The bishops of Ireland on Wednesday concluded their autumn general meeting. They discussed topics including the World Meeting of Families in 2018, the situation in Aleppo, child safeguarding and the Vatican’s day of prayer for survivors of sexual abuse, as well as more local issues.
Here is the report:
- Launch in Ireland of the World Meeting of Families 2018
Pope Francis asked that the 9th World Meeting of Families take place in Dublin from 22 to 26 August 2018. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin is its President and host, and last May the Holy Father chose “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World” as the theme for the Dublin-based pastoral event. Held every three years, and coordinated by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, the World Meeting of Families is the largest gathering of Catholic families in the world and it celebrates family life and the Church’s commitment to support families.
On Saturday 22 October next, the co-chairs of the Council for Marriage and the Family of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, will formally launch preparations for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018. This formal launch will take place in the context of a day-long conference entitled “The Joy of Love, Amoris Laetitiaand the World Meeting of Families in Ireland” which will be held in DCU Saint Patrick’s Drumcondra Campus in Dublin. Representatives of dioceses and parishes from around the country, as well as various groups whose mission is to support the sacrament of marriage and offer pastoral outreach to families, will also be in attendance on 22 October.
The complementary themes of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortations Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) and Amoris Laetitia(The Joy of Love – on love in the family), and his apostolic encyclical Laudato Si’ (Praise Be – on care for our common home), are informing the content of the catechetical programme that will accompany the preparations for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018.
- Protection of human life
Bishops reflected on the Prayer for Our Earth from Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’, an excerpt of which reads:
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
In this context, and mindful of the current public discussion regarding article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland, bishops discussed the sanctity of human life at all stages. Bishops said that a truly compassionate society promotes care and protection of all unborn human life and recognises the equal right to life of the mother. Bishops noted that this is precisely the purpose of article 40.3.3. Bishops also acknowledged, with gratitude, the challenging but important work of Cura, the crisis pregnancy agency of the Bishops’ Conference which marks forty years of service in 2017.
October is the month of the Holy Rosary. When we pray the Rosary we meditate on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and the life of the Holy Family. Guided by Pope Francis who has recommended the Rosary as a form of “spiritual medicine” saying, “it is good for your soul, for your whole life”, bishops invite families, parishes and religious congregations to pray the Rosary during October for the protection of human life from the moment of conception until natural death.
- Trócaire’s work supporting the victims of violence in Aleppo
Bishops reflected on the shocking upsurge in violence in the Syrian city of Aleppo and noted the debate which took place yesterday in Dáil Éireann concerning this human catastrophe. Trócaire, the Bishops’ Conference overseas aid agency, is responding to the violence in Aleppo where the approximately 200,000 people living in the eastern half of the city have come under relentless attack.
Bishops echoed the call of Pope Francis who has said, “I appeal to the consciences of those responsible for the bombing that they must give a reckoning to God.” They discussed with great concern the high level of violence in Aleppo, in particular the deliberate targeting of civilian areas, including hospitals, where many people have been killed. Noting the powerful military assault on the homes of people who have already lived with a lack of medical care, water and food for several years, bishops expressed the need for full humanitarian access into the city. The opening of safe corridors would allow for the distribution of emergency aid to people trapped in the city.
Bishops encouraged the Government to utilise diplomatic channels and to ask UN Security Council members, including Russia, for a ceasefire and for humanitarian access. As the Gospel of Matthew tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Bishops prayed for a political solution to this war and for all the people of Syria that their suffering will soon be at an end and they can begin to rebuild their country.
Bishops continued their discussion on a national vocations initiative beginning in 2017. Bishops agreed to establish a National Vocations Office to offer support, networking and training to vocation directors in Ireland, both on a regional and national level. As a shared central resource, the new office will act as a knowledge centre for best practice, as well as providing continuity of memory in relation to all vocations work. The mission of the National Vocations Office will be three-fold: to build a culture of vocation: to promote specific vocations; and, to support those who work in the pastoral care of vocations. It will nurture all vocations but will place a particular emphasis on priesthood, diaconate and religious life. To further inform the establishment of this office, Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan will lead a delegation from Ireland, with members of the Council for Vocations of the Bishops’ Conference, to the International Congress on Priestly Vocations which will take place in Rome from 19 to 21 October.
- Budget 2017
Ahead of next week’s debate on Budget 2017 by members of Oireachtas Éireann, bishops placed particular emphasis on the need for the budget to support families, in particular low income and single parent families and, in addition, the related issue of social housing and homelessness. In this regard bishops praised the pastoral work of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and the focus of its pre-budget submission.
In terms of families and specifically childcare, recent cuts to one parent family payment have reduced incomes of many lone parents in employment; and have made it more difficult for others to take up work, education or training.
According to Focus Ireland, 6,525 people are at present homeless in the State, while over 1,000 families, including 2,177 children, are accessing emergency accommodation. Almost 90,000 households currently qualify for social housing. A further stark reality is facing thousands of families, including children, who are fighting court orders for the repossession of their family home due to mortgage arrears. Many of these mortgages are now held by investment companies with little sympathy for the plight of the families involved. In addition, the unprecedented rising cost of privately rented property is rapidly forcing many out of this sector, and this burgeoning problem needs to be addressed with families in mind.
Bishops are asking legislators to prioritise the needs of low income families, and target resources towards social housing and the homeless in next week’s annual budgetary allocation of State resources.
- Day of Prayer for the survivors and victims of sexual abuse
In response to the request of Pope Francis, bishops have asked the Council for Liturgy of the Bishops’ Conference to coordinate the preparation of liturgical resources for a dedicated Day of Prayer in Ireland for the survivors and victims of sexual abuse. The first Day of Prayer will take place on the first Friday of Lent, 3 March 2017.
- Child safeguarding
Mr John Morgan and Ms Teresa Devlin, the chair and CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, apprised bishops of its ongoing work. The National Board will host a safeguarding conference in the Tullamore Court Hotel, Co Offaly on 13 October. It will open with Mass in the Church of the Assumption, Tullamore, celebrated by Bishop Michael Smith of Meath. Mass will be followed by an opening address by Archbishop Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland. The theme of the conference is based on the two new safeguarding standards: ‘Care of the Complainant’ and ‘Care of the Respondent’. The conference will continue on 14 October with speakers focusing on key developments in safeguarding within the Church in Ireland.
- Theme for Mission month 2016: ‘Every Christian is a missionary’
October is mission month and bishops welcomed this year’s mission message from Pope Francis: Missionary Church, Witness of Mercy. There are almost 1,200 Irish missionaries serving throughout the world. The theme for Mission month, and for World Mission Sunday on 23 October, is ‘Every Christian is a missionary’. This Jubilee Year of Mercy marks the 90th anniversary of the first World Missionary Day which was approved by Pope Pius XI in 1926 and organised by the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
On Saturday 22 October, on behalf of World Missions Ireland, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly of Cashel & Emly will lead the inaugural ‘Miles for Mission’ walk in Phoenix Park, Dublin, to raise funds for the Love and Hope Centre for people living with HIV/Aids in Nakuru, Kenya. Bishops ask the faithful to support the country-wide collection for our missionaries which will take place on World Mission Sunday on 22 October.
- Mass and reception for the staff and for those who assist the agencies and commissions of the Bishops’ Conference
On the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Tuesday 4 October, bishops held a Mass and reception for the many women, men, priests and religious from around the country who assist in the various initiatives, councils, commissions and agencies of the Bishops’ Conference. Many of the five hundred people who assist the bishops in various areas of outreach were present, including those advising and assisting with pastoral care of the family, migrants, prisoners, and those with addictions; in social and international affairs; worship, pastoral renewal and faith development; communications; education and formation.
Speaking at the Mass, Archbishop Eamon Martin drew attention to the words which had inspired Saint Francis; “Go, and repair my Church”. Recalling Pope Francis’ choice of name for his pontificate, he observed the Holy Father’s commitment to the ideals and message of Saint Francis of Assisi – outreach to the poor, promotion of peace and care for the environment. Archbishop Eamon offered the key writings of Pope Francis: The Joy of the Gospel; Praise be; and The Joy of Love, as the perfect ‘manifesto’ for the work of renewal and new evangelisation in the Church in Ireland in the coming years. Archbishop Martin emphasised “the golden opportunity presented by preparation for the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin for ongoing evaluation and review of the work of the Bishops’ Conference and its commissions.”
- Appointments and retirements
Bishops welcomed the newest member of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Fintan Monahan, Bishop of Killaloe, who was ordained as bishop on 25 September in the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul, Ennis.
Bishops expressed their heartfelt gratitude and prayerful good wishes to Bishop Martin Drennan, Bishop Emeritus of Galway; Bishop Séamus Freeman, Bishop Emeritus of Ossory; and to Bishop Liam MacDaid, Bishop Emeritus of Clogher, all of whom have retired recently due to ill-health. Bishops welcomed Monsignor Michael Ryan, the diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Ossory; Canon Michael McLaughlin, the diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Galway; and Monsignor Joseph McGuinness, the diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Clogher, to their meeting.
Bishops paid tribute to Ms Maura Hyland who will be retiring on 17 October as Director of Veritas, the publishing company of the Bishops’ Conference. Bishops warmly acknowledged Maura’s thirty-four years of selfless service to Veritas. This has been characterised by Maura’s love and deep knowledge of catechetics which has benefited tens of thousands of primary school pupils, teachers and parents through Veritas publications. Maura was the first lay director of Veritas and has worked tirelessly to see the company develop in accordance with the evangelising mandate for which it was established. On 27 September Mr Aidan Chester was appointed to succeed Maura as Director of Veritas, and bishops wished Mr Chester well in his new position.
Bishops welcomed the appointment this week of Dr Conn MacGabhann as the new Research Coordinator for the Council for Justice & Peace of the Bishops’ Conference. Dr MacGabhann replaces Dr Nicola Brady, and bishops wished Dr Brady well in her new role as general secretary of the Irish Council of Churches.
- Bishop Edward Daly RIP
Bishops prayed for the repose of the soul of the late Bishop Edward Daly RIP, Bishop Emeritus of Derry, who died on 8 August.