by Susan Lowndes Marques in Lisbon THE news that the Irish Province of the Dominican Order decided at their recent Chapter to hand over their historic church of Cerpo Santo near the docks in Lisbon to the Portuguese province has come as a great blow to the very large Englishspeaking Catholic community in and around Lisbon, for whom it is their parish church.
The possibility of this move has been envisaged for the last year or two owing it is believed, not to any financial difficulties, but to the fact that the younger members of the Irish province, which numbers 250 priests, are not interested in ministering to expatriates, or are they willing to learn the language in order to carry on the very varied apostlate to the Portuguese which the community has been particularly successful in for almost three and a half centuries.
The friary was founded in 1659 as a refuge for priests and seminarians during the religious persecutions to care for the many layfolk who came abroad for the same reason.
A Commission of three members of the Irish province came out at the beginning of this year to assess the situation. They wrote a favourable report advising that the community should stay in Lisbon and serve from there the recently opened parish centre at Sao Pedro de Estoril, some 15 miles from the capital, situated near a good train service in a prosperous suburban district. So it might be thought that there would be even less incentive for the younger friars to come here to work without the challenge offered by a parish in the midst of the waterfront area of Lisbon.
The serious question now is for how long the Irish province will be able to send priests who will presumably live at Sao Pedro de Esteril, to minister not only to English-speaking residents and visitors, but to the Irish Dominican nuns of Bon Successo who have been here since 1639, even longer than the friars, and who run two very successful schools, one Portuguese and one English; St Julian's school with 850 pupils of over 20 nationalities whose common language is English: either smaller English schools; the British Hospital in Lisbon; and a host of other apostolic activities.
The Portuguese Dominicans are not eager to take on Corpo Santo in addition to their other commitments as they only have 42 members.