Last weekend, Ireland received a visitor whom some regarded as extra special and others regarded as controversial – the Pope. Much has been written about his visit, so there isn’t a great deal more I can say about it. But I do carry two pictures in my mind which I think neatly represent this country’s relationship with Catholicism.
In one picture, thousands of people stand before the Pope at a shrine in Knock, in the windblown West of Ireland. They clutch rosary beads and wave yellow and white papal flags. In unison, they chant responses while the pope leads them in the Angelus. Soft rain falls on them, but they are oblivious, their rapt faces focused on the small white figure standing in front of them.
In the second picture, another crowd gathers at a garden in Dublin, singing and swaying to the strains of a popular band. In their hands, they hold coloured placards which proclaim truth and justice. They are standing in solidarity with people who have suffered abuse at the hands of the clergy.
Creating a New Picture
These are the pictures of post-Catholic Ireland, a country with a strong kernel of faith, but a country which is also kicking down the walls of the institution that it clung to for so long. Seeing these two pictures, I was faced with the uncomfortable realisation that none of them quite fits me. I admire the faith and devotion of the people in the first picture and the integrity and compassion of the people in the second.
I don’t go to Mass anymore, and for many reasons, I think it would be hypocritical to go on calling myself a Catholic. But nor do I want to kick down the walls of the institution. What will be left for us when those walls are gone?
Those of us who fall into the uncomfortable vacuum between belief and disbelief, what I call the floundering faithful, may have to create a new picture for ourselves. It will be interesting to see what picture emerges in the coming years. I would like to think of it as a collage of different beliefs, resting