Irish parishioners need to get used to the fact that their priests will increasingly be coming from abroad, one of the country’s most senior bishops has said.
Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly insisted that priests and religious coming to Ireland from overseas to minister to alleviate the vocations crisis should be welcomed with open arms and helped to fit in to Irish life.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic about the Extraordinary Month of Mission, the archbishop of Cashel and Emly said missionaries coming to Ireland is an increasing reality for the Church here and they must be given the same kind of support that Irish missionaries like himself previously received when they travelled overseas.
“When we went out, we spent a number of months listening and literally watching the culture of Liberia and West Africa before doing anything,” he said.
“I think one of the important things if priests are going to come here to Ireland, whether they come from Poland or Africa or wherever – it doesn’t matter – is that they’re given the opportunity to integrate gently into our Church life.”
Commenting on how Church life in Ireland is changing rapidly, Archbishop O’Reilly underlined the importance of being a welcoming Church.
“Our Church life has changed and is changing very rapidly,” he said, “so I think one of the important things is that when we do welcome priests – or like the Columbans who have had lay missionaries working here and religious congregations like the OLAs who have brought in sisters from Nigeria – that we give them the opportunity like we were given to be able to ease into and understand Ireland, to have good people to accompany them.”
Priests from overseas have become an increasingly important feature in many Irish dioceses as bishops struggle to find priests for parishes in the context of low vocations and aging clergy.
Dr O’Reilly said that parishioners, diocesan staff, and fellow clergy all have a role to play in this. He insisted that people should recognise that missionary priests and religious need to be respected as individuals from distinct backgrounds with different experiences.
“I’d say that’s the first lesson we must learn here – that they’re not just coming in but that they’re also coming with their own Faith background and their own people’s background just like we went from Ireland with ours, and with all our shortcomings.
“We must have an open heart to listen to them, and how they express their faith in the risen Lord…I think it’s very important that we as communities here open ourselves up to be able to integrate them into us.
“It’s important that we don’t just take them for granted but that we go out of our way to welcome them, like we were welcomed.”
Sean Goan, who runs courses to help inculturate foreign priests into Irish life at the Spiritan complex in Dublin’s Kimmage Manor, says welcoming such clergy is all the more vital in a Church where they are becoming ubiquitous.
“Without a doubt this is the reality – it’s being experienced as such all around the country where priests from overseas are finding themselves in parishes, but very often they’re kind of landed there,” he said.
“They find themselves talking to congregations, and beside the obvious difficult of language there’s just a whole host of cultural issues, not to say religious issues, that will arise. This can lead to quite difficult situations for them and for the congregation.
Explaining that clergy coming to Ireland often have outdated ideas of the country, Mr Goan said “we have a need and really have a duty to have a course and provide some kind of context in which these priests can find out a bit about the culture into which they’re coming”.