Por: P. Nicholas Grace, IVE
Some days ago, we completed five years of this New foundation in Scotland. We arrived here September 1st 2015. What is here? What is Scotland from a Catholic perspective. Well, Christianity was introduced to Scotland during the Roman occupation of Britain. It was mainly spread by missionaries from Ireland from the fifth century and is associated with St Ninian, St Kentigern and St Columba. In modern times the most well known Scotsman is probably William Wallace (of Braveheart fame), a 100% Catholic by the way!.
Now though the Scottish constantly resisted the English invaders, they were not so successful resisting the pseudo reformation during the sixteenth century. Indeed, Scotland underwent significant Religous changes that created a predominately Calvinist national kirk, which was strongly Presbyterian in outlook. A confession of faith, rejecting papal jurisdiction and the mass, was adopted by Parliament in 1560. The kirk however found it difficult to penetrate the Highlands and Islands, where many maintained their Catholic faith.
The following centuries saw many divisions and the formation of all kinds of protestant sects.
In the late nineteenth century, the major debates were between fundamentalist Calvinists and theological liberals, resulting in further splits.
Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and the influx of large numbers of Irish immigrants, particularly after the famine years of the late 1840s, principally to the growing lowland centres like Glasgow, led to a transformation to the Religous landscape of the country. The Church was initially unable to keep pace with the growth. By 1840 Glasgow had a Catholic population of 40,000, but only two churches and four priests to service them! A programme of church building and expansion of the priesthood began to catch up with the growth and by 1859 seven new churches had been built in the city. In 1878, despite opposition, a Roman Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy was restored to the country.
The 20th century saw another influx from abroad, particularly Irish, who came to work in the coal mines, which were feeding the British Industrial machine. With this many more Churches were built throughout the land and Catholicism once again became very significant within Scotland.
Today, Myself and F. Franco Liporace (Parish Priest and Provincial Superior-Northern Europe-Our Lady of the Dawn) have been bringing the mission to Edinburgh Diocese. Edinburgh is the Capital city. It is situated on the East Coast of the country, which is today, far more protestant than the West Coast, where we have the economic and Religous heart of the country, Glasgow. The Irish presence is everywhere in Glasgow, especially in the real expression of faith. Indeed having been here five years, my visits to Glasgow cultural or ministerial have led me to believe that it is almost a different country.
Here on the East Coast I have found the indifference to Religion to be incredible and crushing at times, a real (albeit different and unexpected) cross. Indeed I think this is true of most of the countries in this Northern European province . Difficult missions without the Glory or esteem of the «emblematic» missions, which of course are full of third world pains, illnesses, lack of the bare essentials etc…however, the spiritual and apostolic consolations are real. Very often here in Scotland we have to deal with this crushing coldness of indifference, which I think would be a real purgative test for any Priest or enthusiastic young seminarian.
Still, it’s not all gloom and indifference, we still manage to do plenty here. It’s the IVE way, the apostolic way, they way by which our Charism always manages to express itself, as long as we are willing, right!
So let me say a wee bit about our Apostolate. By the way, I will speak as if the CV19 never happened, because it would do our work here an injustice to obscure these last five years with the restrictions put on them these last five months because of the so called «crisis».
So, Our mission is situated in the Kingdom of Fife, I say that with pride! for in this kingdom we have relics of the Glorious Apostle Saint Andrew, (Kingdom, because it was for many years the Capital of the country, indeed the great Saint, Queen Margret ruled from Dunfermline, (our neighbouring town). In this Kingdom besides, we have our own IVE Kingdom or «Cluster «, in which we have the care of four Churches: S. Joseph’s, S. Kenneth and Bernard’s, S. Brides and S. Patricks, the last two indicative of the Irish presence here in the 20th century. The Churches are found in four towns, two of medium size (Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly) and two of a smaller size (Kelty and Balingary), they were mining villages until British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (nemesis of Argentina) dealt them a crushing blow by closing most of the mines in the 1980’s. With this closure many of the people left and the briefly resurging Catholic population diminished again. However, even today there are far more Catholics worshipping in the Churches than Protestants frequenting the «Kirk».
Each of our Churches has a «Catholic» school. The schools are not under the jurisdiction of the Parish Priest anymore because the Scottish government pays the salaries of the teachers. However we are able to carry out a fruitful Apostolate in these four primary schools, as indeed we are in the local Catholic High school of S. Columba’s, where since 2017/18 I have been Chaplain.
Each school is visited on a weekly basis and classes and talks are given to the students in an unofficial manner. A pessimist might argue and say it isn’t a fruitful apostolate in school because it is not reflected in the pupils Mass attendance. However, I am a member of the IVE, we are not men of pessimism, but men attuned to God’s providence, so I see it as very fruitful, because the large majority of the pupils in these schools (especially the primaries) are not Catholic and do not know anything about Catholicism. Our school work is like a first Evangelization. We are involved also with school Masses , first communions, first confessions (and the preparatory retreats for the children which accompany them), Oratorio style Patronal feast days etc. The last is a real apostolic positive because in this country (at least on the East Coast) there is absolutely no concept of celebrating the Patron Saint.
Now though there are not too many young people in our parishes we have managed to preach spiritual exercises every year for the last four years, drawing in young people from around the country and having some of our parishioners participate also. Yearly parish retreats and a very well participated Holy week are real highlights here, as are the Christmas Liturgical celebrations.
Another Apostolate which has been going with many fruits has been the Oratorio. This has been difficult because of the endless «safeguarding» restrictions on ourselves the Priests and on our volunteers. The oratorio is held once a month, but there is a plan to increase this in the near future, a goal certainly obtainable despite our very limited space and cold, rainy, windy weather. You see, the kids love it, they love the affection, possibly even more than the fun. All the formation from the seminary, the good Spirit of Don Bosco is the heart of this Apostolate, something that these kids have not experienced. Indeed many, many, many of them come from broken homes, from parents that seem to take very little interest in them, and so I am thoroughly convinced and consoled, (briefly) by the fact that they know and will always remember that the Priests, the Jesus guys, cared about them and taught them some really important stuff that nobody else ever did.
Finally I’d like to say something about the Apostolate of the pilgrimage. This is one thing I love about our Charism, the power to adapt, to always find a way to express itself. Basically four years ago we started the formation group with adults from our various parishes. We called it S. J. Paul II, the great. From this group other mini-activities grew, culminating in an idea to try and bring a group to the IVE meeting. Initially this seemed very difficult because the people have seemed very reluctant to participate in things which are «extra», let alone using up their holidays. Anyway, we managed to bring a group of about ten. Before the IVE meeting though, we went on a four day pilgrimage around Italy. Some of the Priests and SSVM from the province were also present. The people absolutely loved it, as they did the IVE day, so much so that when we proposed a pilgrimage to France this year for the Rege o Maria, they jumped at it, with a New addition also. Now what is really interesting is that despite the CV19 which cancelled the Rege o Maria and the constant apocalyptic «News» broadcasts, these people still wanted to go to France. Well we went, visiting many places, including the Miraculous medal and the Sacred heart. These pilgrimages have been a huge success, because they have bound together a really nucleus in Our Cluster of parishes which is starting to feel like family. Now these people, (and I’m sure we will have some New recruits for 2021) are full of enthusiasm and commitment for our next trip.
So, I conclude by giving thanks for these last five years, whilst entrusting the next five and many more after that to the Immaculate heart of Mary. In spite of the indifference here amongst many people, we do not lose hope, indeed we place our trust, with great confidence in Mary our Mother, in Patrick our Patron and all the other Patrons we have for our Churches and schools and community. Yes, we pray with confidence for New foundations on this Island, for New apostolate amongst her people, for New vocations from her children, and finally, New opportunities to give service, praise and Glory to the most Holy Trinity, who in every age, time and place, resurrects, restores and makes all things new.
F. Nicholas Grace, IVE