Bishop urges Irish to spend less on drink in Lent and give to TrócaireWednesday, February 22nd, 2012
If Irish people could cut just 10 per cent of what they spend on alcohol for Lent, it could increase contributions to Trócaire’s Lenten appeal tenfold according to Bishop Donal McKeown.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Trócaire's Lenten campaign, and in his homily at St Mary’s Church in Belfast, Bishop McKeown paid tribute to Irish people’s generosity in their support for the work of the agency. But he also pointed out that this generosity should be considered in the context of how much people in Ireland spend on drink. Recent figures showed that the total spent on alcohol is €6.2bn annually.
“That means that while Trócaire would be very glad to achieve last year’s Lenten collection figures of €8.2million, in the six and half weeks till next Easter, the Irish will have spent €750 million on alcohol,” Bishop McKeown noted.
He added, “The 2011 Lenten campaign for the world’s neediest parts took in the equivalent of half of one day’s drinking money in Ireland.”
According to Bishop McKeown, the five million people on the island of Ireland spend more on drink than the Ugandan economy has to spend on everything including health, education and roads. “There is something wrong there,” the auxiliary for the diocese of Down and Connor stated.
In his homily on Wednesday, Dr McKeown said much of the money collected for Trócaire was done in schools and in families and he urged the national Church to ensure that the Lenten collection is never seen as just, “something that the children do, pestering parents, grannies and neighbours.”
Instead, it must become a something that the whole Irish Church takes seriously, as part of the commitment to redistribute wealth from the excesses of developed countries to the desperate of the developing world.
In his discussion of the significance of Lent, Bishop McKeown said it is not about a miserable face, but a protest against the depressing consumerist philosophy that tells us that we are only what we eat, wear and achieve.
He acknowledged that many people will have got up this morning and thought, “Oh, no! Ash Wednesday already.” However, he also acknowledged that, for an increasing proportion of the population, Ash Wednesday is an irrelevant date and Lent is a meaningless season.
“In a culture that promotes consumption and the ultimate virtue of deserving to be pampered, the idea of penance, fasting and repentance seems meaningless,” he said. However, in this context, many Catholics were choosing to gather in churches to receive ashes to mark the start of 45 days of fasting, almsgiving and a prayerful acknowledgement of their sinfulness.
The Bishop said that, despite the cultural bias against self-denial, “this Lent is coming at a time when our society is actually coming to recognise that there are many weaknesses in the traditional assumption that overindulgence is good, that the poor are mainly responsible for their own situation, and the denial of the reality of sin.”
He said Irish society increasingly recognised how a culture of greed and self-interest had done huge damage to the economy.
“This Lent also comes at a time when we in Church know that we too have been very blind to the need for repentance in how we have been Church. There is no merit in us preaching about the faults of others until we have humbly acknowledged our own individual and communal guilt and done penance for that,” he explained.
Trócaire’s project co-ordinator in Uganda’s Barlonyo, Sean Farrell, also spoke to the Belfast congregation on this year’s Lenten campaign, which is focused on rebuilding communities in the north of the country. Referring to Daniel, the face of this year’s Trócaire box, who lives in the Barlonyo district with his family, Bishop McKeown said the area had suffered in a particularly terrible way eight years ago when in February 2004, the refugee camp in their village was attacked by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels and over 200 civilians shot, burnt and hacked to death.
“They are still trying to recover,” he remarked.
Trócaire work involves supporting farmers, schools and communities in generating hope, despite so much pain and trauma. “Trócaire is not one of the big disaster agencies who specialise in coming in after floods or earthquakes, helping the injured and then moving on to the next disaster area”, Bishop McKeown commented.
“Trócaire is focused on ongoing quiet work with local people to enable them to take responsibility for making things better for all the young Daniels who deserve dignity and a future. That is how Barlonyo will get back on its feet again,” he said.
Separately, the Bishops have asked the faithful to offer up their fasting, prayer, reading of Scripture and works of mercy during Lent this year “for the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland.”
They also asked the faithful to use Lent as a special time, “to pray for an outpouring of God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church [in Ireland],” as part of the spiritual preparation for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress which will take place in Dublin between the June 10 - 17.
by Sarah Mac Donald