A first impression: a few of the bishops I've met here are amazingly approachable and personable. On two occasions, first in Gorey and again in Attymass, we did what most Irish folk would do at the end of the day: retired to the kitchen for tea and biscuits. And in both of these towns, here we were, my wife and I and the parish priest, sitting around after a concert, and in walked His Nibs. After which would commence great conversations filled with cráig (cráig is a quintessential Irishism, pronounced "crack," a somewhat hard-to-pin-down term, which serves as a comment on the company and the conversation).
In these situations, the conversations would flow freely from the state of Notre Dame football to this year's Gaelic Games; from American politics to the Irish referendum on the financial repercussions of the euro. The conversations were honest and forthright and engaging.
A second impression: the Irish know more music of the Notre Dame Folk Choir than I once thought. This was brought home to me in a not-so-subtle way, during our last concert in Ireland, at the Peyton Centre in Attymass. We began the song "Set Your Heart on the Higher Gifts," and lo and behold, the vast majority of the assembly jumped right in – without invitation! The same could be said for "The Lord's Prayer" setting and "Lead, Kindly Light," which consistently witnessed enthusiastic participation.
A third (and another blog will follow upon this observation): the Catholic Church is more challenged at present than at any time in my thirty years of travels to this nation. In just about two weeks' time, Ireland will host the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. My conversations – and these have been with people who are presently still engaged with the Church – are revealing a rank-and-file attitude of indifference to the gathering. And this is only reflective of a more pervasive disposition, that of general mistrust toward the hierarchy. How Dublin is going to be stewards of this gathering in the midst of this present storm will define many things over the next generation of activity within the Church.
I have much to ponder and pray over after this most recent visit to Ireland. The students of the Folk Choir were superb ambassadors, both of their faith and of their university. More than ever is pilgrimage and presence important in this land, especially in regards to the landscape I describe above.
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Location:Halfway to Scotland