A Mercy nun has claimed that Christianity has much to learn from pagans.
Sr. Margaret Twomey, who is among a group of Mercy Sisters organising a celebration of the pagan festival of solstice later this month, told The Irish Catholic that "traditional religions such as paganism have much to teach us about how to live in harmony with other beings."
Countering criticism that the festival of solstice is not centred on Christ, Sr. Twomey said that "maybe sometimes we could focus too much on God and forget God's ways.
"If we are very focused on an other (sic) worldly God we can forget that God works through all God creates. In that forgetting we cannot treat it with the awareness or respect that it deserves."
She said that "maybe we have denigrated paganism too much, paganism itself is a religion, we can learn from it."
Sr. Twomey is one of a number of sisters who will gather in a West Cork field to sing, light a bonfire and perform a traditional circle dance on June 30.
"I wouldn't describe it as a liturgy", she said. "We call it a ritual in terms of a space where we gather. Prayer has different meanings for different people, some people are obviously from the Christian background, but many people come from other faiths or other belief systems.
"We emphasise what unites us rather than what divides us, in that sense we pray with people to whoever God is for them, if they use that word", she said.
The sisters, who live in a Dutch-built wooden house near the village of Rosscarbery, run the Pairc a Tobair centre to emphasies the interconnectedness of nature. "It's funded entirely by the Mercy Order" Sr. Twomey explained. "We see the park as an expression of our ministry of education and healing".
She explained how "the leadership of the Order wanted to make a practical response to questions about the damage humankind was doing to the planet, and also to our knowledge that all of life is interconnected."
The land was available, and the Order appointed two nuns to run the project initially, and there are currently three sisters engaged in the ministry, which, Sr. Twomey says has a threefold dimension:
1. restoring biological diversity,
2. healing and education,
3. self sufficiency.
"We are trying" Sr. Twomey said, "to develop a way of life that integrates the whole of our life".
And on the back page of the same paper, in the Notebook column, David Quinn gives a short but pointed response:
"A group of nuns are to celebrate the summer solstice at the end of this month in a ceremony of some sort. This strikes me as very strange. It is no part of the Christian tradition, and never has been. Christianity should have the care of nature as one of its concerns, but it is not a nature-centred religion. It is a Christ-centred religion, and its ceremonies, its rituals and its liturgy must always reflect this. It must be Son-centred, not sun-centred".