Paul Keenan, Mags Gargan and Cathal Barry
Parishes across the country saw a substantial increase in Mass attendance over Christmas with some priests putting the boost down to Pope Francis.
A survey conducted by The Irish Catholic this week found that while a minority of places said there had been no noticeable increase on last year in the number of people attending Mass over Christmas, the overwhelming majority of dioceses reported big increases.
Fr Hugh Kennedy, Administrator of the Cathedral of St Peter’s in Belfast said the parish put on a second Mass on Christmas Eve this year. “There was a worry that we might half the numbers between the two Masses, but instead we doubled them…we were delighted with numbers and it is all very hopeful”. He said “the profile of Pope Francis has actively helped to create a spirit of optimism for people”.
Fr Austin McNamara, St John’s Cathedral, in Limerick also reported “packed out” Masses.
“The numbers were marvellous and it’s very encouraging but the challenge is to keep those numbers high. People are certainly responding to Pope Francis’ message of a more open and accessible Church,” Fr McNamara said.
In Killaloe, Fr Tom Hogan said all churches in Ennis were at “maximum capacity” over Christmas.
“We had huge numbers in every parish and all were up on previous years.
“The Pope has had a positive effect on people and has brought a new vitality to the Church. He speaks a language that resonates with the people. The challenge is now to encourage them to keep coming back,” Fr Hogan said.
According to Fr Kieran O’Brien of St Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney there were “big increases in numbers, especially at the Children’s Mass on Christmas Eve which was jam packed”.
“What we noticed here was the large number of families coming to the cathedral. Many people returning home for the Christmas came with parents and grandparents, and you could see three and four generations visiting the crib, which was lovely to see,” he said.
In Ferns, Fr Richard Lawless of St Aidan’s Cathedral said “our numbers were very much up, and over the years we’ve noticed increasing figures”.
The parish printed 2,000 ‘Welcome Home for Christmas’ cards which were distributed by parishioners. Fr Lawless said that “parishes across the diocese have been reporting rises”.
“It could well be a positive reaction to Pope Francis,” he said.
In Carlow Denis Nulty, who is celebrating his first Christmas as Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin, said there were “massive crowds”.
“The challenge now for us is to keep them with us and to see them making regular Sunday Mass a part of their lives.
“The Church is always there for them. As Pope Francis has said, it is an ‘open door’,” Bishop Nulty told The Irish Catholic.
In all, 23 of 26 dioceses responded before The Irish Catholic went to press this week with 20 reporting substantial increases.