St. Patrick

Mar 17, 2011

It’s St. Patrick’s day. To be honest the day has almost passed without too much Irish celebration for me. Earthquake has taken over most thought and conversation over these days. Tomorrow the people of the city gather in Hagley Park for the Memorial Service.

But now that I’m back at the desk after a day all over the place I am giving Patrick, and Ireland, a thought.

Here in New Zealand we inherited a lot of our Catholic Faith from Irish ancestors. Just half a century ago churches in Ireland were filled daily with worshippers. Irish seminaries overflowed with students. Priests were one of the prime Irish exports to needy nations. New Zealand was one country that welcomed many Irish priests.

These priests reinforced a Catholicism in New Zealand that was a mixture of faith, religion, devotional practices and Irish (famine-formed) culture.

Our NZ parish life has changed in this last half-century. Now there are no Irish Parish Priests in the Christchurch diocese. The ‘new’ priests in our diocese are more likely to be Polish, Filipino or Indian. Half of the seminarians in our National Seminary Holy Cross were born outside of New Zealand. We benefit from much of the diversity of experience and Catholic tradition they bring to us.

As we remember Patrick who ‘brought Faith to Ireland,’ it is useful to note the reality of Ireland today. Many consider that the Catholic Faith is in danger of vanishing from Ireland completely.

Last year I was fortunate to hear the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin speak at the Rimini Meeting in Italy. You can read the Archbishop’s text here. The Church in Ireland no longer appears to be thriving. Irish Catholic schools are filled with people who are ‘post’ (if not ‘anti’) Catholic. Many churches are almost empty on a Sunday.

What happened?

Last night I was at a Parish Council meeting in Darfield. It was a good meeting of a great group of committed parishioners. The topic of pastoral planning came up. I am very interested in ‘pastoral planning’. I suppose I have a vested interest since it is 25 years before I apply for retirement and (even for selfish reasons!) I want to make sure that the parish is thriving when I retire and that the party is filled with committed and active Catholics.

It is easy for our efforts at ‘pastoral-planning’ to use all the techniques of deck-chair shuffling or eulogy preparation.

I was made aware of this at an OLV Parish Council meeting last month when the two ‘twenty-something’ councillors asked why we were considering fewer Masses when we should be focussed on reaching out to more people so that we would be forced to increase the number of Masses we have.

Their challenge has stayed with me very deeply.

What can we learn from both from the energy, zeal and focussed faith of Patrick, and the 20th century experience of the Church in Ireland?

Is there something we need to be doing at Our Lady of Victories, St Joseph’s Darfield and St. Therese of Lisieux Chatham Islands, that they neglected to do in Ireland this past century?

I don’t have the answer. But this uncertainty must not be allowed to turn us from the essential question.

No, I don’t have the answer, but there is something in the passion and energy and faith of two twenty-something year old parishioners, that reminded me of the energy and faith of a young Patrick all those years ago.


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