Carpooling and ‘Mass-link’ services to bus isolated parishioners to churches around the country could be ‘creative’ ways of helping rural dioceses cope with declining clerical vocations, Limerick’s Bishop Brendan Leahy has said.
The bishop’s comments come against the background of plans for a State-subsidised ‘drink-link’ bus service intended to ward off fears that strict new drink-driving laws will increase rural isolation.
The planned service will enable people in rural communities to continue socialising with friends and neighbours in local pubs.
Asked whether a similar system could play a role in tackling Ireland’s changing religious landscape, Bishop Leahy told The Irish Catholic that in some respects this would be drawing from the past for answers.
“My parents came from West Kerry, so when I was very small I remember that, there were little minibuses that would come around the village and collect the elderly at the townlands and bring them to Mass. So in one sense, it’s not too new – that goes back to the 1960s,” he said.
Pointing out that with today’s extensive car ownership, a bus service might not be necessary, Dr Leahy said “the much more substantial issue is the fact that we won’t be able to have a priest saying Mass in every single church in the country in a certain number of years’ time”.
This shortage, he said, could call forth from the Christian community a degree of sharing and collaboration including helping one another get to Mass.
“It would be something that would develop as time goes on,” he said, adding that it could “unleash a certain creativity perhaps in the way we go about things and how we arrange our community”.
Waterford and Lismore’s Bishop Phonsie Cullinan, however, thought offering lifts would be better and more ‘Christian’ than a parish bus system.
“Neighbourliness, and neighbours knowing one another and helping out, isn’t that the way that the Christian community works?” he said, adding, “Putting on a special bus? I’m not sure about that.”
Noting that people in rural areas already tend to be good at bringing elderly neighbours to Mass, Killaloe’s Bishop Fintan Monahan observed how effective bus services are in helping bring elderly people to day centres, and said a ‘Mass-link service’ “sounds like a great idea and something that could be looked at very seriously”.