The new census figures released last week have caused a stir, and among the aspects heavily reported have been those related to religion.
I’ve noticed a concentration (even satisfaction in some quarters?) on the drop (since 2011) in the percentage of the population identifying as Catholic (from 84% to 78%) along with the 10% figure for those ticking the ‘no religion’ box (which doesn’t necessarily mean no belief in God) and an almost complete lack of interest in the figures for other religions – I didn’t hear one mention of the Church of Ireland of the Judaism, and only passing references to Islam.
On Leap of Faith (RTÉ Radio One) last Friday night, Declan Smith from the Central Statistics Office outlined some of the findings, while theologian Gena Menzies tried to interpret. Mind you, she started by saying that people may interpret the figures according to their own agendas!
She expected the drop in the numbers of Catholics to be greater – “anecdotally” she said she knew many people on the east coast (!) who had given up their faith. Rightly, I think, she suggested that despite everything (which no doubt includes scandals and the accompanying and sometimes opportunistic media trouncings) people still have an ‘affiliation’ with the Church.
She thought the ‘institution’ of the Church didn’t seem able to build on this affiliation, and I think there’s some truth in that, and she also felt it would be a mistake for the Church to think the figures weren’t that bad, though she also thought groups like Atheist Ireland were perhaps too enthusiastic about the stats.
The programme also aired an issue that is rarely topical but always universal: difficulties with prayer. Michael Comyn spoke to Fr Finbarr Lynch SJ about the times when prayer becomes dry. Fr Lynch, who has written two books – When You Pray and When You Can’t Pray – stressed that prayer involved relationship, and that often in his prayer the Lord is the more active one.
He said prayer was a lot about gratitude and had learned a lot about prayer from people who were ill, people who found it hard to pray on their own.
Further, he liked to think of a ‘state of prayer’ as distinct from ‘saying prayers’. Asked by Comyn about people who say they are spiritual rather than religious I think he hit the nail on the head – with ‘spiritual’ there’s an individualistic approach but with religion there’s community.
The community of Chinese Catholics was the subject of a fascinating documentary series An Misean sa tSín (The China Mission), on TG 4.
The latest episode, Wednesday of last week, concentrated on the time of persecution, in the 1950’s especially.
The missionaries were looking forward to an extensive spread of the Gospel after the Second World War, but the resumption of the civil war between nationalists and communists put paid to that, especially when the communists led by Mao won the conflict in the late 1940’s.
From then on anything deemed ‘anti-revolutionary’ was suppressed. Foreign priests were jailed or expelled, while native priests were treated more brutally – it’s estimated that around 128 of them were killed.
The Legion of Mary was a particular target, apparently because they were thought to be literally a fighting legion.
Eventually, Mao set up a Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and to this day there’s an underground or unofficial Church (eight million members estimated) and an overground or official Church (four million).
One historian reckoned there was around 100 million Christians in China, many of whom had joined the Faith after Mao died in 1976 and regulations relaxed from the 80s on. It’s well worth catching up on at the TG4 Player website.
And finally, some good news broke on the political front last week with the unilateral disarming of the Basque paramilitary group ETA. Last weekend’s Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster) featured an interview with Rev. Harold Good who was involved in the verification procedures as he had been in the Northern Ireland peace process.
He was critical of the Spanish Government’s no-compromise attitude and called on them to be more compassionate (e.g. allowing prisoners to be moved closer to home), but also called for compassion for the victims of violence and their relatives.
Others, on text, thought that Government approach was more just and were critical of aspects of the Northern experience. Whatever the case, peace is getting a chance.
Pick of the Week
EASTER VIGIL MASS
EWTN, Holy Saturday, 7.30pm
Pope Francis celebrates the Easter Vigil Mass, live from Rome.
Mass For Easter Sunday
RTE One, Easter Sunday, 10am
From the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Sligo, with celebrant Most Rev. Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin.
Urbi Et Orbi
RTE One/EWTN, Easter Sunday, 11am
Pope Francis gives his traditional Easter Message to the city and the world with commentary from Fr Thomas McCarthy OP.