preparations of the 2012 event.

“The Irish church is facing a challenging path of renewal,” the archbishop told them. “The renewal of the church in Ireland is a responsibility above all of the Irish church. The presence at the Eucharistic Congress of pilgrims from around the world would however constitute an enormous encouragement to us in our efforts of renewal. Our hope is that Christians from around the world will come to Dublin as a sign of solidarity and support for the church in Ireland and will join together with us in prayer for renewal.”

The 66-year-old prelate then illustrated some elements of the “difficult situation in which the church in Ireland finds itself.” He spoke of the “revolution of its religious culture.”

“Many outside of Ireland still believe that Ireland is a bastion of traditional Catholicism,” Archbishop Martin said. “They are surprised to discover that there are parishes in Dublin where the presence at Sunday Mass is some five percent of the Catholic population and, in some cases, even below two percent. On any particular Sunday about 18 percent of the Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Dublin attends Mass.”

Though he acknowledged that Dublin Mass attendance is “considerably lower than in any other part of Ireland,” he reported that for the second time since he became archbishop (in 2004), there will be no priestly ordinations this year “and the coming years indicate only a tiny trickle of new vocations.”

PASSING ON THE FAITH

Archbishop Martin reflected on the changes to Irish economy and its cultural consequences. And he called a rift “growing between the church and young people” his greatest concern.

“From a relatively early age [youth] drift away from any regular contact with the church and especially from Sunday Mass,” he said. “Now it is true Sunday Mass attendance is not the only statistic which indicates an affiliation with the church and with the mission of Jesus Christ. But it is hardly possible to remain truly a Christian if one has no contact over years with the Eucharist. This is why the Eucharistic Congress can offer an important contribution in the path of renewal.”

The prelate opined that the church in Ireland “is trying to address the challenges of today with the pastoral structures which served well yesterday.”

“Many of our pastoral structures and strategies are no longer fit-for-purpose,” he said. “They presume that the country is driven by a culture of mass-Catholicism while this can no longer be presumed.”

“What has happened and is happening in Ireland is painful,” he continued. “I am not just talking about the horrors of abuse. I am talking about our failure in passing on the faith to the coming generation.”

Archbishop Martin stressed that despite these facts, he remains optimistic.

“The process of renewal may be slow but there are signs of hope,” he said.

“We have to remember that the hope which so many people desire in their lives is not our or their creation,” the prelate affirmed. “It is due to the presence of the grace of God in their lives. Christians live in hope within the same realities which give rise in others to hopelessness. It is only the presence of the grace of God which gives us the courage to hope even in our apparent helplessness.”

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