Dearest readers, Happy 2016!
Among the good things experienced in 2015, I can include yet another return to Dublin, this time with siblings and grandchildren, and the chance to meet old mates from University (Trinity College), colleagues and friends. Only few days, between July and August; enough though to revive a love which never fades.
Compared to my time in Dublin (1997-2003), many things have taken on a very different aspect; especially in those neighborhoods next to the port, where you can see the signs of too sudden construction boom (the period 2002-2008), resulted into a most serious crisis in 2009, from which the country is progressively recovering: luxurious office and apartments blocks rise where public housing, gambling dens and brownfields lay so long ago. After a few flat years, economic activity is gradually recovering a bit everywhere, matched by Dublin's most classic economic phenomenon: real estate prices are back to insane levels.
The last 20 years have been tumultuous in Ireland, not only from the economic point of view but, perhaps even more profoundly, from the social and religious side, to the point that those who knew Ireland and the Irish before the end of the millennium, would make no small effort to understand the current state of affairs.
In a few years Ireland has gone from being the land of emigrants and missionaries par excellence to being the land of immigration and compromised church institutions. The country is full of Europeans originating from almost all countries of the Union (with a certain prevalence of Polish, Spaniards and Italians) as well as Africans (mainly Nigerians). Immigration in Ireland has been a success story. Immigration from traditionally Catholic countries obviously posed a limited amount of problems (apart from the usual cases of abuse of the system); also African immigration has taken on very different characteristics from those which are typical in other countries (including Italy). If in 1997 it was almost impossible to meet black people, in 2002 the Sub-Saharan community was already able to organize a cultural festival. For them, the choice of Ireland is primarily dictated by the desire to undertake studies as well as by family needs (reunions, medical treatments, etc) which in many cases are successfully fulfilled.
The most visible change has however been the rapid depletion of the churches and religious institutions. This is not surprising considering the findings of the 2009 Ryan Report based on an investigation carried out in more than 200 religious institutions, according to which child abuse and harassment in catholic institutions was "endemic" during several decades (for more details see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse). Against this bleak backdrop, the 2012 Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin in 2012 appeared to many (including to myself) more like a funeral ceremony, celebrated according to forms and formulas no longer in line with the reality of Irish society and even offensive insofar as a certain pre-council ritualism and pietism has been able to resurface making the tears of those who had been offended by the same Church even more bitter.
The problem of abuse, however, is not the only accusation against the Catholic Church in Ireland; a number of medical practices related to childbirth and applied to unsuspecting pregnant women with serious consequences for their health were induced by ecclesial directives aimed at avoiding sterilization or the use of contraceptives (especially in the cases of women who had already undergone multiple caesarean deliveries) .
As these events remain painful and partially unresolved, it would be wrong to conclude that they have decreed the extinction of the Irish Catholic Church.
First, however endemic or systemic, the problem of child abuse has affected a relatively small percentage of individuals who were under the care of religious institutions. The vast majority of Irish people educated in religious institutions have only good memories of their formative period. In fact, Catholic schools remain the most popular, the most reliable and the ones that offer the highest training standards.
The same could be said for medical care provided in Catholic facilities.
While the Catholic Church has in the past benefited from a substantial immunity and exaggerated ability to influence society, Christian Irish spirituality has roots that go far beyond those issues. The holiness of so many monks, religious and lay people in Ireland has really been able to change the fate of so many people, not only in Ireland but across the world.
To date there are only 1,600 Irish missionaries in the world, a fraction of those Ireland has produced in the past century. But they carry on a tradition of enormous goodness made of evangelization, care of the poor and the sick and, above all, education. In Nigeria, as in South Africa, the number of people trained by Irish missionaries is impressive; they can be found everywhere, sometimes with results which are not exactly commendable (as in the case of Robert Mugabe, the notorious Zimbabwean president, formed by Jesuits Irish) but more often quite amazing (think of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, a Muslim personality, formerly acclaimed governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and now Emir of Kano, who was educated by Irish nuns in Kaduna!).
Ireland's Christian soul has been marked by important historical events (famines, the struggles for independence, emigration, etc.); but it is unthinkable that with changed circumstances such a great and deep soul may go lost.
In front of the outcome of the referendum on homosexual marriage of last May (largely won by those in favour of its legalization) many Italian Catholics may have deduced that nothing remains of Catholicism in Ireland. The quite conciliatory positions taken by several Irish prelates on the referendum outcome has also provoked strong reactions in Italy, pointing the finger at a country perceived to be in religious disarray. I would differ. Without going into the merits of the referendum, the attitude of the Irish bishops anticipated in fact many of the positions of the synod, with more attention given to people's demands. The fact is that interest in the Catholic Church is marking a slight recovery in recent months.
In the heart of the Irish lies the seal of the Trinity as proclaimed and taught by St. Patrick. The Trinity, mystery of love and holiness, will bring back new springs of the spirit to Ireland.
Massimo De Luca