By editor - 12 April, 2013
SVP calls for a “commonsense and dignified” approach to dropping of the “First Communion / Confirmation grant”.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul has called for a “commonsense and dignified” approach to the government cutback doing away with a special needs welfare payment used for religious ceremonies known as the “First Communion / Confirmation grant”.
“While we appreciate the desire for families to make it a special day for their children our advice is – seek to take a modest approach and to limit spending as much as possible,” said a spokesman for SVP. The society, which is seeing a steady increase in calls for help, advised people to avoid moneylenders, and said it would provide assistance to “to struggling families where possible and on the basis of need”.
More then €3.4m was paid in communion and confirmation grants in 2011 to more than 14,000 families. Last year the grant was halved with 12,500 families receiving a total of €1.5m.
A caller to the phone in radio programme Liveline, described the cut as “mean-minded” while David Holden, a volunteer with SVP, said that the grant was not supporting ‘lavish celebrations’. “How could a grant of €100 be lavish?” he asked.
As an SVP volunteer he had spoken to a woman a day earlier who sought money for “cocktail sausages, crisps and minerals for her son’s celebration this weekend. It [the grant] was on a special need basis and it is sorely needed. We are not talking about my big fat Greek wedding.”
He went on: “The less you have, the more you want to make of an event that brightens up your life be it first communion, confirmation or a birthday. The €1.5m spent last year was a pitiful sum to take from those who have least in our society.”
However other listeners, like Pat Dillan from Waterford argued the money was badly needed elsewhere.
Karen Kiernan CEO of One Family, a group supporting lone parents, was critical at the timing of the cut, so close to the time of First Communions and Confirmations. “There have been various cuts dealt to families, but they have not been systematic or evidence based, but politically motivated,” she said.
Ms Kiernan said it was important that the message was given to parents: “Don’t feel pressure. We need to change social norms so that children don’t feel bad when they do not have the same things as their social peers.”
A growing number of schools are opting to have children wear their school uniforms for Confirmation, and some churches, like the Holy Redeemer in Bray, provide a white cassock to each First Communicant for a small fee. Eileen from the parish, said that it did not take away from the “solemnity of the sacrament”.
Fr John O’Connnell, former parish priest from Holy Redeemer, told CatholicIreland that they had been using the system since 1992. “It is fantastic. It got rid of all the rubbish.” Fr O’Connell said that First Communion has moved from being a school thing, to being a parish thing. “Only those who really want to make their communion do so. It is easy to opt out.”
Last year Archbishop Martin was critical of the extravagance associated with some First Communions. “First communion has to be something simple and I think we have to try and keep to that..”
“Parishes should encourage people to celebrate the sacrament with the simplicity and authenticity which will help the child to fully understand the mystery of the Eucharist,” he added.
by Susan Gately