Bishop Eamon Casey
As I write this, over in Galway Eamon is being laid to rest, ending an eighty-nine year odyssey. Were my circumstances otherwise, I’d be there. Nonetheless, the warm memories flood in.
I served five years as Director of Galway Social Service Council, where Eamon was my boss. In our regular briefing meetings, we’d discuss day-to-day delivery of the services, sitting at his kitchen table on Taylor’s Hill. While we necessarily didn’t agree on everything, I always felt respected by the man. I felt inspired by his great enthusiasm the firm belief he held in the role of voluntary, and the State’s responsibility to sustain that sector’s vital input.
He’d usually be rushing off to some meeting or other. On one such occasion, he asked me to say a special prayer, as he was leaving for a bishops meeting, at which a high ranking member of the hierarchy, in line with Vatican policy of the day would be pushing for Trócaire to adopt a more doctrine driven approach, rather than always agitating for social empowerment. He was relieved when the heave didn’t win out.
Like everyone else tuned to the airwaves, on that early morning in 1992, I was shocked to hear that the bishop of Galway had resigned. The following day, Charlie one of the elderly people attending our Day Centre asked to see me, they wanted to take up a collection for Bishop Casey. I was moved by their concern, and applauded their initiative. A single man, Charlie had himself returned to Galway, after forty years in England. He remembered the young Father Casey and his Trojan work in housing the homeless in London
A great people person Eamon was never afraid to take risks (sometimes, as it would transpire, to his own detriment). Mention in recent days has been made again of his support for the Dunnes Stores strikers and his adamant refusal to meet with US President Reagan, when the latter visited Galway, reiterating his opposition to Reagan’s foreign policy on Central America.
He enjoyed good food, fellowship and the craic, bursting into song one minute, interspersing it with a decade of the rosary in the next. He loved a good story, and to recount the time he went to El Salvador for Archbishop Oscar Romero’s funeral, thereby putting his own life at considerable risk. And the one about his late father. Eamon had just received word of his appointment to Kerry. He brought the old man with him in a taxi on his way to the residence of the Apostolic Nuncio, where the official announcement would be made. At one point the father turned to Eamon and said “And why in God’s name are they making you a bishop?”
Having been a diocesan priest myself for several years, working with and coming across a considerable number of bishops. Charisma wise none of them could compare with him or match his passion in promoting the social message of the gospel.
Rest easy Eamon!
The words of the West Limerick poet Michael Hartnett come to mind
“There is a place I’ve heard of
Where, the herbs are always fresh, and where
at last, pain and panic are dismissed,
And you can walk in, take off your aches,
Sit down, discard your fear, and say: Hello God. I’m here”
Kevin B Clancy
On the death of Eamonn Casey – Brendan Hoban
The death of Bishop Eamonn Casey and the almost endless repetition of the iconic television images from the Galway visit of Pope John Paul remind us again of how long ago 1979 was. It may be only three decades or so but it might as well have been centuries. The cliché now is that, while we thought the huge success of the last papal visit was the beginning of a new era for the Catholic Church in Ireland, it turned out to be the beginning of the end of a different age.
The formula that had characterised the Catholic success story in Ireland over almost two centuries – control, direction, patriarchy, etc. – is now in ruins as the Catholic project has witnessed a succession of defeats. The child abuse scandals and their mismanagement, the divorce and gay marriage referendums, reports on the industrial schools, the Magdalene laundries and now the Mother and Babies Homes, were nails in the coffin of what was unmasked as our less than glorious past.
A confluence of factors – the loss of public (and political) support, the decline in congregations, the dearth of vocations, the almost unrelieved pressure on Catholic schools and not least the loss of confidence of Catholics in the leadership of their church as well as the growing chasm between Church and State – have all contributed to the growing, almost universal conviction that the Casey images from Galway represent a by-gone age. That was then, this is now.
At a time when both the Irish political class and the media are almost universally critical (and mostly opposed to the Catholic Church), the presumption is that the unequal battle for the soul of Ireland has only one conceivable result – the relegation of Catholicism and church personnel to a largely ceremonial presence on the sidelines of Irish life.
More astute observers, however, recognise that making dramatic statements about what’s past and what’s future is simplistic in terms of the complexity of human life and the deeply embedded needs and longings of the human spirit. Attitudes and expectations, internalised over centuries, won’t be undone by a series of Irish Times experts all lining up on one side of any debate.
For instance, we’re used to ‘foreign’ players, like Chelsea’s centre-back, the Brazilian David Luiz, praying on his knees before a match or a succession of players pointing to the heavens, after what they believe is God’s help in scoring a crucial goal. But what to make of Simon Zebo, the Cork-born rugby international, blessing himself as he runs out on to the Aviva turf? Isn’t he familiar, in the present Siberian winter for all things ‘Catholic’ in Irish society, with the populist wheeze that to exhibit any kind of interest in religion indicated a backwoods attitude or at worst an accusation of being ‘mentally challenged’.
There’s a difference, of course, between the view of Irish life that comes from the letters pages of the Irish Times and the prism of everyday parish life. As many know (and some have yet to discover) at critical times in our lives a need for the spiritual re-asserts itself, like at death or birth when we draw on the deep reservoirs within ourselves and we acknowledge a deeper resonance.
The Catholic Church, in the places where it’s struggling to re-find its feet, is shedding the practices of the past and discovering a different attitude and vocabulary, not least through the inspiration of Pope Francis.
Part of it is resisting those who want us to circle the wagons and make our Church a kind of Amish outpost. And part of it is not seeking to counter those who feel it’s an open season on the Catholic Church. Part of it too is recognising how old truths live on in different practices. We no longer have many ‘foreign’ missionaries but we have thousands of young people every year who volunteer for service overseas.
For instance, in the next issue of Vineyard, a publication of Killala diocese, Donal Brady, a teacher from Skreen in Sligo, reports on his work co-ordinating an education programme for refugee children on the island of Samos in Greece and Michelle Flynn, a UCD student from Ardagh, outside Ballina, reports on her summer work helping deprived children in India.
Just because the shell of the past is fast disappearing it doesn’t mean that values shaped under the centuries-old beat of sledge on anvil will suddenly evaporate. The values simply appear in another form that needs to be welcomed not resisted or patronised.
The young, who may only very occasionally see the inside of a church and may even resent categorisation as ‘religious’, can carry in their spiritual DNA, Christian values they have ingested from family and home and that express themselves, for example, in fighting injustice and in supporting those in need.
Most people, but few priests and even fewer bishops, have a good sense of what this means. Their sons or daughters may be in ‘irregular’ relationships, rarely go to Mass and almost never say a traditional prayer but bring to their lived lives values and attitudes that reflect the gospel of Jesus Christ. As it’s usually expressed, they are patently ‘good people’.
In a recent issue of The Furrow, a Jesuit priest, David Harold-Barry, described this by taking as a metaphor, a bag of peanuts. Take the shells away and you have only half a bag but you still have peanuts. The packaging may be gone but the essential remains.
The shell of our faith – social convention, parental pressure, and cultural influences – has disappeared. And trying to retain the shell or re-invent it is a waste of time.
If the values of the gospel of Jesus are to find its space in a different world, we need ordinary words to communicate truths that resonate with the deepest reaches and we need rituals, religious or otherwise, that speak gospel truths.
Eamonn Casey urging on thousands of young people in Galway to tell the Pope that they loved him is now part of the baggage of a by-gone era. We need to stop visiting it.