I call this my blog, but that's not honest advertising! The dedicated bloggers I know work much harder at it than I do, with Archbishop Terry Prendergast winning the prize. On our World Youth Day trip, Meghan and Chris plan to file regular reports (though I haven't seen any yet! (More about Rob Fuller's blog below.)
What I'm offering today is a quick recap of nine days in Ireland. Just the itinerary would tire most readers, so I'll stick with some highlights.
I was met in Dublin by a Rome classmate and dear friend who I won't name because I intend to praise him below, which he hates; he was a spectacular host throughout and a terrific guide.
We weren't out of the airport before I sat down to the first of many Irish breakfasts—also known as a fry or fry-up, as near as I could tell! From there we went directly to All Hallows College. The college has trained many hundreds of Irish priests, mainly for the service of the Church outside of Ireland.
At All Hallows I shared two days of a retreat called "The Intercession for Priests." This annual event brings priests from all over Ireland, and elsewhere, to pray with and for their brothers. An Irish Vincentian priest, Father Kevin Scallon, began the Intercession 35 years ago with the help of a very gifted religious, Sister Briege McKenna. Both were on hand and I enjoyed seeing them again—they had visited Vancouver some years back.
I'm not going to report much about the priests' conversation in order to respect their privacy, but I can certainly say they are profoundly shocked and saddened by the clergy abuse crisis that has engulfed their country. It can't really be compared to the similar tragedy experienced in Canada, because the size of Ireland, the position of the Church in society, and the political implications have all combined to make the scandal vastly more pervasive than it was here.
What I will say is that the two priest friends with whom I spent time during the holiday, along with others I met at All Hallows and elsewhere are among the finest priests you'll meet anywhere; their willingness to bear the weight of others' sin and failure is Christ-like. I felt very sad for them, yet confident that grace will abound despite it all.
The enormity of the sins of some, and the woefulness of the official response in some quarters, can't be denied or minimized. But I formed the clear impression that some of those who do not support our mission have seized on the crisis as an opportunity to weaken the Church.
It's out of sequence, but I want to tell you here about a second experience of prayer that left me full of hope for the Church in Ireland—and elsewhere—even if it's to be a smaller, holier Church.
On Saturday night my host and I went out to a gathering near the ancient monastic ruins of Clonmacnoise to take part in the annual national gathering of young people organized by a lay-led movement called Youth 2000. The festival depends entirely on donations despite the huge cost involved—the young people attend without charge. It felt a lot like Catholic Christian Outreach's annual Rise Up event (which will be held in Vancouver this year, incidentally).
Twenty or so of us started to hear confessions around 8:30 p.m. We finished well after midnight, and then stayed on to adore the Blessed Sacrament with the 500 or so participants (which included an impressive number of young priests, Brothers and Sisters, from both the ancient orders like the Dominicans and newer ones like the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal). The whole thing was very moving for me... and joyful.
At Clonmacnoise I bumped into an old acquaintance, the dynamic young Irish Senator Ronan Mullen, whom I'd met in Vancouver some years ago. He is a solid Catholic, involved in politics in the tradition of the great Catholic statesmen of old, and is doing great things in the upper house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament.
Speaking of great things, I was first introduced to Senator Mullen—then the press spokesman for the Archbishop of Dublin—through my old friend from Prince George, Rob Fuller. I met Rob more than twenty years ago when he was a seminarian. After leaving the seminary, he met a lovely school teacher from Galway who was working as a lay missionary in Prince George. They married in Galway (I concelebrated on the occasion) and now live there with their four children.
Anything witty that I tell you about Rob—who would be a true "character" if only he were Irish by birth rather than adoption—will bring wittier-still retaliation on his blog, I will limit myself to his remarkable gifts as a Catholic layman. He writes elegantly and eloquently on his blog about faith and life, where he is quick to point out weaknesses in the Church, while arguing cogently in person and on his blog Faith and Life for what he believes would make things better. But he does more than offer opinions—he has the courage of his convictions, and a while back he defended his own bishop to the point of handing out flyers on the steps of the cathedral.
(All of this is accomplished with a certain cheek, as the English—and perhaps the Irish?—say. Rob is, after all, a forty-something year old man who has managed to surreptitiously short-sheet my bed in three countries over a period of two decades!)
Being with Rob and Mary and their brood was another sign of hope for me; a strong lay spirituality and identity is an essential ingredient of reform in the Church, and they are fine examples of that.
There's much more to say, but I think this is enough for now. Suffice to say I arrived in Valencia for the start of our World Youth Day pilgrimage having already experienced the power of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of young people (and of priests of all ages!).