"That's the man for me", I thought. A priest with a reputation, I liked him even before we'd met in person. And, he lived up to his reputation. It was a fantastic ceremony with blessings given by both himself and a Buddhist friend, with an equally charismatic civil servant putting on a crowd cheering performance as if not to be outdone by the traditionalists.
We lost contact over the years, as happens, but returned home from vacation to hear his warm voice on the answer machine. He came for lunch a couple of weeks ago, we enjoyed his company as if only parted for a few months. My wife offered to play harp at his service on Sunday and we duly attended both of his churches, a common thing for short staffed parishes these days.
As I stood outside the church with a coffee, smoking my pipe, it struck me how nice it was to have the familiar feeling, that of homecoming, my Sundays of youth rekindled. In times past Irishmen around the globe would rarely miss a Sunday service, beyond faith it was a way of touching base. I realise how important it must have been to them, it filled a real need. How many Irishmen today would do this? More likely to be IT managers than labourers the general decline of traditional faith coupled with the scandals of abuse in Catholic establishments erode any likely chance or renewal of this weekly ritual.
Famous churches in foreign places like St. Patrick's in New York were monuments to self-determination, loyalty and tradition built by the blood sweat and silver of a work weary immigrant community. Today Fr. Leo's churches are cheerfully attended by a good dose of Surinamer's and Filipiono's, immigrant workers not so different from the Irishmen of the last century. Often underpaid and under appreciated they bring their happiness and humility every Sunday, they stand out from the clearly whiter, more sombre and strained looking faces of the Dutch Calvinistic Catholics.
What delights me is that these churches could not be further apart from anything you might see in the 'colonies' or back home, one of Fr. Leo's churches is just an annex of an apartment building, the other is the ground floor of a large Victorian house. In no way grand or decorative, the emphasis is on faith, not institution. It reminds me that we form opinions of our Christian backgrounds, from and within, a very narrow minded and provincial sphere.
Perhaps it's more convenient and less ridiculed for an Irish IT manager today to spend his Sunday mornings at the Coffee Company reading glossy magazines in Eindhoven or Frankfurt rather than a local church. I radically suggest if you're Irish abroad, be it of Catholic or Protestant background, Buddhist or secular conversion, try leaving your wise understandings behind, your intelligent grasp of all things philosophical and just go to church just like Mum and Dad used to. Shock, horror! You might learn something old, or new.