Changing times: Ireland turns to Indian priests to meet clerical shortage

Figures have shown that most members of the priesthood in Ireland are above the age of 50.

Calling it a “sign of the times”, a Catholic diocese in Ireland has appointed two priests from Kerala to address a shortage and the growing age of its clerical population, adding another Indian dimension to Christianity in the West.

The two priests included in the latest round of appointments announced by Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe in southwest Ireland are Rev Francis Xavier Kochuveettil and Rev Rexon Chullickal, to be based in Shannon and Nenagh. Reports from Ireland said the two priests had been working in the diocese for several months. More priests from India are expected to be appointed soon,reflecting a reversal of thepath trekked by Irish and otherWestern missionaries to Indiaover the centuries.

The parish priest of Shannon, Father Tom Ryan, said over the weekend: “There are more (Indian priests) on the way. It is a sign of the times. This is history repeating itself, but in reverse. “When Ireland had an over-supply of priests in the 1950s, Irish priests travelled across the world and there is an over-supply of priests in India right now and they are helping out here.”

Figures have shown that most members of the priesthood in Irelandare above the age of 50.

In churches in neighbouring Britain too, Indian participation has been growing in recent years. The Vatican established a new eparchy or province for the Syro-Malabar community in 2016,with the ancientSt Ignatius Church in Preston, north England, as its cathedral.

Pope Francis appointed Kottayam-born Father Joseph Srampickal as the first bishop of the eparchy.

Members of the Syro-Malabar community in Britain number nearly 40,000, mostly of Kerala origin. Services in the church in Prestonare held in Malayalam.

The history of Indian Christians in Britain includes three distinct groups arriving at various times, with origins in south India (mainly Kerala), Goa and Punjab – each conducting services in their respective languages (Malayalam, Konkani, Punjabi).Various denominations of thechurchin south India are represented across Britain.

The Goan link is the oldest, with members of the community now boosting congregations in Swindon, Hounslow, Southall and other areas. Punjabi Christians from the Jalandhar Doaba region mostly migrated from the 1950s onwards, mostly based in Bedford, Coventry, Oxford and Birmingham.

The story of Indian Christians in Britain includes members of some tribes in north-east India converted during the British colonial rule returning the favour by moving to places such as Wales to meet a shortage of priests there.

Among those who arrived in recent years was Rev Hmar Sangkhuma from the diocese of Mizoram, who offered spiritual guidance to the local population in Maesteg, near Bridgend in Wales. Several other Indian priests have taken over church services across Britain in recent years.