Pastoral Letter of the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland to the Clergy on Emigrant Problems
Posted by shane
4th April, 1967
Dear Reverend Father,
At a recent meeting in Maynooth the bishops decided to send this letter to the clergy. The issue of such a joint letter, addressed by the Bishops to the priests only, is a rare event, which serves to underline the immense importance we attach to one particular branch of the sacred ministry. While we wish to express our appreciation and gratitude for the work you have done and are doing so zealously for all our faithful people, our chief object in writing this letter is to remind you of the special problems of our emigrants and to encourage you to continue and, if possible, to extend your pastoral ministry to those — especially the young — who are likely to leave this country to live or work in other lands.
The number of our people emigrating each year is now much less than it was some years ago and we all hope and pray that the number will continue to decline. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that for some years to come many thousands of our young people will leave our shores every year to seek their livelihood abroad, particularly in Great Britain. Their going will leave us so much the poorer.
Yet these tens of thousands of men and women can be an enormous force for good in the lands they go to, if they have the right ideals and motives, and abilities properly developed. Without these the alien environment in which they find themselves may present serious dangers to the spiritual and moral welfare of the weaker ones.
Preparation and formation in Ireland cannot certainly of themselves ensure that our emigrants will survive the dangers or be equal to all the demands made on them. Nevertheless, such preparation can do much. If those who leave are to accept the opportunities offered them, and contribute by the lives they lead to the building up of the Church in the society to which they go, they must have the opportunity here at home of a good, basic education, which will enable them to lead full, generous Christian lives wherever they may be. Little can be done by the host country, if the groundwork has not been laid by the parent country.
Many specific helps can be provided for emigrants. Already, indeed, a great deal is being done. Under the initiative and direction of the Irish Episcopal Commission on Emigration, the Irish Emigrant Chaplains and Irish Missioners have provided pastoral help for our emigrants in a most effective way. The success of their work has been due in no small measure to the ready and willing co-operation of our brother bishops and priests in England, Scotland and Wales, to whom we owe a deep debt of gratitude. We desire to express our thanks, also, to those Irish priests, both diocesan and regular, who have taken part in this work, and we hope it will be possible not only to maintain but to increase the number of priests who participate in it. There has, indeed, been a marked increase in the number of regular priests this year and for this we are most grateful. In addition, the various Irish Centres in Britain and the Lay Apostolate for Emigrants organized by the Legion of Mary, which are entirely dependent on voluntary aid for their support, have helped many thousands of our emigrants in the difficult period of adjustment. At home, the Emigrants Section of the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau, the Catholic Protection and Welfare Society of Ireland and the Catholic Emigrants Bureaux throughout the country have rendered invaluable service.
We wish, too, to express our appreciation of the very striking and effective initiatives which have been undertaken by so many individual priests in recent years. We have high hopes that the recently formed Emigrant Chaplains’ Association will provide a forum in which ideas and experience can be pooled, discussed and circulated amongst all who have a contribution to make to the welfare of our emigrants.
One of the proofs of the fruitful work being done in the home, in the schools and in the pastoral ministry, is the very high percentage of our Irish abroad who are a credit to their faith and to their country. Irish families play no small part in the Catholic life of many a parish in Great Britain. The frequent testimonies which have been publicly given and which we have received from our colleagues in the Hierarchies of England and Wales and Scotland testify that, despite some publicized statements to the contrary, the great majority of our emigrants are, by the example they give, apostles of the faith and for a healthy family life.
Unfortunately there are some who fall by the wayside. In a society such as ours, where religious practice is the normal thing, we must expect to find some degree of mere conformity, combined with weak personal conviction, among a number. Such people become easy casualties in their new surroundings. Many young people go to Britain at an age when they are quite unequal to cope with such a violent change of environment. Speaking generally, it can be said that anything you can do to persuade individuals under eighteen not to emigrate is a great act of charity. Parents should be reminded of their grave obligation not to expose their children to such dangers. There is another small section of our society who must always have a particular claim on our priestly solicitude; they are the mentally subnormal and underdeveloped, and poor unmarried expectant mothers. It is sometimes a great temptation for these to take refuge in Britain. They are exposed to exceptional dangers. Anything we can do to keep them at home and help them must be done with great sympathy and fatherly understanding, but it is imperative that we should spare no effort to provide for them here in Ireland.
It goes without saying that the most important requirement is the formation of our young people in a way which will help them both to know the faith and to live their lives by it. A special effort is needed to bring home to them and to adults that all Christians are called to be apostles: ‘By its very nature the Christian vocation is also a vocation to the apostolate.’ (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 2). To that end a great deal of attention has been given in Ireland in recent years to methods of religious formation in schools, and from your own experience you will be aware that, particularly in primary schools, the co-operation of the parochial clergy with teachers can be of inestimable value. Anything which helps our young boys and girls to know, love and practice their faith better, to show its power to influence their lives and thereby to attract others to it, will eo ipso be a more effective contribution to the formation of those likely to emigrate. New opportunities are now opened up by the closer sharing in the liturgy, by the growing interest in the scriptures, by the renewal of the sense of community life prompted by the council. All these can be of immense value, if properly utilized. Both inside and outside the classroom the priest can do a great deal to help young people to develop the habit of private prayer, to lead them to love the Mass and to be regular in the reception of the Sacraments. If they emigrate, they may be placed in a situation where their fidelity to the Mass and to the Sacraments will be put under great stain; the stronger and deeper their love for the Mass and the Sacraments, the more likely they are by God’s grace to withstand such pressure.
In addition to this first and most fundamental approach other lines of pastoral action suggest themselves. Young people should be encouraged to stay at school as long as they can benefit from it, and parents should be persuaded, even at some sacrifice, to allow them to remain there. We should do everything in our power to impress on parents and children that henceforth primary education is not a sufficient preparation for the word we live in. In speaking to Confirmation classes the priest might well stress how those who receive the Sacrament are called to be witnesses to Christ, and point out to the children the sort of concrete situation in which there will be danger to their faith and in which they will need all the grace of Confirmation to remain loyal to the Church. This is an occasion when they might be told of the special importance of the virtue of Temperance and the wonderful safeguard the Confirmation pledge or membership of the Pioneer Society can be for all, but particularly for young people with money, living a lonely life away from home. The priest should devote special care to children during their final year at school encouraging them to talk and to discuss the problems which they will very soon hear others raising and which they, themselves, may feel inadequate to comment upon. He should try to make them understand that this is not so much a part of their school life as a preparation for the ordinary, everyday life they will have to face now that they are grown up. Some priests have the custom, towards the end of the school year, of gathering the children in the final class around them for a series of frank and informal talks. The mere fact that the priest sets them apart in this way increases their confidence, and the discussions help them to learn to express themselves cogently and clearly on matters concerning religion.
The activities of Youth Clubs — discussion groups, games and so on — can also be utilized by the priest to help the young members to acquire healthy and natural social graces and habits, to be articulate and courteous, and to develop those other accomplishments that will enable them to bear themselves with poise and confidence in society.
In all this it must be remembered that the crisis which our younger emigrants face when they go abroad is very often a crisis of adaption rather than of religion. If they cannot be understood clearly when they speak, if their deportment is slovenly or awkward by the standards of contemporary urban society, they can easily develop an inferiority complex which may make them anti-social or aggressive and bitter about the system that produced them. Illogical as it may seem, it is sometimes the Church that they blame for these inadequacies. Even apart from such considerations, the priest’s ministry of charity should prompt him to help the young to grow up to confident maturity. The memory of the interest which the priest has taken in them will remain, when they are far from home.
Needless to say we do not suggest that help of this kind should be confined to a special group of potential emigrants. It should extend, in so far as the priest’s other pastoral duties will allow, to all young people who can benefit from it.
Above all, the priest should help our young Irish boys and girls to strengthen their ideals. They have no need to feel inferior when they go abroad. On the contrary, in their Irish Catholic understanding of the meaning of life and its values they have something worthwhile to contribute to their new environment — ideals and standards which they can transmit to others and which, experience shows, others appreciate and admire. Once again we should stress that it is of immense importance to teach the faith in a way that will enable the young person to absorb its truth and standards and apply them to his own life.
If the priest’s influence is to be effective, he must gain the confidence of the intending emigrant. He must make it quite evident that his only interest is the spiritual and temporal welfare of those whom he assists. In the atmosphere of mutual trust thus established, his tactful and sympathetic advice will be more readily accepted. So he can convince them of the difficult housing problems they are likely to encounter in the larger cities, warn them of the difficulty of finding suitable employment, of the physical hardship and strain of long hours of heavy manual work, of the danger to health of cramped, overcrowded and unhygienic living-conditions. He can put them in touch with the nearest Catholic Emigrants Bureaux where they can get reliable information and expert advice. He can also put them in contact with trustworthy and experienced friends and neighbours who will take an interest in them and advise them wisely during their early days in their new surroundings. Just recently, Irish girls who intended going to England to take up nursing were warned against being misled by the standard of the test required to qualify in this profession and the consequent temptation to drift into inferior grades of nursing or other employment. This is the sort of situation the priest can put the prospective emigrant on his guard against.
Priests can also do a great deal to ensure that people do not emigrate without having previously made firm arrangements about employment and lodgings. The Catholic Social Welfare Bureaux has recently noted a regrettable decrease in the number of notifications they are receiving about emigrants. Perhaps the extremely helpful service provided by all the various Bureaux, by the Irish Centres and other reliable agencies in Britain is not sufficiently publicized, especially in rural parishes. The clergy should be aware of the facilities available and make them known to their parishioners. They can also do much to supply useful date to the Bureaux where it can be put to great advantage. The Bureaux for their part are only too ready to supply up-to-date detailed information and they can be of enormous help even in the making of practical arrangements. What is important is that these arrangements should be made before the person emigrates. Failure to do so can result in tragedy.
There should be no question, of course, of the priest encouraging the flow of emigration; quite the contrary. Yet experience shows that to adopt a purely negative attitude towards people who are determined to emigrate very often does more harm than good. Inevitably some will emigrate. The priest’s task is to contribute to the formation of all our youth, so that those who do emigrate will adjust themselves more easily to their new environment. In addition he can, in the ways we have indicated, help those who are determined to emigrate to avoid the more obvious pitfalls and dangers.
Finally the priest should retain a pastoral interest in those of his parishioners who have already emigrated. Many opportunities present themselves for translating that interest into effective action amongst emigrants when they return home, as well as when they are abroad. In the course of the normal visitation of families the welfare of the emigrant relatives is a regular and, at times, delicate topic of discussion. The priest should be on the alert to recognize those chosen souls who have the zeal of an apostle and are conscious of being members of the People of God dispersed through the world. They have the sacred song of the exiled servant of God in their hearts:
Acknowledge him before the nations, O sons of Israel:
for he has scattered us amongst them.
Make his greatness known there,
And exalt him in the presence of all the living;
because he is our Lord and God,
he is our Father for ever.
Tob. xiii, 3-4.
Such apostles, and they are not few among our countrymen, can be led on to exercise untold influence for good among our own people and all with whom they come in contact. Others less fervent should be urged to join at least one of the many Associations in Britain, such as the Legion of Mary, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Parish Clubs, Irish County Associations, where they will meet their fellow countrymen in religious and social surroundings that will help to counteract the corroding effect of the irreligious milieu in which they work and live. All can be made to feel that we priests are genuinely interested in their welfare and look forward to the day when, if they so desire, they can come back to enjoy a more prosperous living in helping to build up our own country.
Many priests, on their own initiative or with the assistance of various groups both here and in Great Britain are already doing a great deal. The holding of ‘Irish Reunions’ in the larger centres in Britain, such as London and Birmingham, — in which a priest from Ireland, possibly with one or two parishioners, attends a reunion of emigrants from his own parish — has developed widely in recent years and has done immense good. If the priest in Ireland is prepared to circularize his own parishioners in the larger towns, the priests attached to the Irish Centres in London or Birmingham will organize the function in Britain. Other Irish priests spend part of their holidays in an area where many of their parishioners live. A ‘Parish Newsletter,’ sent monthly from the parish, is another excellent practice which is growing, as is also the custom of organizing functions in the home parish at Christmas or during the August Bank Holiday period, when many of the emigrants are at home.
These are only a few of the ways in which pastoral care for our emigrants has been exercised with success in recent years. Other ideas will suggest themselves. We are confident that our priests will devote special attention to this delicate field of the pastoral ministry, where so much harm can be done. We all pray that the number of our people who leave will continue to decline; in the meantime we must do our best to help those who do emigrate and to extend to them the charity of Christ, the model of the priest.
On behalf of the Hierarchy of Ireland,
+WILLIAM CARDINAL CONWAY,
Archbishop of Armagh.
+JOHN CHARLES MCQUAID,
Archbishop of Dublin.
Archbishop of Tuam.
Archbishop of Cashel.
Posted on April 22, 2011, in Alcoholism, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, Bishop Con Lucey, Bishop Michael Browne, Bishops' Pastorals, Cardinal William Conway, Catholic Education, Catholic Social Teaching, Confirmation, Conversion, Emigration, Irish Church-State Relations, Motherhood, Second Vatican Council, Vocations. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.