I’ve had the opportunity to converse with dozens of people the past few weeks here in Ireland. After introducing myself and small talk, this question would almost always come up:
“Are you on holiday?”
I quickly learned that being “on holiday” is the Irish’s way of saying “vacation.” Usually I responded with something like: “No, actually I’m with a group of people on the World Race, serving with churches and ministries in 11 countries in 11 months…”
And then in the vast majority of all the conversations, the next question would be, “So are you Catholic or are you Christian?”
As I began to learn about the history of Ireland and the church here, I realized how deeply significant this question is, and points to how we can be praying for this nation.
For example, late one night on the subway we met a young woman named Laura who grew up in in Greystones, the coastal town where we are staying. She said that the church used to be the center of Greystones, but because of the sex abuse scandals and cover-ups in the priesthood, many people including herself were deeply hurt and stopped attending church.
Time and time again, I heard people share stories similar to Laura’s, and I started to grasp how these events had really rocked the nation’s confidence in the church, which was once a deeply-trusted institution in Ireland. According to Operation World, weekly church attendance was at one time 85% nationally, but is now less than 50% and as low as 5% in parts of Dublin. In fact, there are more non-religious Irish today than ever before.
And because of this, it’s not surprising that whenever religion was brought up in conversations, people would ask if we were catholic or Christian. It makes me sad to realize that most people are under the notion that Catholicism and Christianity are diametrically opposed to one another. In fact, in the 700 years that Ireland was under British rule, it was partitioned between 26 countries that were Catholic and Celtic and 6 counties in Northern Ireland which were Protestant. Even today, according to Operation World, 81% of people here are Catholic, with less than 1% being Protestant. Ireland also has the lowest percentage of evangelicals of any English-speaking nation. I’ve come to the conclusion that in Ireland, Christianity is very bipolar, with one of the largest divides between the Catholic and Protestant church that I’ve ever experienced.
Based on my conversations the past few weeks, here are a few prayer points as to how you can be praying for Ireland:
1. Pray for unity among followers of Jesus, that all Christians may work toward shared Kingdom goals. Pray for understanding that what binds us together as followers of Jesus is stronger than what divides us. Pray for authentic repentance, forgiveness and restoration in the Catholic Church. Also keep the Evangelical Alliance in your prayers, which is a recent institution formed to bring together believers from all different denominational and racial backgrounds.
2. Pray that Christians would authentically display Christ’s love. The only way to overcome the hurt and mistrust that were felt due to recent events in the Catholic church is through love. Pray that followers of Jesus would be led by the Holy Spirit to authentically display this love in word and deed. Pray that genuine relationships would be built to break down some of the barriers and misconceptions that are held about Christianity.
3. Pray for young people. Ireland has a young population, with 21% being under the age of 15. Alcoholism, suicide, broken families and alternative lifestyles characterize this age group (Source: Operation World). However, in my experience it seems that many young people are open to the gospel when it is presented in fresh ways. Pray that the next generation would have life-changing encounters with Jesus Christ.
]4. Pray for economic growth. Ireland is in the midst of an economic crisis. Not only are prices for food and goods astronomical (the cost for a gallon of gas here is nearly $8), but there’s also a 20% unemployment rate. This has caused Irish families to flee from Ireland by the thousands. Pray for wisdom for governmental leaders in how to deal with the complexity of Ireland’s economic situation.
One of my goals in each country was to interview a local person to hear their story, how Jesus is working in their country and how we can be praying. About a week ago, I met a young man named Johnny Cash (really!) who found Jesus from a street preacher a few years ago. Here’s what he has to share:
Thanks for praying – I’m convinced that things happen when we pray that wouldn’t happen otherwise. After all, the prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16). To Christ be the glory!