Comment & Analysis

Take the church onto the streets

An impromptu keepy uppy competition at the festival in honour of Our Lady of Limerick.

Bro. Conor McDonough

Not all public voices in Ireland want to consign the Church to “the dustbin of history”, as at least one of our elected representatives apparently does, but many want it to stay behind the four walls of the church building. Many believers too, perhaps humiliated by very real scandals within the Church, are more than happy to beat a retreat.

When the International Eucharistic Congress took place in Dublin in 2012, for example, the Eucharistic procession was not particularly ambitious, more or less hidden in the leafy lanes of Donnybrook, and it was hard not to make a disheartening comparison with the 1932 procession. Having said that, it would have been tone-deaf simply to have recreated the confident pomp of Catholic Ireland.

When the Church enters the public space, in processions or otherwise, it doesn’t do so to express the excellence or supremacy of a private society, like football fans celebrating their team. It does so, rather, firstly to express to itself the truth that the Church is a living mission, vivid, joyful and outward-looking, and secondly to communicate to the outside world a warm invitation to join the party.

To do this well requires hard work, planning and sensitivity to contemporary culture. One recent event that really seemed to hit the spot was the festival in honour of Our Lady of Limerick, organised by the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia, a vibrant new presence on the Irish scene.

They held a triduum of Masses, with preaching by John Harris OP, and the last one culminated in a street festival outside the church, with all kinds of fun and family-friendly activities: live music, face painting, a sand-pit, simple games and, perhaps most unusually, a ‘keepy uppy’ competition with one of the sisters (someone took a video [pictured] of a Garda trying his best against the sister – the video has already been viewed 1.1 million times online!). By all accounts, the event was a huge success: Gospel joy overflowing into the streets, and drawing passers-by into its orbit.

Similarly, the Dominican friary in Dundalk recently held a Novena to Our Lady of Fatima, which began with a public procession through the streets of the town. The procession and novena were advertised in neighbouring towns, on local radio and on social media.

The Friary Youth Club was given a key role in the procession, along with Dominican novices and students, making visible the youthful heart of the Church. The result? Huge participation in the novena, preached by the newly-ordained Eoin Casey OP.

Beating heart

Alongside these events you could add the apostolic work of the Legion of Mary, and the new initiative called Nightfever, which casts its net as wide as the street, inviting night-time partygoers into the beating heart of the Church at worship. All these activities show the Church on mission. To refuse this outward impulse is not a humble rejection of triumphalism, but a frustration of the Church’s very nature as sent by Christ.

Let’s leave treasure-hoarding to dragons in their caves; it’s our duty, and our joy, to wander and to share.

 

COLLISION COURSE In Fribourg, Switzerland, where I’m currently studying, Corpus Christi is not transferred to a Sunday, but is a public holiday, with a huge procession in honour of the Blessed Sacrament. It’s full of life and colour. The procession is punctuated by cannon-fire, and includes brass bands, first communicants, soldiers, student associations with huge heraldic banners and rose petals galore. The preaching is excellent too: simple and aimed primarily at the curious onlookers. Like any procession, though, it can get messy when it stops and restarts. At one point two groups were heading for a collision: the heads of local patrician families, dressed in white tie and carrying their families’ coats-of-arms, and members of the Swiss Guard in full uniform. I was wondering who would win in this battle of wills, but it didn’t take long for a sharp ‘Achtung!’ and the threat of eight-foot pikes to send the nobles scattering!

 

The
 Summit
 ‘17

If you’re passionate about bringing the Gospel to the streets, and want to meet others who share this passion, it’s well worth heading along to The Summit ’17, a conference being held in Croke Park from July 13-15. The speakers are excellent, and the event is supported by several Irish bishops, as well as many young, dynamic missionaries.

All the necessary information is found on their website, thesummit17.com