Members of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference gathered this week at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, for their Summer 2024 General Meeting.  The President of the Conference is Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, and the Vice-President is Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin. 
 
Annual Maynooth Union celebrating the vocation of priesthood
Bishops offered their prayerful good wishes to all clergy, and especially to those attending the annual Maynooth Union this week at Saint Patrick’s College.  The gathering offers an opportunity for priests marking significant anniversaries of their ordination (year) – silver (1999), golden (1974) and diamond (1964) jubilees – to celebrate together and enjoy memories of college days as well to discuss questions of interest.  Mass for jubilarians was celebrated in Saint Patrick’s historic College Chapel, and the preacher was Father Andrew Tully of Kilmore.  Archbishop Martin addressed the gathering in Pugin Hall, as did Rev Professor Michael Mullaney, President of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth; and Father Eugene Duffy of Achonry, President of the Maynooth Union.
 
In the context of the recent ‘Parish Priests for the Synod’ international meeting in Rome, bishops warmly acknowledged Pope Francis’ letter to parish priests around the world, which encourages clergy to engage in synodality, a culture of listening and dialogue.
 
The main issues discussed by bishops during their Summer General Meeting included:

  • Bishops welcome the Pope Francis’ message for the Jubilee Year of Hope 2025
  • Pope Francis’ letter on human dignity and this Sunday’s ‘Day for Life’ message on end of life care
  • Plight of migrants and refugees in Ireland – Bishops to write Pastoral Letter on Immigration
  • Santa Marta Group’s international leadership summit on human trafficking in Cork
  • Safeguarding Children update
  • Prayers and call for cessation of Israel/Hamas war – “a catastrophe for humanity”
  • Bishops encourage volunteers for Trócaire and thank support for Lenten campaign
  • Young Adult Ministry
  • World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly on 28 July
  • Irish Synodal Pathway and Universal Synodal Assembly update
  • Appointment

 

  • Bishops welcome the Pope Francis’ message for the Jubilee Year of Hope 2025

Bishops welcomed Pope Francis’ message for the 2025 Jubilee Year entitled Spes non Confundit (Hope Does Not Disappoint).  This Holy Year has as its theme ‘Pilgrims of Hope’, and it will be a year of prayerful hope for a world suffering the impacts of war, the ongoing effects of COVID-19 pandemic, and a climate crisis.  
 
The Holy Year will follow the current 2024 Year of Prayer, wherein Pope Francis has urged the faithful to pray for peace, especially amidst the wars in Ukraine, Israel, and Palestine.  It will begin on Christmas Eve, 24 December, with the opening of the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s Basilica.  Pope Francis is calling on all Catholics to renew in the hope of Christ, using Saint Paul the Apostle as a guide for this special year. 
 
In each diocese, on 29 December next, bishops will celebrate Mass as the solemn opening of the Holy Year, and thereafter events will be organised locally, while specific jubilee projects will be proposed by Bishops’ Conference at the Autumn General Meeting in early October.  A youth pilgrimage to Rome will take place this August, and details on the Holy Year are available on https://www.iubilaeum2025.va/it.html, and on the Jubilee App Iubilaeum25.
 
Plenary Indulgence for the Holy Year
A plenary indulgence is a special type of indulgence that, if all the requirements are met, removes all temporal punishment due to one’s sin.  In May, details and conditions for the granting of Plenary Indulgence during the Holy Year were announced by the Holy See.  Many pilgrimage locations have been designated internationally for pilgrims to avail of the opportunity of the indulgence.  The main pilgrimage venues in Ireland are included and individual dioceses are to designate suitable local shrines and pilgrimage sites also.

  • Pope Francis’ letter on human dignity and this Sunday’s ‘Day for Life’ message on end of life care

Bishops discussed the document Dignatis Infinita, approved by Pope Francis and published in April by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which addresses both the infinite dignity inherent in every human being, and the necessity for human dignity to be upheld in all circumstances.  Bishops reaffirmed the Church’s deep conviction that faith cannot be separated from the defence of human dignity, evangelisation from the promotion of a dignified life, and spirituality from a commitment to the dignity of every human being.
 
In this context, bishops reflected on the Day for Life message to be marked this Sunday, 16 June, by parishes across Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, on the theme: The Lord is my shepherd – Compassion and Hope at the End of Life.
 
Bishops said, “This year’s Day for Life message reminds us that Jesus did not send the sick away, rather He showed that life always has dignity and that there is no such a thing as a useless life.  Catholics are called to defend this gift of life to its natural end and to protect vulnerable citizens from a culture that could pressure them into assisted suicide.  In this way, all are encouraged to support people with the companionship of a listening ear, appropriate treatment, and the best of care, so that their last days can be times of grace, intimacy and love.  We encourage the faithful to read the brief Day for Life message here.”
 
The message includes the story of a young man named Matt, and the experience of a priest who ministered to Matt, and to his loved ones, in his final months and days.  This grace-filled time proved to be a period of intense compassion and profound dignity, as well as a faith enriching experience of love and generosity for all concerned.

  • Plight of migrants and refugees in Ireland – Bishops to write Pastoral Letter on Immigration

Bishops again prayed for all immigrants and refugees and all who are forced to seek asylum due to wars, persecution or economic necessity.  During their meeting, bishops heard reports from various Councils and Agencies of the Bishops’ Conference, whose members are engaged with newcomers to Ireland.  These reports highlighted the important part that a great many are playing in the life of the country and in the life of the Church, north and south.  Bishops have decided to write a Pastoral Letter on this pressing subject.
 
Bishops said, “this is one of the most compelling issues of our time and it is critical that we as a people create and sustain a pathway for the future of migrants in Ireland.  As a society we need to equip newcomers and thereby support them to contribute positively to our country in a way that promotes responsibility, encounter and integration.  We are already seeing positive realities of this in our Catholic schools and in every parish across the island.  Notwithstanding the pressures and challenges that Ireland faces in terms of housing, public services and infrastructural deficits, there must be a welcome for all.  There must be justice for all.  People who come to Ireland for refuge cannot be abandoned.”
 
Bishops noted that the presence of so many people from other nations and cultures in Ireland also raises the need for greater dialogue at both inter-Church and inter-faith levels.  To that end, bishops welcomed the recent publication of a handbook entitled From Every Nation? by the Irish Council of Churches and the Irish Inter-Church Meeting.  This resource is aimed at encouraging and guiding parishes and congregations to engage in conversations about race and racism, and invites them to embrace a more wholesome approach to increasing the participation of people from other nations and cultures in the life of the Church.  It encourages a move from simply welcoming people to making them truly belong.   The handbook is available to download via Churches & Belonging – Irish Council of Churches and Irish Inter Church Meeting (irishchurches.org)

  • Santa Marta Group’s international leadership summit on human trafficking in Cork

Bishops discussed the plight of victims of human trafficking in Ireland, and the extent of this crime in society.  Bishops said, “human trafficking is a form of modern slavery and is an assault on our human dignity.  Ireland – north and south – is far from immune.  Women account for 67% of people trafficked into Ireland, and trafficking for sexual exploitation is the most common form of this crime, accounting for 55% of victims, followed by labour at 38% (IHREC Report, September 2023).  We commend all those who raise awareness about this international form of human abuse and exploitation, and those who work to protect victims, including many Catholic-based groups, by continuing to highlight this challenge to humanity and our collective moral responsibility to help eliminate it.”
 
Bishops noted the holding of a senior leadership summit on collectively combatting human trafficking to take place in University College Cork over 26 and 27 June.  This annual gathering, which will be held for the first time in Ireland, will be jointly hosted by An Garda Síochána and the Santa Marta Group.  Since 2014 the Santa Marta Group, under the patronage of Pope Francis, acts as a catalyst to bring systematic change to end human trafficking, together with law enforcement, civil society groups and the Church.  Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ of Down & Connor, and Bishop Fintan Gavin of Cork & Ross, will attend as will Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, who is President and chair of the Santa Marta Group.
 
Bishops encouraged the faithful to pray to Saint Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of human trafficking and slavery, to intercede for those who suffer, and to support those who combat this horrific crime, in the following way: 
O God, who led Saint Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery
To the dignity of being your daughter and a bride of Christ,
Grant, we pray, that by her example
We may show constant love for the Lord Jesus crucified,
Remaining steadfast in charity and prompt to show compassion,
Through Christ our Lord.
Saint Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.
Amen.
(Prayer composed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales)

  • Safeguarding Children

Bishops congratulated Mr Aidan Gordon on his appointment as the new chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland.  Mr Gordon updated the Bishops’ Conference on the current work of the Board, including participation at a conference, hosted by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in Rome, aimed at European safeguarding leaders from dioceses and religious congregations.  This conference will be held in November and its objective is to enable sharing of good practice in child safeguarding. 
 
Bishops welcomed the National Board’s new policy, A Safe and Welcoming Church – Safeguarding Children Policy and Standards for the Catholic Church in Ireland, which replaces its 2016 policy, and which came into effect on 11 June.  A Safe and Welcoming Church seeks to take account of changes in civil and canonical law, as well as underpinning the Church’s mission in safeguarding leadership; nurturing a positive culture of safeguarding; and, to inform best practice for responding pastorally and reporting according to civil and canon law.
 

  • Prayers and call for cessation of Israel/Hamas war – “a catastrophe for humanity”

Bishops prayed for all of the people affected by the Israel/Hamas war, including humanitarian workers and first responders, and for the release of all hostages taken since the outbreak of hostilities on 7 October last.  Bishops reiterated the words of Pope Francis that this war is a “catastrophe for humanity.”
 
Bishops renewed their call for an immediate cessation to the Israel/Hamas war in Gaza and commended the work of Trócaire and other humanitarian agencies working in the conflict zone, stressing that these agencies “must be allowed unhindered access to deliver vital aid into Gaza to prevent further deaths by starvation and malnutrition.”
 
Bishops noted data from Trócaire that lays bare this catastrophe for humanity: with more than 37,000 people killed to date; including more than 15,000 children; more than 83,000 people injured; over 10,000 civilians trapped under rubble; and with recovery operations hindered by resource shortages that can take up to six years with the current tools.  To date, Trócaire has provided support to sister agency Caritas Jerusalem, Medical Aid for Palestinians and through local Palestinian partners based in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Women’s Affairs Centre, the Gaza Community Mental Health programme.
 
Bishops said, “This war is an attack on all of humanity.  When people are deprived of basic human dignity and of necessary humanitarian aid, we are all made poorer.  Efforts by the United Nations and others meeting in Jordan during these days to address the humanitarian crisis are welcome.  But, the people of the Holy Land – and around the globe – need clear and courageous leadership from world leaders.  Who is prepared to put the plight of people and the dignity of every human person as the overriding priority in bringing this outrage to an end?  In the words of Pope Francis at last Sunday’s Angelus address, ‘it takes courage to make peace, far more courage than to wage war.’  Let us pray that leaders will show courage now at this vital moment.”
 

  • Bishops encourage volunteers for Trócaire and thank support for Lenten campaign

Bishops thanked the people of Ireland for their support for the Trócaire’s 2024 Lenten campaign, which appealed to communities and parishes to support and pray for the world’s most vulnerable who continue to pay the price for the global climate crisis.  The campaign had a particular emphasis on Malawi.  Trócaire estimates that, unchecked, climate change is set to push up to 132 million people into poverty over the next ten years. 
 
In 2023/2024, Trócaire improved the lives of 2.2 million people in more than 24 of the most fragile countries in the world.  This has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Church on the island – north and south.  
 
Bishops also expressed sincere thanks to the many highly dedicated volunteers who assist with and promote the work of Trócaire across Ireland.  Bishops said; “The work of these volunteers in parishes, schools and in organising a range of fundraising initiatives is essential raising awareness of the international work of Trócaire.  Such voluntary work is very much appreciated and valued.  We invite and encourage anyone interested in volunteering with Trócaire to come forward.  Your gifts and talents are needed and are welcome.  Please contact or donate on trocaire.org for further information.”
 

  • Young Adult Ministry

Bishops discussed the importance of building an intentional and dynamic young adult ministry in the life of the Church.  Recognising the unique challenges that young people of faith face in today’s world, bishops reflected on the need to create a supportive and empowering environment where young adults can thrive spiritually.  It was noted that last summer’s World Youth Day meeting in Lisbon provided a profound faith experience for many Irish young people in terms of building a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ, spiritual renewal and community building.
 
The Bishops’ Conference will host a gathering on 22 June to explore Intentional Young Adult Ministry.  This gathering will be for young people, those leading youth ministry in dioceses, and for groups and movements involved with young adult ministry.  The purpose is to provide a space for listening, learning, and collaborating, with a strong emphasis on the intentional discipleship of Christ.  It will take place in Clongowes Wood College in Clane, Co Kildare, and Father Stephen Wang will be the keynote speaker.  Further information can be obtained by contacting intentionalministryireland@gmail.com

  • World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly on 28 July

Bishops commended the message of Pope Francis Do not cast me off in my old age, which the Holy Father has published for the fourth ‘World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly’ that will take place on Sunday 28 July.  The Holy Father’s message is available here.
 
Bishops said, “From the bottom of our hearts we thank grandparents and the elderly for passing on the precious gift of faith to our younger generations.  This special day allows us to express our love and appreciation for grandparents and elderly members of families and communities in the most human of ways: by sharing our time and enjoying company.  Our call to action is twofold: we encourage all to make time and visit grandparents and elderly loved ones and, in addition, to express on social media our affection for grandparents and elderly friends with posts using the hashtag #ElderlyandGrandparents.”

  • Irish Synodal Pathway and Universal Synodal Assembly update

Bishops expressed their appreciation to all those who took the time to reply to the latest local Church consultation of the Irish Synodal Pathway.  In addition, bishops were updated on:
 
Irish Synodal Pathway

  • New National Team in place:

The National Synodal Team met for its first meeting on 29 April.  The team envisages a synodal-style assembly in the autumn of 2025.

  • Towards October 2024 – summary of contributions from Irish dioceses and groups:

In response to the invitation from the Synod office in Rome to deepen reflections on A Synodal Church in Mission, published last November, the Bishops’ Conference received contributions from all the dioceses of Ireland, along with a further ten contributions from associations of lay faithful, ecclesial movements, and Church agencies.  Thereafter a summary, Towards October 2024 – Summary of Contributions from Dioceses and Groups of the Catholic Church in Ireland, was submitted to the Synod office in Rome on 15 May last.  This document can be accessed here

  • Facilitative Leadership Training Programme:

Feedback from the Facilitative Leadership Training Programme of the Irish Synodal Pathway has indicated that is has been a very successful project.  The training has not only equipped attendees with practical skills that participants felt they could apply in their parishes, workplaces, and personal lives, but also inspired a collective vision for a more inclusive and dynamic Church.  This training consisted of an online preparatory session, six in-person sessions, delivered over two days in six different locations across the island, and two follow-up online sessions.  It is planned that the General Secretary Julieann Moran and the facilitators of the programme (Mr Jim Deeds, Mrs Paula McKeown and Rev Professor Michael A Conway) will present the programme twice more later this year.
 
Universal Synodal Assembly
As described above, the Church in Ireland has been actively preparing for the next stage of the Universal Synodal Assembly, which will take place from 2 to 27 October in the Vatican, and this follows on from its first session last October.  Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick, and Bishop McGuckian, will again attend as the representatives of the Bishops’ Conference.  This next stage will be informed by Towards October 2024, reflecting the deeply-lived experience of faithful in dioceses, religious congregations, movements and associations, who have provided responses to the theme: ‘How can we be a synodal Church in mission?’

  • Appointments

Bishops welcomed and offered prayers for the ministry of the newest Conference member, Bishop Donal Roche, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Dublin, whose Episcopal Ordination took place on Trinity Sunday, 26 May.  They also welcomed the newly-elected Diocesan Administrator of the Diocese of Raphoe Monsignor Kevin Gillespie.

The bishops sent good wishes to Bishop John Fleming, who retired as Bishop of Killala on 10 April 2024.