Many observers view Ireland as becoming increasingly secular, but the large influx of Polish immigrants may slow or even reverse that process, according to sociologist Christie Davies. Writing in Chronicles magazine (March), Davies notes that both Britain and Ireland have experienced a large wave of Polish immigration in the last few years.
In Ireland, the number of Polish immigrants is approaching 400,000, roughly 10 percent of the population. The Polish Catholic presence is already significant, partly because Polish priests and seminarians have replaced the declining ranks of Irish clergy. Davies adds that “Even that most Hibernian of journals, the Irish Catholic, now has a Polish section, which takes up about one-third of its space. Soon there will inevitably be Polish bishops in Ireland. Davies writes that the Poles who are settling in Ireland are far more likely to retain their religious identity than did those earlier generations of Poles who went to Britain, France, or the United States.
“Because it is so easy to travel back and forth to Poland, the Poles now settling in Ireland can easily retain their Polish connections…This situation resembles that of Mexicans coming to the United States, who are able to retain their language, culture and Mexican identity because of the freedom with which they can cross the U.S. border.”
But it is still an open question as to how much Polish Catholic immigrants will influence their new country. The British Catholic magazine The Tablet (February 17) reports that the Polish hierarchy has encouraged their flock abroad to maintain a sense of separateness and resist assimilating to their new country‘s values, partly out of a fear that returning immigrants might bring Western influence back to Poland. While Polish church leaders have called on Poles abroad to find their own priests and parishes, British bishops have favored a more assimilationist approach– something that is already happening as Poles gravitate to non-Polish parishes for reasons of both convenience and conviction.
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