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Good morning everybody and thank you all for being here. I thank Bishop Colm for his warm welcome. I am conscious that I am following a wise and compassionate pastor and a much-loved bishop. I hope to tap into his great wisdom and extensive knowledge gained over thirty years as bishop.
With us this morning is my own bishop, Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore. I am glad that he is here because he, like Bishop Colm, is an inspirational figure. They have much in common; it must be the O’Reilly DNA!
I welcome very warmly Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown, Pope Francis’ representative in Ireland. I thank him for his encouragement and support over the last week. Two weeks ago I was wondering what pastoral appointment I would get in Kilmore. A week ago I was considering a completely different scenario when Pope Francis, through Archbishop Brown, asked me to become Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois.
After my initial shock I accepted the Holy Father’s invitation. In doing so I am acutely:
– conscious of my unworthiness and of my limitations;
– conscious too of the weight of the historical significance of this wonderful diocese and its contribution to the life of the Church in Ireland up to the present day, but;
– I am confident in God’s grace and in the prayers and the support of the people with whom I will work.
I come from the diocese of Kilmore, from the parish of Templeport in County Cavan. Kilmore is just north of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, sharing a border in counties Cavan and Leitrim. The parishes of Ballymachugh, Gowna and Mullahoran are in Co Cavan. So if I get homesick for Cavan I can always nip up there. Naturally I am sad at leaving my own diocese and the priests and people with whom I have worked for over thirty years most recently in the parish of Laragh. However, I look forward to serving the people of God in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois.
People are the life blood of every parish. There are many people engaged in running and administering various activities in their parishes. Today I commit myself to serving and sharing in your enthusiasm and commitment to the life of the Church. I shall continue the Herculean efforts of Bishop Colm whose pastoral care for this diocese created a welcoming, safe place for children and compassionate Church – even during the most challenging of times.
For a diocesan priest the clergy form a sort of family or meitheal, who support, encourage and assist each other. I am really looking forward to joining the priests of my new diocese, to listen, to learn and to be part of their mission in joyfully spreading the Good News of the Lord Jesus. So this morning I offer a special word of greeting to the priests of Ardagh and Clonmacnois.
Religious women and men have a special place in the story of faith. Their prayer, their presence and their deep love of God are the hidden engines of the Spirit at work amongst us. I appreciate their valuable contribution to the life of the diocese and I look forward to working alongside them in our shared ministry.
I send greetings to Bishop Ferran Glenfield who was recently consecrated as the Church of Ireland Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh – to him and to his family.
From where we are assembled this morning I can see the bell tower of Saint Mel’s Cathedral. I remember looking at the news reports that fateful Christmas Day 2009 and seeing the flames and later the smouldering shell of Saint Mel’s. I am sure that most people who watched those reports were shocked. I certainly was. My heart went out as I witnessed the community spirit and resilience of: Bishop Colm, the people and priests of the diocese and above all the people of Longford town. I remember being deeply moved when listening to the devastated townspeople recalling in tears how much their Cathedral meant to them. Not only was it the diocesan Cathedral, it was their local church, where so many family occasions took place, the sacred space where generations had visited to be in the Lord’s presence.
I commend Bishop Colm, the members of the various committees, and those engaged directly in Saint Mel’s restoration who have been working very hard to plan and progress this important project. Towards the end of next year the newly restored Cathedral will be opened. We all look forward to that special and joyful occasion.
On my ordination card I had a quotation from Saint John’s Gospel, “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10: 10). Human life is both sacred and of immeasurable value in all its stages. I add my voice to that of the Bishops of Ireland, and to other pro-life people, who have clearly affirmed this important message in recent months. Understanding and compassion are key elements in promoting and protecting human life.
I know only too well that life has been increasingly difficult for a lot of people and families because of the general economic situation. Voluntary organisations and charities are greatly stretched responding to increased appeals for help. There are many in our society today in need of hope because of pressures. I know that people, priests, parents, grandparents and friends are giving reassurance, peace of mind and hope. The silver lining in the dark cloud of the destruction of the Cathedral is that new employment has been provided in the local economy. As part of the Cathedral’s reconstruction, a specialist programme is operating for twenty craftsmen who are working on skill development based on the intricate and ornate interior of Saint Mel’s. We all have a responsibility to help our neighbour when we can.
The story of Ardagh and Clonmacnois is long and distinguished in the annals of this country, a place of pilgrimage and mission dating back to the fifth century. The diocese is in three separate parts and spread over seven counties. So I think that a map and ‘sat nav’ will be necessary for a while! The diocese is characterised by communities with a strong sense of identity and a strong tradition of faith. I look forward immensely to gently moving into that flow of faith and practice in this modern 21st century diocese, a community of believers in the good news of the Lord Jesus.
Thank you for being here this morning, thank you for your welcome and I ask for your prayerful support now and in the future.
Saint Mel, pray for us. Saint Ciarán, pray for us. Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.