A co-worker of mine was driving several of us to a business dinner in Dublin when the subject of religion in Ireland came up. This younger gentleman left me with this thought, “Oh churches here are dying out. They are attended mostly by the elderly. The younger generation has no need of it.”
As the months passed by, I have looked for evidence either in support or against his assertion. Here are some of my observations.
The parish I attend most often, which I would call a medium size parish, had over 160 baptisms in 2012. Occasionally, young couples are called to the front of the congregation to present their babies for the initial blessing that precedes the Baptismal ceremony. This shows a vibrant community. However, I will admit most of the congregation appears to be the over 40 crowd.
A neighbouring parish has Saturday morning reconciliation for a full 30 minutes. There is a brisk pace of people over 70 who make good use of that confessional. Apparently, nobody under 50 has need of reconciliation.
I was walking outside the Main Post office in Dublin (the one that was the site of the Easter Uprising that led to independence for the Irish people). I saw a significant table set up to introduce people to Islam. The gentlemen were there to answer questions. Brochures were available for the taking. I saw no evidence of Christian evangelization.
Parish buildings have been converted for secular uses. One is now a very popular restaurant. Another has become the site of the Dublin Tourism Centre.
Clearly, Ireland identifies itself as predominantly Catholic. No one can deny that. But as in the US, the public discourse does not support this. There is a general silencing of conversation about faith. The US is more advanced in this technique but the Irish tend towards all things American. They will likely progress quickly to this diabolical secularism which strives to eliminate religion. They just need to suppress that pesky religious education.
But that is happening as well. The country’s education minister is pushing for an end to religious education in all schools.
Caution though! We should not fear the challenges we face lest we fall into what Pope Francis refers to in The Joy of the Gospel when he says “A tomb psychology [which] develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum. Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like “the most precious of the devil’s potions”.” He sees the impact on our evangelization efforts and pushes us to remember the following, “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization!”
You see, evangelization is a joy. We may face new challenges not seen before which seem daunting. Using the gift of intellect, our challenge becomes determining how best to tackle the evangelization problems of our time.
Think this is a big challenge? Recall the challenge the Apostles were given? “Go therefore and teach and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
When you begin to feel our challenge is big, look at what they accomplished! Now go forth.