Ireland remains (in name) a Catholic nation. But what is God doing in the Roman Catholic church? Vox magazine asked Paddy Monaghan, as a representative of the Evangelical Catholic Initiative to share his thoughts. Paddy identified seven areas where he believes God is at work. Two individuals from Ireland and Northern Ireland also share their stories of their encounters with Jesus.
1.A New Humility
The effect of the sex scandals has been devastating, contributing to the defeats in the last two referenda. My prayer has been: ‘Lord, don’t let any of this muck within Roman Catholic church (RC) stay hidden.” Cancer has to be exposed before it can be dealt with. Over the past 10 years a new humility has become tangible. This was typified by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin holding a Liturgy of Lament & Repentance in the Pro Cathedral in Dublin in 2011.
Abuse survivors played a major role in formulating the Liturgy. All of the clerical abuse survivor groups contacted graciously contributed their input, although a few said they just couldn’t forgive and wouldn’t take part in the actual liturgy. We took inspiration from Fr. Peter Hocken’s writing on Representational Repentance, a powerful thing, as seen, e.g., in the prayer of Nehemiah: “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you.” (Neh. 1:5-7) (The videoed service is available at www.dublindiocese.ie/liturgy-of-lament-repentence-video . For the Liturgy text see: http://www.dublindiocese.ie/liturgy-of-lament-and-repentance-for-the-sexual-abuse-of-children-by-priests-and-religious/ )
2. Ireland is Mission Territory
Since the last two Referenda there is a new realisation that Ireland is now mission territory and that RC is a minority church: Bishop Noel Treanor (Antrim) has suggested that the Church would likely see "the emergence of new models of ministry and pastoral care… It is probable that in a more secular and pluralist society we … will realise more clearly that the Christian way of life is a freely chosen discipleship of Christ in ever renewed conversion to the living Word of God.”
3. ECI Relaunch
The Evangelical Catholic Initiative was launched in 1990 with its key document “What is an Evangelical Catholic?” It sets out what a born again Christian in the RC believes. Its purpose was to promote revival in RC, build bridges with Protestant and Pentecostal evangelicals and foster reconciliation between Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians. In the wake of the Same Sex Marriage Referendum, the Lord clearly impressed on me to relaunch ECI, which had been dormant for some time. Resources on our website (evancat.org) include “How you can get to know Jesus” and “Why you need to read the Bible.”
4. Pentecostals and Roman Catholics
There has been a fruitful Dialogue between RC and Pentecostals since 1972. While there are significant differences, areas of convergence include:
• Bible: Pentecostals and Catholics, along with other Christians, acknowledge the uniqueness of the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God, normative for the faith and life of the church.
• Conversion: RC and Pentecostals both agree that conversion is essential to salvation in Christ.
• Discipleship: there is a good measure of convergence in our understanding of discipleship.
• Baptism in the Holy Spirit: To be baptised with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) is seen as a gift of God rooted in Jesus' own promise of Acts 1:8 and Peter's claim in Acts 2:38-39. The most fundamental convergence is the common conviction that Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a powerful action of grace bestowed by God upon believers within the church.
5. New Ministries emerge in Ireland
Each of these ministries are seeing good success in using creative ways of sharing the Gospel with young people:.
Over the last seven years, the Alpha Youth Initiative, with eight staff, (run by Alpha Ireland in partnership with Scripture Union) has had over 9000 pupils, mainly 16 year olds, doing the Alpha Course. The course is run in school time, mainly in the transition year. In 2017, 78 Alpha Youth courses were run by 103 trained volunteers in 31 Secondary Schools, involving 2000 students. (www.alphayouth.ie)
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has officially commended Alpha as an evangelistic tool for young people, saying “We believe that our diocese, our culture and especially our young people need to know Jesus Christ.
Youth Initiatives aims to awaken hope, inspire initiative, and mobilise youth to make a vital contribution to their community. It has 41 young staff (www.youthinitiativesni.com/our-staff) and is based in Belfast, Banbridge, Lisburn, Derry and Downpatrick.
NET now has seven teams of young people (46 missionaries and 22 staff), mainly from America and Canada, serving round the country. (www.netministries.ie)
An Tobar Nua has a staff of 26 and outreach teams in Munster and Leinster, as well as in their home base in Galway. (www.antobarnua.com)
Scripture Union (SU) has 16 staff. In 2017, over 6000 young people attended camps and retreats in their activity centre outside Avoca Village, Wicklow. (www.scriptureunion.ie)
6 Revived Catholic Parishes
A key challenge remains of connecting young teenagers with the local parish after doing Alpha, as few Catholic parishes in Ireland have full time youth ministers. One which has a youth worker, Dunshaughlin in County Meath, is using Alpha Youth for Confirmation students and running an Alpha for their parents.
Two particularly inspiring renewed Catholic parishes, in the US (www.churchnativity.com) and in Canada (www.saintbenedict.ca), have moved their parishes from maintenance to mission, the latter utilising Alpha.
(Fr James Mallon, PP of St. Benedict’s, spoke last year at 2 conferences in Maynooth and Cork, attended by c. 450, including 6 RC bishops and about 80 priests, resulting in a number of parish priests launching Alpha. Two stimulating books, “Rebuilt” and “Divine Renovation”, (details on websites), describe the development of each parish. Both books are becoming inspirational to Irish Parish Priests seeking to “bear witness to the truth of the gospel.)
7. Jewish Roots and Unity in the Body
There has been an amazing move of the Holy Spirit among Jewish people in the past 40 years. There is now a Messianic Jewish Congregation in every town in Israel. The emergence of the Messianic Jewish Church has had a big influence on RC, with an MJ/RC international dialogue held annually for the past 15 years, rotating its location between Jerusalem and Rome. There is a rediscovery of the Jewish Roots of Christianity happening within RC, with major implications for unity.
(Many RC leaders are starting to realise that the great original schism in the Church is not that between East and West or between Catholics and Protestants, but the more radical one between the church and Israel in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This is having a big impact through visiting Messianic Jewish Leaders connecting with RC leaders here.)
I believe all seven of these are activities of the Holy Spirit preparing the way for a revival in Ireland. In spite of the clerical abuse scandal and the falling away of so many from the faith, Ireland may again fulfil its destiny to be a light to the nations. Come Lord Jesus!
Paddy Monaghan works as a Catholic Lay Missionary, part time with Alpha Ireland and part time with Evangelical Catholic Initiative (www.evancat.org). He serves on the Parish Council of Johnstown/Killiney Parish in South Dublin.