Irish cultural centre spreads its wings to Toronto

  • June 10, 2010
Sharon DiCeccoTORONTO - The St. Patrick Centre in Northern Ireland aims to not only instill peace at home, but also change the perception of Irish culture abroad, which it will now do in Canada through partners based in Toronto.

“It’s important because there’s a large connection between Northern Ireland and Canada, especially in Ontario,” said Dr. Tim Campbell, the centre’s director in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

Campbell said there are too many pre-conceived notions abroad about Northern Ireland and hopes the centre can help people to understand that Irish culture and St. Patrick’s legacy aren’t about shamrocks and green beer.

Sharon DiCecco, the centre’s Toronto chapter director, discovered the centre online while researching St. Patrick for one of her “Community in Concert” programs on Toronto’s HMWN Radio Maria last year. She started a “Young Friends of St. Patrick” club at Our Lady of Peace parish where  she meets monthly with a group of children ages four-10, teaching them about the different saints and engaging them in charity projects. She also connected 26 children in her parish who were preparing for their First Communion with first communicants in Downpatrick, where she visited in May.

“My purpose in the pen pal project and really going there was to open up their little eyes, ears and hearts to the fact that the Catholic Church is a universal, supernatural family, that we’re all interconnected and they really understood that,” she said.

DiCecco said she is fascinated with the peace process in Northern Ireland after so many years of Catholic-Protestant division and the role the centre has played in that.

“I really wanted to see how a society sustains peace after 30 years of bloodshed, of 3,000 lives lost and 30,000 lives physically, mentally and socially affected by the violence. How have they sustained peace over the past 10 years? It’s through the efforts of the St. Patrick’s Centre and the major religious leaders.”

The centre, located beside the Down Cathedral and the burial place of St. Patrick, serves as a historical and cultural hub which directs reconciliation education programs for thousands of children in Northern Ireland every year and runs cross-border and international programs as well.

DiCecco selected a Toronto candidate to represent Canada this year in the centre’s Young Ambassadors program. The Young Ambassadors program gives youth ages 20-25 a chance to experience Irish culture and then bring back that knowledge to their local St. Patrick chapter.

Alessia Domanico, 22, a staff member at Salt + Light Television, landed in Northern Ireland May 29 as the first Canadian to join the centre’s Young Ambassador’s program which ends June 15. For this short period, Domanico interned with the BBC while also learning about Irish culture through evening and weekend events and trips hosted by the centre.

“The highlight with the BBC was sitting in on Sunday Sequence, a religious radio broadcast in Belfast that takes an ethical and religious approach to what’s in the news,” she said. “I hope Salt + Light can be like that some day since Canada doesn’t have anything of that calibre.”

Domanico said while peace is an obvious goal in Northern Ireland, and the people want to put the teachings of St. Patrick into practice, signs of “The Troubles” haven’t gone away. The day she arrived, for example, gunmen shot and killed a man on the streets of Belfast. And in March 2009, two British soldiers and a policeman were murdered after years of ceasefire. But that hasn’t changed her impression of the people or the country.

“I love it here. I’m an Italian and I want to promote Irish culture, that’s how much I love it here,” she said.

Domanico likened her time in Ireland to visiting the Vatican, since Ireland’s Christian history dates back farther than any church in Canada by far.

“They’ve been rocked because of the (abuse) scandals but they still have an overwhelming faith and it really inspires a deep faith in me,” she said. “It’s really nice to see how strong Catholics are here, and how large turnouts are at Mass on Sundays.”

Domanico, like the Young Ambassadors from the United States, will return home in June to share and promote Irish culture and the teachings of St. Patrick, who is regarded as a model of reconciliation by both Catholics and Protestants in Ireland.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.