Name: Fr Ciprian Matei
Country of origin: Romania
Where he's based: Portlaoise parish
When he came to Ireland: September 2019
Though Catholics in Romania are a small minority constituting less than 10pc of the population, the Church there is experiencing a vocations boom. Fr Ciprian Matei is one of three Romanian priests who have settled down in ministry in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.
"I'm from a city called Bacau in the north east of Romania. I studied at the seminary in Iaşi which prepares priests for three dioceses: the diocese of Iaşi, the archdiocese of Bucharest and diocese of Moldova."
Seventeen priests were ordained with him in June 2014, when Fr Ciprian was just 25 years old.
"There have been many vocations in my home parish. It was founded in 1991 and since then, 27 priests have been ordained from this parish alone. In my town of Bacau, there are five parishes and more than 100 priests have been ordained."
He explains how after the fall of communism, many young men in eastern Romania embraced the call to priesthood or religious life. "During the communist time, they were not allowed to join the seminary. The number was limited to something like 10 every three years. Many more wanted to join but couldn't. So after communism, there was an overflow of people that wanted to go to the seminary. At one point there were 300 or 400 seminarians."
After ordination in 2014, Fr Ciprian served as curate in St Padre Pio Parish in Constanta, Romania and as assistant chaplain at Mihail Kogalniceanu military airbase near Constanta. It was on a visit to Ireland to see his classmate and friend from the seminary, Fr Eugen Dragos Tamas who was serving in Newbridge, Co Kildare that Bishop Denis Nulty suggested to Fr Ciprian that he too might like to come and serve in Kildare and Leighlin. He arrived last September and will be here for three years with the possibility of renewing his contract for another three years.
"I just love it. It is so different to everything I have experienced up to now." Based in the parish in Portlaoise, he is delighted with his parishioners' involvement in the life of the church. "In Romania, the involvement of the people is minimal due to communism. It is not in their mentality to get involved. But here, when I go into the parish centre, there are secretaries and all the parish staff, and when I celebrate Mass, there are the sacristans, readers, singers and people volunteering and involving themselves. It is really something to see that openness and involvement of people."
Though he acknowledges that sometimes people are in a hurry. "I understand the struggle African priests would have when they are used to Masses being two hours long. Here in Ireland, after half an hour people start to notice!"
He was not surprised by the lack of vocations in Ireland as it is "a well-known fact that vocations are declining in the West". But he also recognises that the abuse scandals have had a devastating impact on the Church in Ireland.
"Many people feel pushed away or feel they need to leave. That is a sad truth."
But he adds: "I think that the people who are still coming are people who are really believers and faithful to their beliefs."