Bishop Cullinan: Don’t curse the darkness, light the candle

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History and present situation of the Catholic Church in Ireland, how to return Ireland to God and how the Polish Church can avoid mistakes made by the Irish Church – discussed by the Most Rev Alphonsus Cullinan, Bishop of Waterford & Lismore, in the interview with Marta Karpińska.

The Catholic Church in Ireland used to have a very strong position in Irish society and Irishman equalled Catholic. What were the reasons?

This is a very complex issue.  One factor that should be taken into consideration is that Ireland is an island.  When she was evangelised in the 5th century, the faith took root right across the country.   There was a huge flourishing of Irish Monasticism, which produced very significant characters who were strongly missionary.  St. Patrick, St. Bridget, St. Colmcille, St. Columbanus, St. Killian, St. Gall, etc.  Everything changed with the Reformation in the 16th century.  Ireland was under the rule of the English monarchs who tried to force the Irish to accept the “new religion”. The plantation of English and Scottish settlers following the religion of the establishment did not much affect the faith of the ordinary people who remained faithful Catholics even under persecution.  After a long struggle, Catholic emancipation was achieved in 1829.  After this, there was a great flourishing of the Catholic Church, little by little, the Churches influence was very extensive, there were large families and many families produced a vocation to priesthood or religious life.  There was lots of missionary activity abroad from Ireland and to be Irish was synonymous with being a Catholic. 

Why both the faithful and the clergy in Ireland have become secularized over the last few decades? Did the Irish Church recognize this threat and take countermeasures?

This again is a complex question which would take a long time to answer fully or correctly.   Ireland is part of the culture of the West and, like all countries, is not immune to change.  The influence of secularism especially since the 60’s has pervaded all aspects of society and the Church exists in society.  The attitude of many in Ireland to the Second Vatican Council was to try to dismiss it and continue as before.  Others then try to follow more the “spirit” of the Council than the really deep and valuable directions from the Council fathers.   What became obvious was the lack of intellectual formation of the Irish faithful. 

We were very good at devotions but not great at having a really deep intellectual grasp of the faith.  That said, there were many small initiatives trying to deepen the faith of the Irish but perhaps it is true to say that, for the majority, a deep relationship with Christ was not the norm.  Also, the Irish Church was very clerical in its outlook.  Priests or religious were so plentiful that lay people did not develop their own Christian spirituality.

How to bring Ireland back to God? Do you see any signs of revival in your country?
The re-evangelisation needed in Ireland has already begun.  While it may seem to an outsider looking in that Ireland is Godless, that is not in fact true.  At some level, most people still pray but the practise of the faith is generally poor and in many places, very poor.  There is need of a deep re-evangelisation.  This is already happening in small ways right across the country. I believe in what Pope Benedict calls the Power of the Creative Minority.  There are green shoots right across the land and in families and in parishes and in movements and other organisations who are trying to live the Catholic Christian faith and be missionary once again.  I could name many.  Youth 2000, Called to More, Holy Family Mission, NET Ministries, Alpha, Pure in Heart, the Knights of St. Columbanus, Encounter Ministries, Opus Dei, Ceile Community, Focolare, St. Joseph Young Priests Society, the Legion of Mary, many new Orders coming into Ireland, parish groups and families getting together to practice and promote the faith.  Those who have come from abroad to Ireland have also brought new vigour to the Church here.  The Poles, the Indian Communities, Filipino’s, Eastern Europeans, Brazilians, etc.  The faithful from these national groups are helping to give witness to the faith. 

What advice can you give to the Church in Poland so it does not encounter the problems that affected the Church in Ireland?

If I may be so bold as to give advice to you in Poland, I would say to anyone interested, be faithful, seek holiness, the Lord depends on each one of us to be a faithful disciple.  Join a group so that you will not need to go it alone.  We need to support each other, to live upright and faithful lives.  Do not wait for someone else to solve the problem, ask the Holy Spirt to show you what you can do to make the Kingdom of God more and more a reality right where you are.  Don’t curse the darkness, light the candle.



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Marta Karpińska

Dziennikarz i fotograf, redaktor naczelna kwartalnika "Civitas Christiana".

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