Bishop: Ireland Now Filled With ‘Cultural’ Catholics, Most Have Lost Religious ‘Conviction’

Joshua Gill | Religion Reporter

The bishop of Kilmore claimed that Ireland is a mission field now that many Irish people are Catholic by culture instead of faith.

Bishop Leo O’Reilly made the comments Sunday while leading a pilgrimage to the Knock shrine, saying that he had been “troubled in the weeks since the result” of Ireland’s abortion referendum in March, according to Crux Now. O’Reilly said the reality is that the church is no longer dominant in Ireland and that Ireland is now “mission territory.” (RELATED: Irish Priest Says Catholics Who Voted For Abortion ‘Have No Business Receiving Holy Communion’)

“We have the reality that many are now cultural Catholics rather than Catholics by conviction. We understand now the words of Saint Pope John Paul II before he left Ireland in 1979 – that each new generation is a new continent to be won for Christ,” O’Reilly said, according to Crux.

O’Reilly said the vote to legalize abortion in Ireland left him feeling both grief and shock.

“Shock that so many of our people voted to remove an article from our Constitution which protected the lives of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society — unborn children. But the overwhelming feeling was one of sadness: Sadness that the culture of life that marked maternity care in Ireland, and that was so successful in protecting the lives of mothers and their unborn children, has now been fatally undermined,” O’Reilly said.

Given the church’s diminished influence in Irish life and culture, and in light of Pope John Paul II’s 1979 exhortation, O’Reilly said the Irish church can no longer afford to focus on “maintenance” but must now make evangelism a priority. He was encouraged, however, by those who campaigned to keep the protection for the unborn in Ireland’s constitution.

“You have been out sowing the seed of the Gospel of Life in homes and hearts the length and breadth of Ireland … For the first time in my life we have had a nationwide mission of evangelization led and carried out – not by bishops, priests or religious – but by lay people,” O’Reilly said, according to Crux.

The movement of evangelism led by lay-people was a “quiet revolution” in the church, O’Reilly said and he encouraged them to continue their work even if the immediate results disappoint them.

“You will never know when the word you spoke on a doorstep about the value of human life will touch the heart of the hearer when they need to hear it,” he said.

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