Features

Fostering friendship and fellowship
Colm Fitzpatrick learns about a growing form of parish faith group
Some of the 124 members of Parish Cells of Evangelisation in Ireland who accepted an invitation to meet Pope Francis in the Vatican to celebrate their permanent recognition from the Pontifical Council for the Laity in 2015.

A revitalising form of Christian worship is making new ground in Ireland after having been recently approved by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. 

The Parish Cell System of Evangelisation entails a small community of faith groups, under the guidance of a leader, speaking about God’s role in their life as well as listening and supporting one another through discussions, with an emphasis on praying, singing hymns and reading scripture. 

Daniel Kelly, PRO of Leixlip Parish Cells, said that the cells “bring people to a more personal relationship with Christ”, adding, “God isn’t up there, God is a person, with us all the time”.

In Daniel’s experience, many people attend Mass out of a sense of duty, resulting in some having never felt the presence of Jesus. “Some are at a different level on the journey”, but through the cells “people transform – they gather to discuss faith without being ridiculed”. The cells are particularly handy for those “who come to faith late in life”, says Daniel, because they are given a platform in which to praise God and discuss their thoughts and ideas. 

The system not only benefits laypeople, but also priests who are able to clarify and renew their faith by providing the biblical teachings for each cell. Speaking about his own parish priest, Daniel says, “since he started doing it, he spends a lot more time in preparation…scripture means a lot more to him”. 

Rejuvenate

The Parish Cell System of Evangelisation originally developed in the early 1980s by Fr Michael Eivers, a native of Cullyfad, Co. Longford, in his parish of St Boniface in Florida, to rejuvenate the dwindling numbers of his congregation. He drew his inspiration from other vibrant largely Pentecostal churches in America, where growth and mission were key features. He noticed that these congregations met together in small house units which fostered friendship and fellowship, and people were free to ask personal questions about scripture. The vivacious spirit of these churches, the participation, and the clarity of their mission, inspired Fr Eivers to implement this type of worship his own parish.

In 1987 Don Pigi Perini, parish priest in St Eustorgio in Milan, visited St Boniface with 10 parishioners to learn from this experience. Today, over a thousand people participate in cell groups in St Eustorgio and the parish has become a catalyst for parish cell communities throughout Europe.

In 1990, Fr Michael Hurley brought the method to the parish of Ballinteer in Dublin and there are now over 85 cells in Ireland stretching from Ballymena to Cork and Dublin to Galway. 

The first cell meeting hosted in Leixlip, Co. Kildare was in 2004 with the help of parishioners from Ballinteer, and now there are 15 cells with some 140 parishioners participating.

Noel Thompson has attended his parish cell in Leixlip for over three years, which is composed of around 7-8 people. Speaking about his own experience of it, Noel says, “all my life I had been keeping the rules, but I didn’t have an intimate relationship with God – this has helped me develop that”.

Teaching

Noel says people “don’t read our Bible enough” and through the scripture reading and teaching, he has a renewed sense of faith and no longer sees Church practices as “going through a drill”. 

He also felt at ease participating initially in the cell after he realised that he was the same as everyone else, saying “it’s easy to relate to others and share your faith”.

Noel was particularly moved after he attended the Parish Cells International Seminar in Milan in 2014. “I was blown away by the experience, the joy and the witness…they welcome you with open arms,” he says.

Parish cells have been growing rapidly throughout the world since the 1980s, and in 2015 it received permanent recognition from the Pontifical Council for the Laity. To bestow this recognition Pope Francis issued an invitation to all cell people globally to meet with him in the Vatican and over 5,000 people from all over the world attended, including 124 from Ireland. This milestone in the life of the Parish Cells was greeted with great joy by all in the cell communities worldwide, and there is a hope that parish cells will become more prominent across Ireland in the coming years. 

 

*This year’s National Seminar will take place in the Parish of St John the Evangelist, Ballinteer, Dublin, from October 2-4. For more information on parish cells in Ireland, visit: www.parishcellsireland.net