Saturday, August 23, 2014

Travel: In Search of Catholic Ireland

When I was growing up in the Philippines, there were many Irish priests and nuns; I knew that Ireland is a Catholic country that sends many of their sons and daughters to far corners of the world as missionaries. When we visited Ireland, I looked for the "Catholicism" in this small country - the Emerald Isle as it is aptly called because indeed there are fields and fields of vivid green grass with grazing sheep and cattle.

Our journey to Ireland did not have a specific theme; we tried to see as much as we could as we drove around this country that is smaller than California. We were "skimming" and so these are first impressions of a visitor who breezed through the entire island in two weeks.

As far as "Catholic Ireland" is concerned, there is much to see and consider. Think about this: Before St. Patrick prosletized in Ireland, around 433 a.d., there were already Christians in Ireland. But it was St. Patrick who converted thousands and began building churches throughout Ireland. The ruins of these abbeys and churches are still there. The Rock of Cashel comes to my mind because St. Patrick baptized King Aengus there; Aengus was Ireland's first Christian ruler.

We also visited Kells where the Columban monks created the Book of Kells (bible), which is displayed at the library of Trinity College in Dublin. But the most interesting monastery was on Skellig Michaels, which we unfortunately could not visit because of bad weather (it rains a lot in Ireland). In 588, some 12 ascetic monks had occupied a small rocky island west of County Kerry, Ireland. In this stark environment, the monks had built stairs along the steep cliffs and beehive-looking homes from rocks. They built water cisterns and lived off what the sea and this rocky island provided.

A few years ago, I took a History of Christianity class and I recall the teacher saying that while the rest of Europe was in the dark ages, Ireland preserved Christianity. I had this in mind while I was in Ireland.

Interestingly, while some 80% of Irish are Catholics, the religion lacks a vibrancy that's apparent in other Catholic places. It is there, but subdued, and I suspect that the protestant English domination of Ireland for centuries has a lot to do with this. 

Let me make myself clear, Ireland is predominantly Catholic, but I missed the electric energy of places like Rome or Latin American countries -- I am referring in particular to Knock where Our Lady had appeared in 1879. There were not too many people in Knock, which surprised me. In the Philippines people are almost fanatical about Marian sites; and certainly places like Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugurje have numerous pilgrims. When I visited Lourdes a few years ago, I recall the great number of people in wheelchairs and other devotees crowding the place. 

I missed that in Knock.

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