In accordance with the public health restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, members of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference gathered this week for their Spring 2021 General Meeting via video-link, instead of the usual location at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. This was the fourth plenary meeting of bishops hosted using this medium. The President of the Conference is Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and the Vice-President is Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin.
During their meeting bishops acknowledged the depth of pain experienced by people whose loved ones have died during this difficult time and offered their prayerful support to families who have suffered due to the restrictions placed on funeral rites and attendance.
Bishops prayed in thanksgiving for the successful visit last week of Pope Francis to Iraq, that it will help bring about peace and reconciliation in the region. Bishops also prayed for the repose of the souls of Father Ragheed Ghanni, and three deacons, who were ambushed and murdered after celebrating Mass in the Holy Spirit Church, Mosul, in northern Iraq on 3 June 2007. Father Ganni had ministered and lived in Ireland, in particular at the pilgrimage site of Lough Derg in the Diocese of Clogher, during his holidays as a student from the Pontifical, Irish College, Rome.
The main issues discussed by the bishops during their Spring General Meeting included:
- Walking Together – A Synodal Pathway leading to a National Synodal Assembly for the Catholic Church in Ireland
- Cardinal Tagle’s address to the Bishops’ Conference and the annual Trócaire lecture
- Trócaire’s Lenten Appeal on the impact of conflict on families in South Sudan
- Statement on Covid-19 restrictions in the Republic of Ireland
- Covid Vaccination Programme
- Saint Patrick’s Day and praying for those affected by Covid-19
- Welcoming Pope Francis’ year dedicated to the family
- Call for submissions for a new lectionary for Ireland
- Irish Bishops’ Drugs and Alcohol Initiative
- Prayers for peace following military coup in Myanmar
- In Memorium
Walking Together – A Synodal Pathway leading to a National Synodal Assembly for the Catholic Church in Ireland
At our Spring General Meeting the Irish Bishops’ Conference decided to embark on a synodal pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland leading to the holding of a National Synodal Assembly within the next five years.
Since the 2018 Ordinary General Assembly of Bishops in Rome on the theme of young people, the faith and vocational discernment, we have been giving active consideration to calling a National Synodal Assembly for the Church in Ireland. Conversations at local, regional and national level have informed the work of a subgroup of the Episcopal Conference which was established to explore the idea further. During the 2020 Winter General Meeting of the Bishops’ Conference we decided to proceed along a synodal pathway, and, since then, we have been assisted and greatly encouraged by Cardinal Grech and Sr. Natalie Becquart, of the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops, who addressed us on 3 February last, see https://www.catholicbishops.ie/2021/03/04/address-of-cardinal-mario-grech-to-the-bishops-of-ireland-on-synodality-2/
Context: Challenges and Hopes
We are mindful of the challenges and opportunities that provide a context for a synodal pathway leading to a National Synod at this pivotal time for the Church.
Solidarity, Outreach to the Peripheries and the Promise of a New Pentecost
Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), together with his encyclicals, Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti offer a challenging framework for the Church of today and tomorrow – calling us in particular to solidarity with the poor, the excluded and those “on the peripheries”, who yearn for the Good News. This calling also includes initiatives of social friendship in favour of our sisters and brothers in other continents.
Speaking at the end of the World Meeting of Families in Phoenix Park, Dublin 2018, Pope Francis encouraged the people of Ireland to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit:
“who constantly breathes new life into our world, into our hearts, into our families, into our homes and parishes. Each new day in the life of our families, and each new generation, brings the promise of a new Pentecost, a domestic Pentecost, a fresh outpouring of the Spirit, the Paraclete, whom Jesus sends as our Advocate, our Consoler and indeed our Encourager. How much our world needs this encouragement that is God’s gift and promise!”
Listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in an Ireland faced with rapid transformation
Secularisation of Society. A synodal pathway leading to a National Synod is inviting us to journey together in discernment of what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in Ireland at this time. We are acutely aware of the huge challenges to the faith over the past fifty years from the rapid transformation and secularisation of society in Ireland bringing with it a major decline in practice of the faith and in the number of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.
Shocking Revelations. Like so many others we are appalled by the findings in published Reports into institutional and clerical abuse; the recent shocking revelations about Mother and Baby homes in Ireland – north and south – have further reminded us of the deep trauma felt by so many in the Body of Christ and the need for inner healing and hope.
The need to promote peace-making and a culture of welcome. One hundred years on from the partition of Ireland we also recognise the need for ongoing peace-making, the building of trust and reconciliation, and for a culture of welcome and integration for migrants and the many newcomers who have arrived to live on this island.
Listening to the Cry for Transparency. We hear a cry for transparency, greater participation and accountability in the Church.
Discovering the Family as “Domestic Church”. We see the tremendous potential for the support and renewal of faith within the family. The restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic prompted a new discovery of the family as the “domestic Church”.
Connecting with Young People. We are alert to the need to connect with the energy and gifts of our young people, forming and enabling them to be missionaries to each other and inviting them to spread the Good News not only in Ireland but around the world that Christ is Alive!
Honouring the Contribution of Women. While many women are very engaged in Church life in Ireland, we acknowledge the critical need to honour the contribution of women, to hear their deep concerns, to formally recognise their roles and articulate new models of co-responsibility and leadership involving all lay people – women and men. We are also aware that many people have left Church behind and in some cases feel ignored, excluded or forgotten – we need to hear their voices also.
The Initial Phase – Prayer, Listening, Consultation, Discernment
The initial two-year phase of embarking on the synodal pathway and leading, in time, to a National Synod, helpfully coincides with preparation for the 2022 Ordinary General Assembly of Bishops in Rome entitled, For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.
We envisage the next two years as a period of prayer, listening and discernment, involving a nationwide consultative conversation on this theme. This will allow individuals and parishes, religious orders and associations as well as groups, movements and organisations both within the Church and in Irish society at large, to share their insights into the Church in Ireland – past, present and future. It will also include discussion and debate via related information sessions and educational programmes on the meaning and processes of synodality. We will research best practice in listening and synodal processes and assemblies at home and around the world.
The Planning Phase – Preparation for a National Synodal Asembly
The planning and preparation phase for a National Synodal Assembly will bring together and seek to implement the fruits and recommendations from the Initial Phase. It will, in particular, take account of the conclusions of the General Assembly in Rome in 2022, together with any Apostolic Exhortation by the Holy Father emerging from the General Assembly. The aim of this phase will be to design the particular form of our National Synod and prepare directly at local, regional and national level for the holding of the Synod.
What is a Synod?
The word “synod” evokes the image of “walking together on the way”. For the Church it is a time-honoured way of working out together the “navigation map” for the Church at particular times. Synodality is about the whole People of God helping each other listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church. Pope Francis emphasises that this is not simply a matter of discussion as in a parliamentary debate. Rather it is primarily a prayerful spiritual time of communitarian discernment. It is about finding the best ways for every baptized person to fulfil the Church’s mission of proclaiming to the world, God’s love and salvation in Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis has emphasised that “it is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium”. Synodality is at the heart of the pastoral conversion that Pope Francis emphasises in the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium).
Next June, at the Summer General Meeting, bishops intend to establish a task group to plan and oversee the first steps along the synodal pathway. This task group will be made up of lay women and men, including young people, religious, priests and bishops.
We encourage reflection, study and research on the theme of synodality at parish, diocesan, regional and national level and we invite writers, theologians and lecturers to prepare papers for sharing and discussion in the initial two-year phase.
From 6 April next, an online page will be available on the Bishops’ Conference website for the submission of ideas and suggestions.
As we embark on the synodal pathway, we ask for prayers that this may be a time of renewal, reform and new hope for all the People of God in Ireland.
Cardinal Tagle’s address to the Bishops’ Conference and the annual Trócaire lecture
Yesterday, on the second day of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangalization of Peoples, addressed the Bishops of Ireland via video link on the value of synodality and on being missionary in the contemporary Church, which, he said, remains a challenge which must be met by both word and action.
Following his address to the bishops, Cardinal Tagle spoke of the need for compassion across borders and care for our common home as the central theme of the annual Lentan Trócaire/Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth lecture, a timely message inviting the faithful to answer the call of the Gospel, the call of the poor and the call of the earth. Similarly, Pope Francis’ encyclicals Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti strongly endorse these themes. Cardinal Tagle said, “In Laudato Si, Pope Francis talks about the interconnectedness of all creatures and the necessity of caring for the earth. In Fratelli Tutti the Pope speaks of the need to build a culture of solidarity and common care across society. He asks us to love our sister or brother whether they are far away or right next to us.”
Stressing the challenges to the world’s poorest people brought about by Covid-19, Cardinal Tagle called for a pandemic of kindness to support brothers and sisters across the globe. The Cardinal’s words were inspiring and captured the central values of Catholic Social Teaching – values that place caring for our brothers and sisters at the heart of society.
At a time when Covid-19 threatens the health and economic security of so many, Cardinal Tagle’s address was a powerful reminder that protecting the world’s most vulnerable and caring for our common home must be all of our central concerns.
Trócaire’s Lenten Appeal on the impact of conflict on families in South Sudan
People across Ireland have been moved by the stories of families living in conflict highlighted by Trócaire in its 2021 Lenten Appeal. Millions remain trapped in long-running wars in countries such as South Sudan, Syria and Somalia. Trócaire’s Lenten Appeal brings life-saving support to these people, but it also reminds us of our duty to show compassion and fraternity to people living through conflict and extreme poverty.
Bishops encourage support for Trócaire’s appeal which is particularly impacted this year by Covid-19 and the charity’s ability to fundraise. One of the tragedies of Covid-19 is that the world’s poorest people have been made poorer by this pandemic. Trócaire boxes can be collected from church porches, post offices and local shops. Alternatively, people can donate directly at trocaire.org.
Statement on Covid-19 restrictions in the Republic of Ireland
Yesterday the Irish Bishops’ Conference published the following statement: https://www.catholicbishops.ie/2021/03/09/bishops-statement-on-the-covid-19-restrictions-in-republic-of-ireland
Covid 19 Vaccination Programmes
While the Covid-19 vaccination programme currently underway provides very welcome hope for all on this island, bishops stressed the urgent need for equity between all countries, regardless of economic status, regarding the timely supply and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. Bishops strongly urge our own Government, and the EU, alongside the world’s economic powers, to ensure that vulnerable populations and frontline healthcare workers in developing countries are vaccinated as early as possible in line with vaccination programmes for these groups in other countries. This should take place before wealthier countries have vaccinated their entire populations or are left with excess vaccines due to over-ordering. Bishops echo the words of the Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation, that any other approach would be a catastrophic moral failure which has the secondary results of keeping the pandemic alive for longer and impacting on the pace of global recovery. Bishops support the principle that access to healthcare is a fundamental human right and the Church, while respecting intellectual property rights, believes that essential medicines, including vaccines, should be made available on the basis of need rather than on the basis of capacity to pay. Therefore, bishops believe that in this global public health crisis, intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines should be waived so that countries can produce vaccines quickly and at lower cost. A global pandemic should elicit a fair and equitable global solution for the good of all.
Saint Patrick’s Day and praying for those affected by Covid-19
Recognising that, for the second year running, we cannot gather together in our traditional way to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, bishops invited people to join with them to pray, through the intercession of our national saint, for the faith and well-being of Irish people everywhere. In particular, bishops asked that we remember in prayer those who are selflessly dedicated to the frontline services of medicine and public health, in the care of our vulnerable, isolated, and ill sisters and brothers.
Welcoming Pope Francis’ year dedicated to the family
The Feast of Saint Joseph, 19 March, marks five years since the publication of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) on the beauty and joy of the family. To mark this anniversary, Pope Francis will launch a universal year dedicated to the family which will conclude on 26 June 2022 on the occasion of the tenth World Meeting of Families which will be hosted in Rome. The previous WMOF took place in Ireland during August 2018 and included a visit by Pope Francis.
Bishops welcomed the Holy Father’s upcoming ‘Amoris Laetitia Family Year’ and are preparing for it with a Week of Prayer from 13 March to 19 March across Ireland. The Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family has provided the Week of Prayer resource on www.catholicbishops.ie for use by clergy, religious and lay people to help us reflect on the value of Christian marriage and family as well as its contribution to the common good.
Call for submissions for a new lectionary for Ireland
Bishops considered a revision of the Lectionary during their meeting. The Lectionary based on the Jerusalem Bible has served the Church in Ireland well for over fifty years. However, in line with new understandings in relation to fidelity to the texts in their original languages, bishops recognise a need for a new edition. Other English speaking Episcopal Conferences are making various decisions. The Bishop Conferences of England & Wales, along with Scotland, have opted to use the English Standard Version Catholic edition. Some other countries are seeking to use the Revised New Jerusalem Bible. The Irish Bishops’ Conference is now seeking submissions from interested parties to its secretariat for liturgy, and these can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Irish Bishops’ Drugs and Alcohol Initiative
The Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative (IBDI) reported to the Bishops’ Conference that the use and abuse of illegal substances has not decreased during the present pandemic. The IBDI is particularly conscious that families are bearing the brunt of addiction at this time as well as the ongoing problems associated with intimidation by gangs over drug debts. The Family Addiction Support Network, with whom the IBDI closely collaborates, helps and supports families adversely affected by drug addiction. However, the Network is hugely underfunded at this time and its future is in serious doubt. The IBDI calls upon the Department of Health and the HSE to provide adequate funding to the Family Addiction Support Network so as to help it continue its valuable work in our communities.
Prayers for peace following military coup in Myanmar
Myanmar, also known as Burma, in South East Asia, has experienced widespread protests since military seized control on 1 February. The military coup has resulted in loss of life, violence and hundreds being retained as well as the powerful media image of Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng kneeling before a group of heavily armed police officers. Bishops commended the ongoing ministry of Irish Columban missionaries in Myanmur, and offered their prayerful support to the Archbishop of Yangon, Cardinal Charles Bo, and all seeking to build a just, democratic and peaceful society. Echoing the words of Cardinal Bo, “Peace is possible. Peace is the only way and democracy is the only light to that path,” the Irish Bishops’ Conference strongly urged a return to dialogue as the only path forward.
Bishops offered their prayerful support to the former Bishop of Ossory, Archbishop Dermot Farrell, on his appointment by Pope Francis on 29 December 2020 as the new Archbishop of Dublin; to Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare & Leighlin on his appointment as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Ossory, and, to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop Emeritus of Dublin, for a healthy and peaceful retirement.
Bishops prayed for the happy repose of the souls of recently deceased including Father Patrick McGoldrick and Father Enda McDonagh, both former professors of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.