This summer will mark my 18th anniversary as the priest in Rosbercon Parish. Being in the parish for eighteen years is a gift. Now, when I celebrate a funeral Mass, I know the person whose funeral I am celebrating. I know the grieving family, and who is related to the deceased. This pastoral knowledge is a true gift for me, the fruit of nothing but time.
People also speak more freely. It’s the result of building up relationships over the years. Working with parishioners to be a gift from God, all the more so when I have had the chance to get to know the people.
So, I am wondering now what the future holds for the parishes of Ireland. Every diocese has its own way of coping with the reducing number of priests. Some places cluster parishes, others create pastoral areas or families of parishes. The end result is the same: fewer priests serving people whom they do not know personally. The opinion offered by the Independent TD Michael Healy-Rea contains a grain of truth: once a parish loses its resident priest, as his local parish of Kilgarvan did, the Church loses its “hold” on the parish. A vital link is broken.
And the priest suffers too. He needs to be part of a community: being part of several communities is not the same thing. We ask if lay people could do much of the work that priests do, when priests are no longer available? Could lay people be formed and trained to run parishes? The number of priests is declining. We have prayed for vocations and have not received a positive answer: so maybe God has other plans for his parishes?
Some dioceses provide an opportunity for priests from other countries to work here. This can lead to complications. Foreign dioceses need their own priests. Also, there are cultural differences between countries that are sometimes hard to resolve. Some priests succeed, for others the result is frustration.
Irish Catholic priests provide a unique service to those parishes in which they serve; they get to know their people and the people get to know them. In the future, when those close relationships are no longer available, will other relationships take their place? Surely God has more surprises for us!
From the Irish Catholic – Adapted.