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Catholic Church Sees Hope In ‘New Irish’

Paige Brettingen |
April 10, 2013 | 3:29 p.m. PDT

Managing Editor

 Paige Brettingen)
Paige Brettingen)

Iseult Ward completed her Irish Catholic school education, received all of the required sacraments and then left the Church.

“I suppose I’ve become disillusioned by the whole structure of the Church and all the bad stories that have been coming out over the years,” the 22-year-old student at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, said. “I just have no interest in being associated with them whatsoever.”

The cover-ups of clergy sex abuse and the increased secularization of Ireland have prompted many young people like Ward to leave the Church. Yet in their absence, another group’s presence is gaining prominence and giving the Church leaders hope.

Each year brings a greater influx of immigrants known as “New Irish” who want to become Catholic in the Dublin Archdiocese, says Fr. Damian McNeice, director of the archdiocese’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA)– a program that helps non-Catholics join the Church. The number of new Catholics has risen steadily since the archdiocese began the program in the late 1990s.

“One may think, ‘Who would want to be part of the Catholic Church in Ireland given all its mess?’” said Fr. McNeice. “But God is still calling people and that is just extraordinary.”

This year, 83 candidates– up from 46 last year– received all of the sacraments necessary to become Catholics at Easter Vigil. For most of them, it marked not only their Catholic initiation, but their initiation to Christianity as a whole, says Fr. McNeice. The majority of new Catholics joining the archdiocese include immigrants from China and Africa as well as Poland, Slovakia and Russia.

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Eric Tchanga wasn’t Catholic when he first arrived in Ireland from Cameroon, Africa 12 years ago. After enrolling at University College Dublin to study business, Tchanga, 37, began going to Catholic masses that were said in Latin– a language he could understand well. Eventually the masses started affecting him outside the church doors.

“It made me see life in a different way,” he said. “When you are faithful, you tend to… trust God that things are going to be OK.”

 Paige Brettingen)
Paige Brettingen)
Two years ago, after going through the RCIA process, Tchanga was baptized, confirmed and received his first Holy Communion at Easter Vigil.

The length of the RCIA process in Dublin differs for each candidate. Instead of a one-size-fits-all structure, Fr. McNeice says the program is tailored to the individual. The process starts with discernment in deciding why one wants to be Catholic, and continues with a series of weekly faith formation discussions. Most complete the initiation process within a year, but it may take longer for those who come from non-Christian backgrounds, says Fr. McNeice.


While Tchanga received an individualized initiation into the Church, students like Ward experience more of a “conveyor belt of Catholicism,” as Fr. McNeice describes. The process becomes more of a rite of passage, which often results in students going through the motions without finding personal meaning in the sacraments, says Fr. McNeice.

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“People think they’ve had an experience of Catholic formation, but actually young people can come out of school after 12 years of Catholic education and know very little. There’s something seriously wrong there,” said Fr. McNeice.

It may take more than an overhaul of religious education to get people like Ward back to Mass. Any attempt to reach out to former Catholics would feel contrived, she says, unless the Church– and especially the newly elected Pope Francis– can change its staunchly conservative image.

“I think you’d have to do something really extreme and radical to change people’s minds,” she said. “I think so many people are so cynical about the Church now that any efforts they do will be seen as them doing it for their own marketing rather than genuine.”


Find more Neon Tommy coverage on the Catholic Church here.

Reach Managing Editor Paige Brettingen here. Follow her here.



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