Review of ‘Beauty through Broken Windows’ on the World Day of the Poor

Today is the ‘World Day of the Poor’, observed in the Catholic Church since 2017 when it was established by Pope Francis. It’s a day to remind Christians of their obligations to follow Christ’s example to pursue justice for the poor. A new book, Beauty through Broken Windows: Empowering Edmund Rice’s Vision Today, edited by Aidan Donaldson and Denis Gleeson, is an excellent resource for learning more about how Christians around the world are living out such a vision. The …

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Review of Triangle: Three Novellas of Ireland by Pól Ó Muirí

What happens in a society when previously dominant traditions of religion, spirituality, and morality crumble and then proceed to disintegrate at break-neck speed? The island of Ireland could be considered something of a sociological case study in this regard. The ‘holy Catholic Ireland’ of the Republic has been discredited and denigrated. The often oppositional Christian traditions of Northern Ireland also seem destined for inexorable decline. Analysis of the rise of those who claim they have ‘no religion’ can only be …

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And No Religion, Too: Who are the ‘Nones’?

Who are the people who choose the ‘no religion’ or ‘none of the above’ categories on a Census or other survey? As discussed in my post last week, for Northern Ireland’s 2021 Census we cannot say that with confidence, because all the data has not yet been released. But we can probably assume that they are more likely to be from Protestant backgrounds, to live in a Protestant majority area, and to be young (under 35). If Northern Ireland’s trends …

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Religion in Northern Ireland: What does the Census tell us?

The 2021 Census tells us that people in Northern Ireland are much more likely to identify as Christians, of one type or another, than people in most other parts of Europe. Nearly 80 percent of the population identified as Christians in the Census: 42 percent as Catholic and 37 percent as Protestant or other Christian denominations. But the Census also confirmed a significant rise in those who indicated that they have ‘no religion’, from 10 percent in 2011 to 17 …

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Book Review: ‘Unholy Catholic Ireland’ by Hugh Turpin

Unholy Catholic Ireland: Religious Hypocrisy, Secular Morality, and Irish Irreligion by Hugh Turpin (published this week by Stanford University Press) is a must-read book for anyone interested in the changing role of religion in Ireland. Unholy Catholic Ireland responds to longstanding gaps in our knowledge about the ‘irreligious’ in Ireland, to echo the term from the book’s subtitle. In scholarly literature, this rather disparate group is often referred to as those with ‘no religion’ or the ‘nones’. (In the text, …

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Reconciliation: The Theme of King Charles’ Visit to Northern Ireland

Reconciliation could be considered the theme of the first official visit of King Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort, to Northern Ireland. The royal couple’s itinerary included an engagement at Hillsborough Castle, the royal residence in Northern Ireland; and a service of reflection and thanksgiving at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. King Charles and Camilla met political leaders in Hillsborough, while the service in the cathedral was attended by religious, civic, and political leaders, including Prime Minister Liz Truss, Taoiseach …

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Pope Francis’ Message for Belfast: “We have to pull down walls and build bridges.” 

A personal message from Pope Francis for the people of Belfast was broadcast last night at the opening event of the 4 Corners Festival, an inter-church festival that seeks to bring together people from all parts of Belfast. The message was played in St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral ahead of a talk and Q&A with Austen Ivereigh, who collaborated with Pope Francis on his recent book, Let us Dream (BBC Report here). (Disclaimer: I am on the organising committee of …

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Book Review: The Rise and Fall of Christian Ireland by Crawford Gribben

Crawford Gribben’s new book, The Rise and Fall of Christian Ireland (Oxford, 2021) is a remarkable read. With a narrative spanning almost two millennia captured in a main text of just 220 pages, Gribben covers a vast amount of ground in a relatively concise text. His achievement is to provide much needed perspective on where Irish Christianity came from and where it may be headed. The book is published by an academic press and Gribben is a historian at Queen’s …

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A Future of Grace? Reflections on the Church Leaders’ Service

Irish President Michael D. Higgins’ decision to decline his invitation to this week’s service of reflection and hope on the centenary of partition and the creation of Northern Ireland was handled gracelessly, with considerable confusion and a stunning lack of communication. But the controversy provoked by Higgins meant that far more people on the island were paying attention to what was said and done at the service, which was organized by the Church Leaders’ Group and took place at St …

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The Service of Reflection & Hope: An opportunity for the Church Leaders?

Unless you’re an avid reader of the ‘Presbyterian Notes’, a bi-weekly feature on a back page of the weekend edition of the Irish Times, you probably missed it. Yesterday this brief little column, which isn’t even included in digital editions of the paper, printed an extract from an address given last week by the Moderator, Rev David Bruce. Bruce was speaking at an event marking the part played by Union Theological College in hosting the parliament of Northern Ireland 100 …

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Has belief really vanished in Ireland?

This week, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell made headlines with his assertion that ‘evidence of Christian belief in Ireland today “has for all intents and purposes vanished”.’ Farrell made the comments in an interview with Síolta (Seeds), the journal of the national seminary in Maynooth. Farrell painted a bleak picture of declines in vocations, financial free-fall, and a younger generation increasingly lost to faith. His remarks were covered in major news outlets like the Irish Times and the Irish …

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‘We’re so glad to be back’ vs. ‘Doesn’t the Irish Government understand that churches are essential services?’: North & South diverge on Church Reopenings

The front page of last weekend’s Irish News featured the headline: ‘We’re so Glad to be Back’. The story documented Catholics’ return to Mass in Northern Ireland, noting that Protestant churches are scheduled to reopen on Good Friday. The Irish News makes it clear that many Christians are thankful for the chance to gather, just in time for Easter. But at the same time, Christian worship has not ceased during lockdown: my research found that 87% of the island’s churches …

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Reflecting on the Church Leaders’ St Patrick’s Day Confession: “We have often been captive churches; not captive to the word of God, but to the idols of state and nation.”

For St Patrick’s Day, the Irish Church Leaders released a joint statement which deals directly with how the churches have been implicated in the island’s troubled past. The Church Leaders Group consists of the Catholic and Church of Ireland Archbishops of Armagh, the Presbyterian Moderator, the Methodist President, and the President of the Irish Council of Churches. The statement references 2021 as a year of important (and divisive) centenaries, then goes on to articulate what is in my judgement the …

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Can Ireland’s Churches be Something Other than a Building? New Research on Religion during the Pandemic

The annual worldwide Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January) has just passed. Over the years it has been celebrated by Ireland’s more enthusiastic ecumenists, especially those who saw inter-church cooperation as essential for contributing to the healing of societal divisions, north and south. This year, all prayers and events marking Christian Unity have been virtual, owing to the pandemic. Yet there is evidence that the pandemic could be an unexpected catalyst for inter-church cooperation. My latest research report, …

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Everything is Spiritual by Rob Bell: Part Memoir, Part Hymn for Humanity

My eyes had already welled up with tears after the first three pages of Rob Bell’s latest book, Everything is Spiritual: Who we are and What we’re doing Here. Those early pages took me to his grandmother’s front porch on a windswept farm in central Michigan, introducing me to the grief and love that shaped him and set his life on its course. My emotional response testifies to Bell’s skill as a storyteller, which makes Everything is Spiritual a quick, …

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Church as ‘doing life with all kinds of people’: Review of ‘On the Brühl’

On the Brühl, a documentary short profiling the work of Carrickfergus native Rev Barry Sloan in the German city of Chemnitz, has won the best short film documentary at the 2020 Burbank International Film Festival. The film is framed by images of far-right anti-immigrant protests in Chemnitz in 2018. Between the scenes of police in riot gear, On the Brühl juxtaposes those violent events with the warm, welcoming community-based meeting hub, ‘Inspire’, that Sloan helped establish in the city in …

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Love’s Betrayal: The Decline of Catholicism and the Rise of New Religions in Ireland by Peter Mulholland: New Insights on Recent Religious History

In Love’s Betrayal: The Decline of Catholicism and the Rise of New Religions in Ireland (Peter Lang Publishers, 2019) Peter Mulholland offers a frank and often bruising account of the decline of the authority of the Catholic Church in Ireland since the middle of the twentieth century. Mulholland follows in the footsteps of ground-breaking studies, such as those by Tom Inglis (Moral Monopoly, 1987, 1998) and Louise Fuller (Irish Catholicism Since 1950, 2002). What sets Mulholland’s work apart is how …

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Religion, Spirituality and the Search for Meaning during the Covid-19 Pandemic

According to many accounts, there has been a modest resurgence of religious practice in Ireland and the UK during the covid-19 pandemic. Nationally representative surveys commissioned by the Iona Institute and Tearfund found that surprisingly high numbers of people were accessing religion virtually, and that people were praying more. My own survey of faith leaders on the island of Ireland confirmed these trends, as have further polls by Christian Aid, Catholic Voices/York St John University, Dublin City University, and Durham …

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Féile Discussion: British or Irish or both? Unionism, Protestantism and the national question …

The Virtual Féile is well underway, with events continuing through Sunday. Monday, I took part in a lunchtime discussion on unionism around the theme of ‘British, or Irish or both: unionism, Protestantism and the national question’. It was chaired by Prof Jennifer Todd and my conversation partner was Prof Christine Bell. The conversation was framed in this way: Until the late 19thcentury, it was commonplace for unionists and Protestants of all varieties to see no problem in identifying as Irish. The …

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The Churches and the Lockdown Legacy

I am part of a conversation on ‘The Churches and the Lockdown Legacy’ on today’s Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster), also featuring Passionist priest and commentator Fr Brian D’Arcy and Rev Norman Hamilton, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church. Tune in at 9 a.m., or listen back here. The discussion is wide-ranging and includes reflection on the possibility of the permanent closure of some churches when the Covid-19 pandemic is over, how churches have moved on-line during the pandemic, …

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