Amid economic uncertainty and the continued response to the clergy abuse crisis, the bishops of Ireland have urged Catholics to remember St. Patrick’s plight.
They wished everyone “a joyful and peaceful Saint Patrick’s Day,” noting the Solemnity of St. Patrick’s special place for Irish people at home and abroad.
St. Patrick, a fifth-century missionary bishop instrumental in the conversion of Ireland, was called to bring God to a people far from his homeland, the Irish bishops said on March 16. They called him “a pioneer in an inhospitable climate.”
They quoted The Confession of St. Patrick, which reads: “May it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing.”
“The plight of Patrick, himself a migrant, has been faced by many Irish people who have struggled to live and integrate into new cultures,” the bishops said. “Let us remain in our prayers those who are suffering at this time.”
St. Patrick’s Day, a holy day of obligation in Ireland, comes at a time of troubles.
After years of economic boom, Ireland is once again suffering significant unemployment at a rate of 14.7 percent, according to the latest reports. A banking crisis triggered by reckless lending has caused the Irish government to turn to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund because debt markets have refused to lend it more money.
Last month Catholic officials including Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston ended their fact-finding mission investigating the Irish Church’s response to sexual abuse by priests. On Feb. 21 he and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin celebrated a “liturgy of lament and repentance” at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Dublin.
“The Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese of Dublin has been wounded by the sins of abusers and by the response to you for which we all share responsibility,” Archbishop Martin said during the service.
The “tragic evil of sexual abuse of minors” has caused “profound distress,” resulting in addictions, damaged relationships, the suffering of families and even suicide, Cardinal O’Malley said. “But today, through the saving power of the cross, we come together to share in each other’s sorrows as well as our collective hope for the future.”
Archbishop Martin has recently been quoted as saying that the Church in Ireland is “on the brink of collapse,” but he denied those remarks in his March 15 reflections on the state of the Church in Ireland.
“The Church in Dublin may not be as numerically strong as it was, but it is far from being on the brink of collapse. The Church is robust,” he said at the Mater Dei Institute of Education and the Dublin City University Institute of Ethics.
Priests are ministering with “enthusiasm” while lay people are doing their part, he said.
“We have parishes which were never so vibrant at any other time in their history. All of this should not be forgotten,” the Dublin archbishop stated.
While he noted the failures of the Church and the need for criticism and reform, he also warned of the potential problems of “inculturation” and adaptation to cultural changes in society.
“(T)he paradoxical thing is that the farther the Church goes in adapting to the culture of the times, the greater the danger is that it will no longer be able to confront the culture of the time,” he said. “It will only be able to speak the language of the culture of the day and not the radical newness of the message of the Gospel which transcends all cultures. Where this happens, then the life of the Church becomes a sort of civil religion, politically correct, but without the cutting edge of the Gospel.”
The Church must reject both the “fundamentalism” of pretending to have all the answers to the questions of the day and the “conformism” of adopting “politically correct positions.”
“The Church must always have the internal freedom to take positions that are culturally unpopular,” Archbishop Martin insisted.
He advocated “mature relationships” between Church and State to help social stability and bring out the best from both.
“The Church must live in such a way that it reflects the radical newness of the Gospel,” he reiterated.