The Conference of Irish Catholic Bishops has written a 12-page letter to the Irish people pleading with them not to follow the example of secularists across Europe by turning away from Christ in their lives.
"Europe in our time is a culture, almost unique in history, in which God appears to be silent and unmissed in the lives of many. There are many spheres of life in which even believers rarely recognize the relevance of the Gospel," the bishops' message, titled "Repent and Believe the Good News," begins.
"None of us remains unaffected by our culture. It takes a real effort in a busy and noisy world to take time to reflect, to ask the fundamental questions about what our lives mean and where they are leading. It is a world in which we need to make space to recognize the challenge of turning our lives around and to putting our priorities right," it continues.
The bishops call on believers to seek forgiveness for their sins through repentance, which they say helps to "strip away what is unimportant" and put "focus on our dependency on God and our need for [His] strength"
"The word 'repentance' means seeking forgiveness for our sins, but, more than that, it involves transforming our attitudes and our lives. The New Testament word, metanoia, means a profound change of outlook," the bishops highlight.
The message also notes, "The task for us in Ireland is the permanent task of the Christian – to resist the temptation to put convenience, celebrity, domination, blindness, dishonesty, pride, or any other ambition or craving or comfort in the place of God. It is a demanding path but it is the path that leads to the truth which sets us free. It is the only path to a real renewal of ourselves, our country, our Church."
The bishops in their message to the Irish people reference a 2010 pastoral letter they received from Pope Benedict XVI, in which the leader of the Roman Catholic Church commented on the history of Christianity in Ireland, noting that it has had a major role in spreading the religion across Europe and around the world. The pope, however, also warned that Ireland is in danger of turning its back on Christ, like most of secular Europe has done.
"In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people's traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values," the pope's letter reads.
Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged in the commentary that many have been betrayed by charges of abuse committed by Catholic priests in Ireland and abroad, but called on the bishops and faithful to unite and keep their faith stronger than ever.
The rising number of atheists in Europe has been referenced in a number of polls – in a 2005 Eurobarometer Poll, 52 percent of European citizens who answered the survey said they believe in God. In some nations, like Sweden, only 23 percent professed faith in God.