Pope Francis shines bright for Fr Paddy Byrne, writes Chai Brady
It’s no secret the Church in Ireland faces difficult times as the number of vocations and practicing Catholics are in decline, but one priest says effective leadership and modernisation have already made a difference in his parish.
Fr Paddy Byrne told The Irish Catholic that many urban parishes fail to engage with people that are used to instant and creative online material, saying that A4 black and white newsletters just won’t cut it anymore.
The Portlaoise priest recently published a book entitled All Will be Well which he describes as “challenging”. The book focuses on political and social issues such as the refugee crisis, the Eighth Amendment, homelessness and direct provision, as well as the future of the Church in Ireland and more.
The sub-heading on the cover reads Digital Dispatches from the Parish, which is apt considering the priest boasts one of the largest Twitter followings of all Ireland’s clergy, with over 14,000 acolytes that he’s collected over four years.
“I think we live in the world of instant, we don’t do Advent well in terms of waiting, we anticipate and expect instancy, and I suppose we have a challenge particularly in my ministry as a Catholic priest to engage at all times particularly with the use of social media,” said Fr Byrne.
Social media is an opportunity he said, to offer reflections and hopefulness, as well as Christian values. “I just think that the Church has a big issue around communication we do it so very badly, so few of our leaders are able to articulate in a very positive manner.”
Fr Byrne said that many Church leaders seem “fearful” of the press and lamented the “crisis of particularly priestly leadership in the country”.
“It might sounds very simplistic, I’m speaking as a priest and I think as a priest so many men are deeply unhappy, lack energy, I think we have a responsibility ourselves to be evangelical.
“When that happens in our own lives, when we can give witness and fulfilment and presence and minister, well I think then things can grow.”
He described comments made by the Archbishop of Dublin in the New York Times stating Church goers were a “dying breed” as unfortunate and very negative, adding that he thinks “it’s a great time to be a member of the Church”.
Working as a hospital chaplain, visiting prisons and schools Fr Byrne says the workload can be overwhelming but he sees a need in the community, and knows his role is important.
Portlaoise parish currently has the youngest priest in Ireland, who is 25.
However, despite the challenges he said: “The Church will never die, the old model needs to die, what is emerging gives me great enthusiasm and a sense of creativity as well.”
Although the number of priestly vocations is small, with just 15 men studying for Irish dioceses this year – and just six first-year seminarians, the lowest number on record in Maynooth’s history – Fr Byrne said he doesn’t think it’s time to ‘pull the curtains’.
His book is also a candid insight into the author’s family life, which details how he grew up in an atmosphere where there was addiction, and then tragedy when he lost his brother.
“I think it’s pragmatic again in acknowledging family, the diversity of family, and yet the crisis that many families have,” he said, adding that we need not look past any family but our own to witness the strength and challenges that prevail in family life.
With the World Meeting of Families approaching the subject will become increasingly prominent.
Not shying away from political matters the priest slams the direct provision system in his book, dubbing it “one of the cruellest systems in contemporary modern Ireland”.
With a direct provision centre close to his parish in Montague House, where asylum seekers are currently waiting – sometimes for years – for the result of their application for refugee status.
The author states that these centres are “cramped, austere, depressing” and will be condemned by future generations. He also mentions the work of Aodhán Ó Ríordáin in attempting to reform the system and criticises the Government’s response to the situation.
Last month hundreds of people marched in Dublin to protest direct provision in Ireland.
Currently children and adults receive €21.60 a week, and are not allowed to work for the first nine months of the asylum process, which brings the law into line with a Supreme Court ruling which deemed the absolute ban on asylum seekers being allowed to work unconstitutional.
“I’m very very active in terms of my own ministry,” said Fr Byrne, “we have a direct provision centre up the road and I have done a lot of personal campaigning in terms of what I call the imprisonment of people”.
“This Christmas we have over 100 children locked up in direct provision centres and shame on this Government with their constantly putting down the road their policy around how they treat refugees and particularly those imprisoned from work, from opportunity, from third level education.”
Fr Byrne places Pope Francis in very high esteem with his merciful model of the Church saying he “shines bright” throughout the book, and that he has “stepped away from the disapproving tone, the explicit moralising that has pushed many away from the Church”.
In the book, while discussing homosexuality, he said of Pope Francis: “I believe that the move from rule by non-negotiable imperatives to leadership by invitation and hospitality is as fundamental to the meaning of Faith as any dogma.”
Fr Byrne added that he hoped to encourage people to reflect on the fundamental issues of who we are, our relationship with God, and how we live that relationship.
All Will be Well by Fr Paddy Byrne is available from Columba Press. Contact 016874096 or visit http://www.columba.ie/