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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A game changer for religion and education?

Young women with eyes focused on the soccer ball while controlling it during a girl football match.

There’s a world of difference between the jumpers-for-goalposts kickabout in the school playground and the type of free-flowing, high-quality football being played currently at the Euros in England. Most notable is the way in which skilful players read the game and move to occupy empty space rather than engage in a chaotic free-for-all where everyone runs to cluster around the ball. Sadly, the media often bear a greater resemblance to a primary school soccer scrummage than the beautiful game being …

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A Protocol of Biblical Proportions…

person holding black book during daytime

It was assumed that the defining adversarial dynamic between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness would be the fact that one was staunchly loyalist while the other was proudly republican. In reality, it was an extremely fruitful relationship partially due to a shared belief in Christianity, with Paisley and McGuinness reportedly praying together during their time as First and Deputy First Ministers. There we see a partially overlooked aspect of the society in which we live in. Christianity’s deep impact upon …

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SOAPBOX: The Presbyterian Church in Ireland – reforms needed

Steven Smyrl is a professional genealogist, lecturer, author, and former elder in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. This week’s meeting in Belfast of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) prompts me to reflect on my experience at the hands of the church since the momentous decision at the 2018 General Assembly to exclude gay couples from full membership and their children from baptism. That decision culminated in a highly public controversy about my same-sex marriage, and …

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The Underneath: New Podcast Series Digs Deep into Evangelicalism in Northern Ireland…

‘People who like Billy Graham.’ That’s how one academic jokingly defined the term ‘evangelical’ to me in a recent conversation for The Underneath podcast. And, having spent the past year carrying out interviews with a huge range of people in religious Northern Ireland, this light-hearted definition may well be the most accurate one I’ve come across. From Edwin Poots’ views on the age of the earth, to the multi-million-pound new church builds in Ballymena, to the four hundred thousand Northern …

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Cancellation & Censorship in Film – five screenings & a talk at #imaginebelfast

I recently caught up with Hugh Odling-Smee from FilmHubNI who are supporting a strand of films at this year’s Imagine! Festival that explore cancellation and censorship. Ourselves Alone is described as one of the most significant films ever made about the Troubles, a powerful story of love and conflicting loyalties set against the battle for Ireland’s independence. Set in 1921, it’s the story of a young girl under pressure, torn between loyalty to her brother (unbeknownst to her an IRA …

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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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A Wonderful Wander Through Belfast

Belfast’s tenth annual 4 Corners Festival (30 January-6 February), begins in a week’s time. One of the aims of the inter-church festival is to inspire people to visit and explore all four corners of the city, especially areas they have not ventured before. The festival’s popular ‘Wonderful Wander’, which takes place this year on 5 February, is a guided walk that encourages people to see Belfast in a new light. Caroline Clarke from Belfast shares her experiences of last year’s …

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The fourth ‘R’ – the role of religion in the segregation of schools…

teacher, learning, school

Standing shoulder to shoulder at a recent ecumenical event to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, men of the cloth from the Catholic Church and three Protestant denominations declared that: “the churches could have done more to deepen our understanding of each other and to bring healing and peace to our divided and wounded communities.” Few of those who live on this troubled and contested island would argue with that brave and bold confession, but, in this age of the …

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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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What does the Rise of the Non-Religious in N Ireland mean for Politics here?

candlelight, faith, candles

I was casually leafing through the British Humanists’ newsletter recently, when this headline caught my eye: Northern Ireland’s Non-religious population surges I read further: The number of non-religious people is on the rise. The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, released in June, reported that 27% of respondents said they had no religion in 2020. This is a massive increase of seven percent in just one year. The latest surge means that the overall figure has more than doubled in …

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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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Lord Patten: “… the problem at heart is not the sausages you get from Sainsbury’s but the porkies that we all get … from Downing Street”

Chris Patten delivering inaugural Seamus Mallon Lecture for Hume Foundation over Zoom

Lord Patten delivered the inaugural Seamus Mallon Lecture this evening, organised by the The John & Pat Hume Foundation. His talk looked back at his time as a direct rule minister: “An appointment to the Northern Ireland Office was often compared with being sent by a Communist Party general secretary in the Soviet Union to manage a power station in Siberia.” He recalled some of his encounters with Seamus Mallon, wishing that there were: “more political leaders in Northern Ireland …

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