Dublin 8 church look forward to Christmas boost amid attendance fall

Parishioners attending 10 am mass at St. Theresa's Church, Donore Avenue Photo: Danielle Stephens

Parishioners attending 10 am mass at St. Theresa’s Church, Donore Avenue Photo: Danielle Stephens

With a decline i church attendance over the past couple of decades, Danielle Stephens examines the religious population in Dublin 8 and the temporary increase in numbers during the run up to Christmas

While churches bemoan a general fall in the number of people attending mass each week, the Christmas period offers an annual, if temporary, boost.

The 2011 census showed that there were 98,594 Roman Catholics in the Dublin South Central constituency, of which Dublin 8 is a part.

On top of that, there were approximately 13,000 people who were members of other stated religions in the area.

The Liberties is home to several churches, many of which were built during the penal times to accommodate the large population of the area at the time.

However, today sees many of the churches, such as St. James’ on James’ Street, struggle to bring in the numbers on a daily basis.

Celia Travers, the sacristan of St. James’s, puts this down to a lack of prayer in the home. She believes that a higher number of broken families is contributing to the fall in numbers practicing religion around Ireland.

“People of our generation, we knelt with our mothers and fathers. It starts at home, I don’t care what anyone says, that’s where Jesus is,” she explained.

Fr. Kelly, a priest at St. Theresa’s Church on Donore Avenue believes that the trend of people going to mass is similar to the economic cycle. As Ireland comes out of the recession slowly, the church is coming out of its “trough” and people are returning to their belief in God.

He believes that the biggest threat to the church is materialism. “Anytime in the history of the church where you have materialism, you have people getting drawn into material things,” said Fr. Kelly.

There is also a common trend in the Liberties area of mainly the same people attending mass on a regular basis. Ms Travers of St. James’s Church said that many families from the Filipino and Indian communities go to mass because a number of them work in St. James’s Hospital down the road.

There is no avoiding the effect that the abuse scandals are having on the church. Sr. John of St. James’s Church belives that the media are continuing to create negative propaganda which is hurting those within the church the most.

“Only something small like 3% of priests were actually involved and even though I’m not saying that it was OK, the other percentage is never mentioned,” she explained.

Sr. Frances of St. James’s was originally a member of the Ahascragh parish in Co. Galway, where Fr. Kevin Reynolds is a priest. She says that members of the clergy now have to be very careful, which is having a knock on effect on the church.

Fr. Reynolds was falsely accused of raping a minor named Veneranda while he was a missionary in Kenya and fathering a child by her. He was cleared of the allegations, but the incident has left doors open for others to try and capitalise on the scandal.

Parishioner Vincent Reilly thinks that people need to start seeing priests and other clergy members as the same as everyone else. “They’re human, if you take a cross section of any part of society, you’re going to have bad apples,” he said.

Despite tough times for the different religious communities in Ireland, Christmas brings a happier feel to the area. The period between November and January sees an increase in donations and charity work by members of the community.

Catholic University School, which is run by the same order as that of St. Theresa’s Church, will provide hampers to hand out around to families in need over Christmas.

St. James’s Church will hold a “bits and bobs” sale and a Christmas raffle to raise money for charity, as well as raffling off a big food hamper to their parishioners.

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