Migrant places of worship in Ireland

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The Irish national headquarters of the Redeemed Christian Church of God

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Hindus begin to gather to celebrate Navaratri in the Taney Community Parish Centre, Goatstown, Dublin 14 (the room is rented for the evening)

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‘Paddy Ganesh’ at the Indian Sculpture Park near Roundwood in County Wicklow – some Hindus think of the park as a kind of outdoor ashram or temple

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Warehouse used as a mosque in Dublin 15

All three of the following radio pieces were broadcast on Newstalk’s Global Village between August and October 2013. They were made with the support of the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund

Islam and makeshift mosques in Ireland

Hinduism in Ireland

Pentecostalism in Ireland

 

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The Temple or shrine in a wardrobe in the hallway of a Hindu home in Dublin

Ireland is still a Catholic-majority country but the statistics tell stories of religious decline. The fastest growing ‘religions’ according to the last national census were atheism, agnosticism and ‘lapsed Catholic’ and, although the figures for these categories still only number in their thousands rather than tens of thousands, the trajectory is clear.

But religion is a tricky thing, inseparable from the societies and cultures which it inhabits and in Ireland the growing trend is towards ‘cultural Catholicism’. A religion divorced from faith or belief systems but rooted in cultural practices and concepts of community.

Meanwhile the boom years in Ireland saw a new migratory trend – inward migration. A new phenomena. And the people who arrived came not just with their material belongings in tow but also with their ideas of identity and ‘self’ and the cultural collateral which, though not necessarily visible, were important elements of their presence here.

The migration of people involves migration of ideas. Another inseparability. The migrants brought their religious beliefs, practices, iconography and prayers. Religion is not just a solitary affair but involves the primacy of communal element and so one thing that migrant groups set out to do, upon their arrival, was to establish places of worship.

For Catholic migrants they found their religious homes in pre-existing buildings. For other non-Catholic groups, finding places of worship proved more challenging.

These programmes look at some of the challenges these migrant groups face in Ireland in relation to finding places of worship.

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Pastor Samuel of the Church of Pentecost Ireland – Dublin City Centre (note the reinforced steel doors

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Inside the transformed warehouse – Church of Pentecost Ireland

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Manning the P.A. system – all the Pentecostal churches I visited had large P.A. systems. Music is a very important element in Pentecostal churches.

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The pointed-roof of the warehouse used by the Church of Pentecost Ireland is visible between the blocks of flats, Dublin City Centre

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All the Pentecostal churches I visited also had projector screens with the words of the songs – the flags in the background represent the different countries from which the congregants come

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Warehouse of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Damastown, Dublin 15

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A small unit housing the Christ Apostolic Church in Tallaght

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The amazing choir at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Tallaght

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Inside ‘Betania’, Romanian Pentecostal Church, Damastown, Dublin 15 – the day of a baptism (six adults were being baptised). Choir and musicians and projector screen visible on the altar.

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A Hindu priest preparing for a celebration in the community hall at Ballyroan Community Centre – the Ireland Vinayaka Temple is housed upstairs in the centre but is only rented on a part-time basis

The conclusion at the conclusion of the making of these pieces is that the issue of migrant groups and places of worship is something that has not been addressed sufficiently in Ireland. Migrant groups themselves often erroneously believe themselves to be in compliance with planning laws and are even sometimes unaware of legislation requiring planning applications for changing the use of a building to a place of worship. Meanwhile planning authorities are often unaware of the requirements of these migrant groups and some local authorities do not have sufficient provision in their development plans or zoning regulations for the creation of new places of worship or do not recognise the financial limitations of many of these groups which often works as a prohibitory factor in terms of purchasing land in an ideal location or buying suitable pre-existing buildings.

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The main shrine area of the temple at the Hindu Cultural Centre of Ireland, Lucan

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Some of the idols or deities at the recently opened Hindu Cultural Centre of Ireland, HCCI, Lucan

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Section of the full Sunday evening carpark outside Betania Romanian Pentecostal church in Dublin 15 – porters are on hand to ensure cars are all parked orderly

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A warehouse used as a mosque in Dublin 15

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A sign on the door of one of the Pentecostal churches

A meeting with the ‘Blessing’ guru

I always half-hoped I’d meet an Indian guru someday. But I never imagined that the meeting would take place in an Irish bungalow in the remote winding laneways of an autumnal county Kildare. That’s where I met one today. The real deal. India’s ‘Blessing’ guru – Swami Jyothirmayah Ji – clothed all in white and with flowing long black hair, beard and a white dot in the centre of his forehead.

In the email I was told that Swamiji would meet me 9.30-10am – I get to the house about 9.45 and the worried face of Shankari who had organised the interview tells me that Swamiji is very strict about time and that she doesn’t know if he will talk to me as I am late.

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Swami Jyothirmayah in Ireland

A few minutes later a tall Indian man in long white cotton robes comes into the kitchen with an almost-luminous smile – everything about his face exudes warmth and openness. I smile in return. He welcomes me into the living room where we sit down to talk.

‘So’ I say ‘it’s exciting to meet an Indian guru’.

‘Guru?’ he replies. ‘I’m not a guru, I’m only a disciple, a student’.

‘Oh’ I say. He is still smiling. ‘But people do call you the ‘Blessing’ guru’.

He tells me he is from Bangalore in India and that he is Roman Catholic by birth. ‘I have a strong belief in Jesus Christ’ he tells me. He says that the title ‘Blessing’ guru comes from the fact that he goes around the world blessing people and that he has blessed over three million people.

‘I just touch people on the head for a few seconds’ he explains. ‘Some people are getting miraculous healings – physical and mental.’

I ask him if he feels anything when the healings occur. He laughs heartily. ‘That’s a trade secret’ he says.

He tells me that the title ‘Swamiji’ is for someone who has dedicated their life to society and to helping other people. He says he lives a life of celibacy and ‘cannot enjoy worldly things’. His home is in the ashram (temple) in India. ‘We are here to share, we keep moving, we give help wherever it is required’.

He belongs to the organisation Art of Living Foundation which he tells me is ‘beyond religion’. He is here in Ireland for five days as part of a visit organised by the Irish branch of AOL.

‘Does a person have to believe in God?’ I ask him. ‘Not necessarily’ he replies. ‘They just have to believe in himself or herself’.

‘But how does a person believe in themself?’ I ask. ‘Go deep into oneself and then one will realise that one is part of divinity, part of one consciousness – it’s like in this room you can see different kinds of lights and a tape recorder and different things – if you go beyond these you will realise there is only one electricity but different projections’.

The room where we are sitting is cool. It is early morning and it is October and although there is a clear blue sky there is no direct sunlight in the room. I feel cold and realise that Swamiji is only wearing short-sleeves and is bare-footed. ‘Are you not cold?’ I ask him. ‘No’ he smiles. ‘I’ve been in minus forty, minus fifty but I never use any jacket. Pranayama (breathing exercises) will make the immune system very powerful’.

‘Is there anything you would like to say?’ I ask him. There’s a pause for a few seconds and then he says very slowly and clearly ‘life is a celebration’. Another brief pause. ‘And meditate everyday. Learn meditation.’

‘Normally people have a concept of meditation, and think it is concentration. In Art of Living we say it is de-concentration. Whatever you do effortlessly is meditation. It is to be aware of what you are doing here and now. The mind has the tendency to go into the future and the past. How to bring it back to the present moment? If we are aware of our own life and mind then our real life journey starts.

‘The best way to control emotion is to control your breath’ he continues. ‘If you’re angry you’re breathing fast and if you’re sad then you have a shallow breath so our breath and our emotions are connected. This breathing technique that we teach will help to get out of unnecessary emotions’.

I bring the conversation back to Catholicism and ask if his master follows instructions from the Pope. ‘My master is not a Christian’ he tells me, looking slightly puzzled at my question. ‘He’s a humanitarian’.

‘I’m not caught up in religion’ he adds. ‘I’m a spiritual man. I respect all of religion but I’m spiritual – we are working for one world family, beyond religion, beyond nationality, beyond caste and creed’.

He tells me he has to be strict about time so that he doesn’t keep people waiting and says ‘I think we have about two minutes left’. I ask him if I can take a few photographs and I also record a short video of him talking about religion and before I leave I ask him for a blessing. He tells me to close my eyes and to breathe deeply, to let my body relax with every breath. And then I feel the heat of his hands over my head for a few seconds as he blesses me. And then it’s time to leave.

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Swami Jyothirmayah in conversation in Co. Kildare

I drive away delighted to have met the ‘Blessing’ guru but aware that the niggling pain I’ve had in my stomach for the last while is still there.

Swami Jyothirmayah ‘Wisdom Evening’ is taking place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blanchardstown tomorrow night from 7-9 pm (arrive promptly!). Admission is ten euro.

The Art of Living Foundation is an organisation that was set up in India in 1981 by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Art of Living has a presence in 152 countries and has thousands of centres worldwide including an Irish branch. They teach breathing, yoga and meditation techniques and run courses regularly. Participants on these courses are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement before tuition commences. For more information visit http://www.artofliving.org/ie-en