Going to Ballintubber / Ballymoe in the west of Ireland (Diocese of Elphin) in December 2009 was an opportunity for our Province to re-visit Apostolic Living. Unable to return to Angola on health grounds, I now look back in gratitude for the more than 10 years spent in the parish. Doing the basics – eating and praying together – and making decisions as a team inspired by Poullart des Places and Libermann was not a given. The parish was the context of all our actions; the hope was that people (seminarians and lay) interested in the Spiritan way of life would embrace and respond to our invite.
The diocesan way of doing things does not have to be the Spiritan way.
Parish administration is not what the priest in charge ought to be about; others can carry out that task. We* got energy in facilitating and re-imagining with parishioners and involving them in their parish; this is not always the modus operandi in Irish parishes, whose priests today – fewer, older and with more responsibility – are often unable to empower leadership within the parish. When the People of God take ownership of theirparish we need not worry about Church structures dying, since Church leadership is already dying as ‘the institution’ is not listening to key stakeholders. Sometimes bishops wrongly think that they are doing good by proposing complicated programmes for lay involvement!
Working in parishes gives us different possibilities
Being Spiritan is how I have always wanted to live my life. Being asked to go to a parish in the west, initially for 2 months, didn’t sit well with me. However, when asked to stay on after the sudden death of the priest I was covering for, I soon fell in love with the parish and its parishioners. We immediately got into visiting parishioners in their homes, getting to know the people we were to serve; it also meant socialising with them. Though I was still recovering from serious illness, I was in a very good space. Listening to and encouraging parishioners opened up possible community involvement at many different levels. The Spiritans were loved in the parish because we loved the people we were serving; they in turn were not afraid to show their gratitude to us over those ten and a half years.
Challenges for Spiritans and questions for the Province today
With ever fewer Spiritans active in the Province, with increasing bureaucracy and given that our retired and infirm confrères require support, it is important for Spiritans to identify and accompany works that will nourish the Spiritan story. How good are we in the Province at this? Are we on board in tackling the many challenges and difficulties that touch the lives of so many of those we serve? My personal view is that each community, office or parish ought to be accompanied professionally, and facilitated to clearly state how we are working. Is this not the logical next step for ‘Spiritan Mission Ireland’, to move beyond the talking, to see how we can be more effective in our work?
* Spiritans who served on appointment in Ballintubber / Ballymoe include: John Laizer, Vincent McKay, Tewodros Awala Meles, Pat O’Toole, Joe Poole and the late Fr. Paddy Kelly.+