Northern Ireland news

Schools to move away from preparing Catholic children for sacraments

Primary responsibility for preparing Catholic children for First Holy Communion falls upon teachers and schools at present

CONFIRMATION and communion preparation is to take place outside schools in Ireland's largest Catholic diocese.

A survey this year found there was a strong demand for parents and parishes to play a greater role in readying children for sacraments.

A review group was set up by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin following concerns that sacraments risked being turned into "social occasions".

Primary responsibility for preparing Catholic children for First Holy Communion falls upon teachers and schools at present.

While mainly done in Catholic schools, some integrated primaries in Northern Ireland also get children ready for sacraments including First Penance and First Communion.

It is understood there are discussions taking place in every diocese in Ireland on issues raised by Archbishop Martin.

Earlier this year, three schools in the Republic agreed to take the historic step of relinquishing their Catholic status to becoming multi-demoninational.

The schools in Kerry and Roscommon said preparation for religious celebrations would take place outside school hours in future.

Now, the Archdiocese of Dublin has begun a "process of significant change" in relation to how children are prepared.

Its Priests Council has endorsed "a new approach", which will see parishes assuming responsibility.

Archbishop Martin this week wrote to parishes and priests to explain that training would need to begin immediately to prepare voluntary lay catechists in parishes to support families in preparation for baptism, confession, communion and confirmation.

"At the heart of the proposal is to stress the primary role of families in sacramental preparation," he wrote.

"It also advocates a renewed relationship with Catholic schools in promoting Catholic ethos."

Dr Martin added that any change would be achieved in line with the differing circumstances of each parish.

The proposal was "not something that will be accomplished overnight", he said.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland yesterday, Dr Martin said a child's First Communion was drifting away from what was fundamentally a religious event.

"It's a family event. It's something that children will remember for all of their lives but it's also drifting away into commercialism. I saw an advertisement for a communion dress - up to €800," he said.

"Go out around some parts of Dublin suburbs and you'll see marquees and the whole thing is slipping away from what is fundamentally a religious event.

"And that's what we want to try and enhance; working with parents, working with children and schools to ensure that people understand what this is about."

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Northern Ireland news