St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, completed in 1825
Today's Irish Times carries a story, Fewer than one in five attend Sunday Mass in Dublin, which reports the words of Archbishop Diarmaid Martin of Dublin at the ordination yesterday of seven deacons. “Many young people, despite years of religious education, have only marginal interest in the message of Jesus. Many who come to us today possess only a sort of cultural Catholicism which can easily deceive us about the depth of people’s faith,” said the archbishop. “Faith in Jesus Christ and in his church is not a free-for-all of opinions in which anything goes. Faith in Jesus has content and context. It is about knowing Jesus intimately.
The archbishop said the years ahead must be ones of renewal for the Irish church and he urged the seven deacons to play a critical role in that renewal. “I encourage you to reach out to the coming generations, presenting them in unambiguous terms the teaching of Jesus and challenging them not to be afraid to let the message of Jesus change their hearts,” he said.
Christ Church Cathedral, originally Catholic now Anglican
Recently Archbishop Martin said that in some areas as few as two percent attend Sunday Mass. these would be mostly poorer parts of the city.
Up to the 1970s more than 90 percent of the people went to Mass every Sunday. So what is happening now is a huge change.
General Post Office (GPO) in the heart of the city. I was approached by two beggars here the first time I went into the city centre on this visit.
But one thing hasn't changed. The priest is still a target for beggars and drunks in the city centre. I've gone there a number of times during my current brief visit to my native city. I wore my clerical collar each time except today. When I was wearing it beggars made their way to me, all addressing me as 'Father'. One was a young Irishman talking into his mobile phone and I waved at him while passing on. antoher was a young woman, probably from Romania, who, when I made an excuse and didn't stop said 'But you are a Father!' At one time I might have felt guilty. I did feel a mild pang of guilt but not enough to spoil the lunch with old school friends I was heading for.
The Spire of Dublin in O'Connel St, behind the statue of Jim Larkin, a labour leader in the early part of the last century. The GPO is on the left. The Spire replaced Nelson's Pillar, blown up in 1966.
Last year as I was walking in another part of the city during the day a man in his 30s stopped me. He wasn't a beggar but if I had lit with a match the alcohol he was breathing out half of the city might have been destroyed in the ensuing explosion.
In my time in the seminary students wore a black suit and black tie when outside. We wore a soutane inside. Although students by definition hardly every have money to spare I was still a target for beggars and drunks. Sometimes the drunk was also a beggar. Sometimes he wanted to engage in an alcoholic discussion about theology or the Church. This happened more often on occasions such as wedding receptions.
Statue in O'Connell St of Fr Theobald Mathew OFMCap, 1790-1856, who promoted temperance
For years I didn't wear my collar when going to the city centre, mainly because of beggars. I normally wear it now and simply keep going if a beggar tries to accost me. I've never been able to deal graciously with beggars or drunks, though on this visit I haven't been rude to any I have met.
Statue of the Venerable Matt Talbot 1956-1925, who led a life of great austerity, under spiritual direction, for the last 40 years of his life after having been addicted to alcohol. You can read a brief biography of Matt here.
In the Philippines there have been occasions when individuals whom I saw simply as beggars became real persons for me when I listened to their story. In a couple of cases I would give a weekly 'allowance' on a fixed day. If they approached me on another day I'd smile and remind them of our agreement. In these situations both parties retained their dignity. These persons came to know me as an individual too and not someone to make feel guilty by a sort of 'blackmail', like the young woman in Dublin last week who reminded me that I was 'a Father'.
I prefer to channel what people give me to such projects as Holy Family Home for Girls in Bacolod City (above). I know too that many in Ireland are working with those on the margins.