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St. Patrick's Day, Holy Week overlap leads to scheduling conflicts

COLUMBUS, Ohio - That famous saint named Patrick will have his green-drenched party this year, but it's unclear when the guests are supposed to arrive.

For the first time since 1940, St. Patrick's Day will fall during Holy Week, the sacred seven days preceding Easter.

Because of the overlap, liturgical rules dictate that no Mass in honor of the saint can be celebrated March 17, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. But a few Roman Catholic leaders are asking for even more moderation in their dioceses: They want parades and other festivities kept out of Holy Week as well.

Bishop J. Kevin Boland of the Diocese of Savannah wrote to practically every agency in his city, from the Chamber of Commerce to the Board of Education, saying the diocese was changing the date of its celebration this year. In response, the citywide Irish festival was moved to March 14, when schools will close and bagpipe-driven parties will carry into the streets.

More than half a million people stream into the Southern city for the festival, one of the nation's largest St. Patrick's Day affairs, said Bret Bell, Savannah's public information director. Savannah bars will be open March 17, but no organized events will be held that day, he said.

'The city has a very strong Irish Catholic community, a very traditional Irish Catholic community,' Bell said. 'They attend Mass regularly. And the last thing they want to do is get in the bad graces of the Catholic Church.'

Philadelphia has also moved its parade date to avoid giving offense, and Milwaukee is hitting the streets sooner than usual, too.

But in Columbus, the Shamrock Club is going ahead with its March 17 parade, drawing protests from the local bishop. A handful of Irish-American politicians have lined up behind church leaders, breaking with tradition by refusing to march in the parade.

In a letter last fall, the Catholic Diocese of Columbus told the Shamrock Club, the group that organizes the parade, that Bishop Frederick Campbell wanted 'all observances honoring St. Patrick' - religious or otherwise - removed from Holy Week.

'It's not a sin to celebrate your Irish culture,' countered Mark Dempsey, the club's president. 'Actually, you're born Irish first and then you're baptized Catholic.'