Worrying trends in Ireland paint a picture of a country whose strong Catholic tradition is eroding. I'm not surprised. I visited Ireland for two weeks in 1991 with my mother and a friend. Everywhere we went we saw signs that Ireland was in trouble. American television saturated the tube. Conversing with locals, we found many expressing the desire for liberalizing divorce. Homosexuality was being promoted in the press. Moral relativism was clearly on the rise.
After my mom left to return home, my friend and I continued on to Medjugorje with an Irish pilgrimage group. When we expressed our concerns about what we saw in Ireland ("You're about 15 years behind us," we said, so you better start fighting now!"), they pooh-poohed us. But within a year or so of returning to the states, an Irish court allowed a teenager to seek an abortion in England. At the time leaving the country to secure abortion was against Irish law. Today, about 7000 women a year seek abortions outside the country where it is still illegal except to save the life of the mother. But the pressure on Ireland continues and the sex abuse crisis didn't help things any. Sin has consequences and when the shepherds are vicious they damage the faith of the weak. The Church needs reform from the top down and the bottom up -- not just in Ireland, but everywhere.
One of the things that impressed my friend and me most about Ireland was the number of children. Everywhere we went we saw bright-faced kids. I photographed many and particularly remember seeing two teenagers on a lunch break in their school uniforms of white blouses and navy blue skirts. One was red-haired and freckled; the other looked like Snow White with black hair and a pale complexion. I asked permission to snap their picture and it remains one of my favorite photos from the trip. But, like every other country in the west, Ireland's children are an endangered species. The birthrate plummeted during the 90s and continues to be below replacement level. (See report on Ireland's children here.) Those teens we saw are close to 40 now and their own families probably look a lot different than the ones they grew up in.
Pray for the family. When I was in elementary school, our social studies books showed the family as the basic building block of the community. The neighborhood, town, state, and nation are only as strong as their families and the family is under assault everywhere. Please join me in praying for Ireland, the land where my grandfather was born. Any decline in the faith there feels like a personal loss to me and to the Church in the U.S. where so many Irish missionaries have served. St. Patrick, pray for Ireland and for us.