Move to help struggling First Communion families

Bishops call for spiritual importance not to be lost

Cathal Barry and Mags Gargan

Church leaders are backing a new campaign to help struggling families around the country who are finding it tough to meet even the basic costs associated with First Holy Communion.

The hope now is that an initiative, which was begun in Cork, will now be rolled-out nationwide where families can be helped appropriately celebrate the important moment in their child’s faith development without losing the spiritual significance.

Cork Penny Dinners, which has been providing hot meals to vulnerable families for over 170 years, is now providing free dresses and suits to children for their big day.

Following a successful campaign, the charity now has more than 200 dresses and suits, and is hosting a pop-up shop at the River Lee Hotel this Sunday, March 1, for anyone who wants to come along.

Church leaders have expressed support for the initiative to help First Communion families who are struggling.

Organiser Caitriona Twomey told The Irish Catholic she has been “overwhelmed” by the response to the initiative.

“This is about helping people in need. We are kitting out the children from head to toe and hope it will take the sting out of the cost for parents who are struggling financially,” she said.

Giving the cause his seal of approval, Bishop of Dromore Dr John McAreavey said he supports “any initiative that will make it easier for parents to support their children at the time of First Communion”.

“One practice that I have encouraged is for children to attend First Communion or Confirmation in their school uniform. However, the important word here is ‘encourage’. Any move away from traditional clothes on these special occasions must come from the parents. It cannot be imposed by a school or by Church authorities,” the bishop said.

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said that clergy “are all too aware of the enormous financial pressures that some parents feel at the time of First Communion”.

“I welcome any initiative that would help mitigate the problems that arise for many families,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Dublin said the diocese would welcome any charity initiative that strives to help parents to celebrate First Communion without unnecessary expense and that “charities in the city and surrounding counties in Dublin already support families in this regard and have been for many years”.

Similarly, a spokesperson for the Irish bishops said they were collectively “very concerned” about the cost issue facing parents with children for First Holy Communion and warned that “the pressure of trying to make these sacramental days special for the child can cause parents a lot of stress”.

“If the emphasis for sacramental preparation is placed on commercially related concerns, rather than on the spiritual significance of the sacrament, then it is not a good preparation for Catholic children. Simplicity ought to characterise the social celebration of these sacramental occasions so that their faith significance is not lost,” the spokesperson said.

Fr Gerry Alwill, a member of the Association of Catholic Priest’s leadership team, said the initiative would “offset the expense of the big day for parents” who had “hit hard times”.

“Some people might have particular notions about hand-me-downs but we have to realise that times are hard for some people and they are trying to make ends meet. This is a good option for some people and will give them a helping hand,” he practice that I have