Handing on the Faith in the Home
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
1. Pope John Paul said in Limerick:
“I know that your bishops are preparing a pastoral programme designed to encourage greater
sharing by parents in the religious education of their children under the motto: ‘Handing
on the Faith in the Home’. I am confident that you will all join in this programme with
enthusiasm and generosity. To hand on to your children the faith you received from your
parents is your first duty and your greatest privilege as parents. The home should be the
first school of religion, as it must be the first school of prayer.”
This present Letter and the whole pastoral programme of liturgy, prayer, meetings, discussions
and activities which are being planned to follow from it, are intended as part of our organised
national response to the great visit to Ireland of the Holy Father. May everyone enter into
this programme with the same enthusiasm with which we greeted and cheered the Pope in Ireland.
“TELL IT TO YOUR CHILDREN”
2. Over and over again in the Bible it is repeated that faith in the true God is handed on from
father to son to grandson. The religion of Israel, under God, was handed on and preserved in
the family. Recurring sentences throughout the Bible keep hammering home this point.
“When your children ask you
‘What does this ritual mean?’,
You will tell them . . .”(Exodus 12:27).
“Ask of your father, let him teach you; of your elders,
let them enlighten you” (Deuteronomy 32:7).
“Tell your sons and your grandsons”
(Exodus 10: 1-2).
“You shall repeat (these words and say them over to them, whether at rest in your house or
walking abroad, at your lying down or at your rising” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
“(God) gave our ancestors strict orders to teach it to their children; the next
generation was to learn it, the children still to be born, and these in their
turn were to tell their own children” (Psalm 78:5-7).
The Jewish religion to this day is learned and is preserved by the Jewish family.
THE CHURCH IN THE HOME
3. From the very beginning of the Christian Church, the same thing has been true. Religion
begins at home; and parents are its first teachers.
When parents bring their new baby to be baptised. The priest meets them on arrival at the church,
he says to them: “You have asked to have your child baptised. In doing so, you are accepting
the responsibility of training him/her in the practice of the faith. Do you clearly understand
what you are undertaking?”
Parents answer: “We do.”
They accept their obligations consciously and freely.
The first Christians would speak of “the Church at the house of (Philemon)”;
“the Church that meets at the house of Prisca and Aquila”.
That is why the Second Vatican Council speaks of “the domestic Church”.
The Church is a community which listens to and learns and lives by the Gospel;
and that is what the family should be.
A church building is easily recognisable. It cannot be mistaken for a secular building.
It has plenty of signs and symbols indicating clearly that it is a house of God and
a place of prayer. But the home of a Christian family is in a very real sense
“The church of God which meets at their home”. Therefore their house also should
be recognisable and clearly identifiable as a place whose members believe, whose
members pray. The home of believing Christians should never be able to be mistaken
for the home of people who have not the faith. Even in the worst days of persecution,
Christians made and used secret religious symbols and objects, of which they understood
the meaning, but which pagans could not recognise.
It is a sad thing that in our days of religious freedom some of the homes of
Catholics have no sign or symbol, no picture or statue, which would show that they
are Christians, and which would remind them of God and help them to pray.
There is a variety of religious objects available, which are artistically good as
well as devotional. Some of the best of them are by Irish artists. We hope that one
of the fruits of our present programme will be a return to the tradition of having
some religious objects in every home.
Modern research and experience have shown us the value of visual aids in all learning.
Visual religious objects in the home are important aids for children in their learning
of the faith.
RELIGION IN THE HOME
4. The home should be the first church which children know, and in which they
are reminded of God and helped to pray by what they see around them. Religion
begins at home. Parents are the first religion teachers and the most important
of all teachers of religion.
The Church has reminded us again and again of this.
The Vatican Council said:
“Parents (are) the first and foremost educators of their children.”
The Council said the teaching of religion is “a most solemn obligation” of parents;
a duty which “devolves primarily on them”.
The Council’s teaching was that, if parents fall down on this task, scarcely anything
can compensate for their failure”.
The 1977 Synod of Bishops also strongly emphasised the place of parents in the handing
on of the faith. The Bishops of the Synod, in their Message to the People of God, said:
“We remember those fathers and mothers who educate their children from infancy in the
knowledge of Jesus Christ, in the fear and love of God. They preserve in the hearts of
their children that faith, received in Baptism and strengthened in Confirmation, in such
a way that they are continually building the faith, constantly striving toward eternal
Six months ago, Pope John Paul published the conclusions of the 1977 Synod of Bishops
in a document called Cathechesis in our Time. In it, the Holy Father says:
“The family’s catechetical activity has a special character, which is in a sense
irreplaceable … Education in the faith by parents should begin from the children’s tenderest
age… Family catechesis precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis …
In places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism make real religious
growth practically impossible, ‘the Church of the home’ remains the one place where
children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis.There cannot be too great
an effort on the part of Christian parents to prepare for this ministry of being their
own children’s catechists, and to carry it out with tireless zeal. Encouragement must
also be given to the individuals or institutions that, through person-to-person contacts,
through meetings, and through all kinds of pedagogical means, help parents to perform
their task: the service they are doing to catechesis is beyond price.”
We acknowledge that when the new primary school religion programme was being introduced
parents were not always given enough encouragement and help to become well informed
about it and involved in it. Yet without the parents’ involvement and support the
programme cannot succeed. We gladly pay tribute to the way in which parents are already
sharing in the programme. This present Pastoral Letter and campaign are intended to
encourage more parents to become activeiy involved in this great effort of renewal
of religion teaching.
TRADITION IS “HANDING ON”
5. The Synod of Bishops, in the Message we already mentioned, says:
“To be a Christian means to enter into a living tradition. Catechesis is therefore
the ‘transmission of the documents of the faith’. It corresponds to a genuine fidelity
to God and humanity in Jesus Christ.”
“Tradition” is a basic Christian term. It means “handing on”; “handing on the faith”.
In the Church today and always, it means exactly the same thing as it meant in the
Bible from the beginning: it means the handing on of faith from father and mother to
son and daughter, to grandson and granddaughter. The link across the generations must
never be broken. No ‘generation gap’ must ever be allowed to break the continuity in
the handing on of the faith. If ever one generation is lost to the Faith, it is difficult
and rare for the next generation to return once more to the faith of their grandparents.
The believing and praying hands must be kept linked across the generations, and the
link must not be broken.
You parents must choose. You can either be a “hander on” or you can be a deserter and
betrayer. Parents either hand on faith to their children or they hand on unbelief.
They can’t just take a neutral stance and leave the child “to decide for himself or
herself” when he or she grows up. Such a parent has already taken a decision for the
child; and that decision is that religion isn’t really important.
Handing on the faith is like a relay race, in which one team hands on the torch or baton
to the team taking over from it. If the torch is once allowed to fall, if the baton is once
dropped and lost, each succeeding team, however hard it tries, will have great difficulty in
reaching the finishing tape.
It is not so much a question of handing on a set of truths or facts. It is a more a
matter of keeping hands linked with the young faithful who will follow us. It is a matter
of training and forming the next “relay team” of young believers.
We must remember that before there were any schools, the faith was handed on by the family.
If we have the precious gift of faith today, this is because the parents and families
of the past knew it was their primary duty as Catholics, to teach the faith to their
6. We in Ireland must never imagine that parents do not need to teach religion because
we have Catholic schools to do that. Let parents never imagine that they have fulfilled
their whole duty as Catholic parents by sending their children to Catholic schools. We
do have good Catholic schools, perhaps the best that can be found anywhere, but the very
best Catholic schools can never replace religion in the home.
Unless there is religion in the home the most excellent school or teacher will never
completely make up for what is missing in the children’s experience
Parents remain and always will remain the first and the most important teachers of
the faith to their children.
No teacher, no religion programme, no priest even, will ever replace the parents in
that task, will never make up fully for their neglect. No priest can dispense parents
from their obligation; because the obligation comes from God.
OUR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS
7. Our Catholic schools do an outstanding job in teaching religion.
Our Catholic teachers have done more for the faith in Ireland than any other group of
lay men and women. We do not perhaps fully realise the way in which the Church in
Ireland, through the work of Catholic teachers, pioneered the practice of the lay
apostolate. There is no more important apostolate than catechesis, the teaching of the
faith. There is no greater and closer involvement of laity in the life and mission of
the Church, than the involvement of Catholic teachers. They are, by vocation and conviction,
by training, skill and commitment, in the very front rank of the lay apostolate. The whole
Church in Ireland, the Bishops, the clergy, the parents, the whole Christian community,
owes an immense debt of gratitude to those dedicated men and women, who are the Catholic
teachers of Ireland.
We Bishops gladly take this opportunity of expressing to them our appreciation, our
admiration and our gratitude.
Our Catholic schools do such an excellent job that some parents might decide that
the school alone can make good Catholics of their children. Sad experience the whole
world over shows that Catholic schools on their own, just cannot and will not make
children good young Catholics. Unless there is religion in the home, even the most
perfect school religion programme will be a total failure. Unless there is prayer in
the home even the most beautiful forms of school prayer will be dropped when school
days are over.
There are countries in which it is almost taken for granted that religious practice
for children ends on the day they leave the primary school.
8. Dear parents, we beg you to make no mistake about it: no school, excellent though
our schools are, no teacher, dedicated and gifted though our teachers are, will ever
have the influence on your children’s religion that you yourselves have.
On you yourselves, more than on anyone else, the religious life and future of your
It is not enough, therefore, for parents to make sure that their children faithfully
attend school. Parents must also take a real interest in the way their children in school
are being taught religion, and in what they are being taught. They must let the children
see that they are interested. Children, particularly small children, just love to talk
at home about what they learned that day at school. Children are hurt and may lose interest
in religion classes unless parents make the time to listen to their little Gospel stories
to admire their work-books and listen to their children explaining what these mean.
Children need the encouragement of having their parents admire their work, enjoy their
religious songs and mimes, and join in their simple pravers.
Just to take an interest in what the children are doing in religion at school is one of
the best ways of supporting the religion teaching of the school. It is also the best way
of coming to understand the new religion programme.
Indeed, it is also true to say that this can be one excellent way for parents to improve
their own religious knowledge.
THE NEW CATECHETICAL PROGRAMME
9. The way of teaching religion nowadays is greatly changed from the past. The world
has changed so much in the past ten years that it is not surprising that the ways of
teaching religion had to change too, if religion is to be related to today’s very different
world. The new primary religion programme is a great boon. Many other countries have adopted
it. It is the envy of many teachers and catechists in other lands. It has the full approval
and support of all the Bishops of Ireland.
The Diocesan Religious Advisers of the country have worked very hard and very successfully
in introducing it into our schools. Teachers have co-operated enthusiastically in implementing
But because the programme is new, parents need help to understand it, and to know what lies
behind it. They need help to understand how the religion taught through the new programme is
the same integral and identical faith as the one that they learned in the old Catechism. It
is only the words and expressions, and the methods used in religion classes, which have changed.
The faith itself has not changed. The faith itself does not, cannot, will not, ever change from
that one true faith of our fathers,
“the faith which has been once and for all
entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).
The whole pastoral programme which we are launching with this Letter is planned so as to help
parents and the whole community to play their part in making, the new religion programme the
great means for renewal of the faith in our land which it can be and should be, and which it
will be if we all play our part.
WE SPEAK TO CHILDREN TOO
10. We Bishops want to speak also to the children themselves.
To you children your Bishops want to say:
“When you come home from school each day, be sure to talk to your parents about what you learned
in religion class today. Show your parents your religion book. Explain the pictures to them.
Tell them the interesting stories you have learned about Jesus. Sing the lovely songs you
learned in religion. Show your parents your religion work-book. Sometimes they won’t understand
what your pictures mean. You must explain the pictures to them. Little ones, ask Daddv and Mammy
to pray with you. Speak to God along with your parents. Show them the way you learn to pray in
school. Show them the way the teacher gets you to join your hands, and to keep quiet, and to think
of God, when you are going to pray.
Show your parents all the ways you hold your hands when you are praying ‘Our Father’. Sing for
your parents the prayers you learned to sing in school. Be sure never to forget your morning
prayers. Never go to bed at night without asking Mammy or Daddy or both of them to pray your
night prayers along with you.”
LOVE IN THE HOME
11. Parents, now we turn to you again. There must be religion in your homes. There must be
faith in the home. But there is no faith without love. St John tells us: “God is love.”
If children do not find love in their home, then something goes wrong with their belief in God.
Parents may not alwavs realise that the way husband and wife love one another is a very important
part of the religious training of their children.
In far too many homes there is a sad lack of tenderness, and a gruff avoidance of signs of
affection, between husbands and wives. In some homes there is almost no conversation between
husbands and wives, or between parents and children. There can be dismal failures in communication,
between parents and children.
There can be sullen lack of trust and openness, between children and parents. Young people have
a very great need of understanding and acceptance, of affection and security.
Dear parents, the greatest need your children have is that you should take time to spend with them,
that you should take time to talk with them, that you should make time to listen to them. You may ask,
what all this has to do with religion. But religion is involved in all this. God is being made present
through love in the home. Or God is being excluded through lovelessness in the home.
On Holy Thursday, we sing: “Where charity and love are, there is God.”
Marriage is a sacrament of God’s love. It must therefore be a sign of God’s love. There is no more
vivid sign that God is alive, and that God loves, than Christian homes, homes filled with love.
Pope John Paul said in Limerick: “Married people must believe in the power of the sacrament of
marriage to make them holy. They must believe in their vocation to witness through their marriage
to the power of Christ’s love. True love and the grace of God can never let marriage become a
self-centered relationship of two individuals living side by side for their own interests.”
Homes that are filled with supposed “religion”, but empty of love, will simply turn young
people off religion and turn them away from God.
Dear parents, your children need your love even more than they need the food you give them, and
very much more than they need money. Try to bring up your children in such a way that they will
always remember their childhood days as days filled with God and filled with love. Then we can
be sure that, when your children grow up, they will, their whole lives long,
“respond to (God) as (they) did when (they were) young” (Hosea 2:15).
12. Young people in their teens often complain that they cannot communicate with their parents.
But we want to speak to teenagers too. Teenagers, we want you to ask yourselves whether you try
hard enough on your side to communicate with your parents. We want to say to you teenagers:
“Communication with your parents depends on you as much as it does on your parents. You must
not leave all the effort to be made by them.
You expect your parents to listen to you, to be open with you, to trust you; but this has to
work both ways. You must listen to them. You must trust your parents; you must believe in their
love for you. It is mean and selfish to be pleasant and cheerful outside home, but to be silent
and surly at home. It is selfish to expect to find love in your home, unless you are genuinely
trying to spread love there yourselves.”
PRAYER IN THE HOME
13. Believing in God means, not just knowing truths about God; above all, it means,
having a relationship of love and trust, of obedience and reverence and worship, towards God;
Faith means a relationship which is a real sharing in Jesus’ own relationship with his Father.
Therefore faith is for praying even more than it is for learning. In fact, the true way of
teaching the faith, is to help children to learn to pray the faith.
Prayer in the home is the very heart and essence of handing on the faith in the family. It
is a sad and very disturbing fact that, at least in some urban areas, family prayer seems to
be on the decline. We must stop that downward slide. We must start the upward climb.
There is no time better to do that than right here and now. There is no better year to determine
to do that, than the year just following on after the Holy Father’s visit.
Which of us will forget Pope John Paul’s last special request to us, just before he left for
Shannon and America? Here is what he said:
“Your homes should always remain homes of prayer.
As I leave today this island which is so dear to my heart, this land and its people which is such
a consolation and strength to the Pope, may I express a wish: that every home in Ireland may
remain or may begin again to be, a home of daily family prayer. That you will promise me to do
this would be the greatest gift you could give me as I leave your hospitable shores.”
Ireland’s form of family prayer for centuries was the family rosary. This remains a privileged
form of family prayer. Pope John Paul has said: “The rosary is my favourite prayer.”
Nowadays, the rosary can be made more meaningful by reading a few sentences from the Gospel about
the different “mysteries” around which we are praying.
In this way, the rosary becomes a real form of “Gospel-prayer”, and a way of “praying the Gospel
into our lives”. But the rosary is not the only form of family prayer. The traditional time, just
before bedtime, may not nowadays be always found the best time for family prayer. The best time is
the time when the whole family can join. Some families find the evening mealtime the best time. You
can pray very well just sitting together round the table. Whatever other time be chosen for family
prayer the Angelus, when its moment comes on television or radio, should also be made a time of real
silence and prayer, in every single family. We should pray the Angelus in conscious union with
our Holy Father, as he himself prays it at that same time for all the needs of everyone in the
Your Bishops’ sincerest prayer and hope is that every home in Ireland this year will remember
the appeal of Pope John Paul and will make this the year of return to regular, daily family prayer.
Every home in Ireland must become a praying home. Prayerless homes will, in the long run, bring
about a Godless people.
PRAYING WITH YOUR CHILDREN
14. Little children love to pray. They pray quite naturally, because God is very real for
them and very close for them. But if they are to stay praying as adults, prayer must be part of
their home life, from their earliest years, and not just of school life.
Parents, the most essential part of teaching religion to your children is to teach them to pray.
You will teach them to pray, not by telling them to pray, not by scolding them if they don’t say
their prayers. You will teach them to pray more by praying with them.
Don’t just tell your children: “Go off to bed now and don’t forget to say your prayers.”
Instead say: “We will say our prayers now.”
Pray with your young children. Pray with your older children. Be seen praying by your children.
If prayer is important for you, it will be seen as important by your children. Parents who pray,
homes that pray, prepare a praying generation for the future.
In fact, you parents will learn about praying yourselves by praying with your children.
Little children are very close to God. Didn’t Our Lord say:
“The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to little children.”
Your children will bring you also closer to God. Children often understand God better than grown-ups
do. Their ways of praying can teach us all a lot about how to pray.
YOUR CHILDREN AND THE SACRAMENTS
15. First Confession, First Communion, Confirmation – these are high points in the religious
upbringing of children. Be sure to make these events a high point in your own lives too, and in
the life of the whole parish. Don’t fail to turn up for any meetings held in the school or parish
in preparation for these great events.
It’s nice to have your children beautifully dressed. It’s a joy for you to admire them on these
occasions. But don’t just admire them; don’t just dress them up for First Confession and First
Holy Communion. Come to Confession with them. Receive Our Lord with them.
Let First Communion be a family event – father, mother, brothers, sisters, all receiving Our
Lord together. At Confirmation, father and mother both should try to be present, and should come
to Holy Communion along with their children.
Fathers, don’t just leave all this to the mothers. Men seem sometimes to be bashful or apologetic
about religion, leaving ‘all that’ to their wives. The father’s part in forming the children in
faith and in being a leader in prayer in the home is vital and irreplaceable. Fathers must not “opt out”.
Parents can’t help saying something about God to their children. They are speaking about God by
the way they live and behave as well as by their conversation. Just by being the sort of people
you are the sort of parents you are, you are either bringing your children to God, or you are
keeping them away from him. Our Lord means you when he says
“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them”(Mark 10:14).
FROM PRAYING TO LIVING
16. Love of God must pass the sincerity-test of the doing of God’s will, however much it cost.
Praying is not enough. Teaching our children religion is not enough. We must turn praying into
Our Lord said that we “must pray continually” (Luke 18:1). But like Our Lord himself,
we must also “go about doing good”(Acts 10:38).
Like him, we must, as the Gospel says,”do and teach” (Acts 1:1). Our Lord himself said:
“It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord’, ‘Lord’, who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the
person who does the will of my Father in Heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
We must put our lives where the prayer of our mouths is.
17. Young people in their ‘teens are very sensitive to the contradiction between the way adults
go to church and pray, and want young people to behave, and the way they live themselves. Nothing
is said more often by teenagers than that they are “turned off” religion by what they see as the
“hyprocrisy” in the religion of many adults.
Admittedly, some young people can be too critical of adults and not critical enough of themselves,
but then, some adults also are too critical of young people and not critical enough of themselves.
It is noteworthy that the only people who made Our Lord angry were those, like the Pharisee, who saw
the faults of everybody else but never saw their own.
The reactions of teenagers should make us all conscious of the need to close the gaps between our
devotions and our lives, between our prayers and our behaviour, between our Sunday Christianity
and our Monday to Saturday living.
In an age of unending radio and television chatter, people, especially young people, have become
cynical about words. They are impressed only by deeds. The biggest obstacle to Christian faith
today is not intellectual doubt. It is, quite simply, the un-Christian lifestyle of so many of
us who think we are good Christians.
18. Parents cannot be content just to tell our children the right way to live; they must set
the example themselves. It’s no use parents warning teenagers about the dangers of drink, if parents
cannot control the use of drink themselves. It’s no use expecting children to be responsible about
food, money or clothes, if parents are self-indulgent and spendthrift themselves. Instead of just
telling children what the Christian way is parents must live the Christian way with them.
Dear parents, you are the parents over your children. You are also Christians with them.
Children will get their ideas about what it means to be a Christian much more from how they see
their parents living than from what their parents tell them, or from what thev are taught in
school, or even what they hear in church.
PARENTS AND TEENAGERS
19. We know that parents worry about their teenage children. They cannot be blamed for that.
Young people should see this as a sign of their parents’ love, not of their parents’ mistrust.
We are living in a disturbed society nowadays. Some are certainly out to exploit “the teenage market-place”
for their own profit or their own pleasure. Teenagers can be too trusting. They can be naive.
They don’t realise how many are determined to exploit them for their money. Teenagers’ love of
excitement and experiment can expose them to hurt when they least suspected danger. Parents are
right to be concerned.
Yet it is possible to be over-protective of teenagers. Parents should try hard to prepare them
in early “teen-hood” for responsible use of freedom.
If parents can develop progressively a loving and trusting relationship with their growing children,
there are very good hopes that their teenage children will be open and trusting with them.
Perhaps the most important thing of all is to have time, to make time, for talking with your
children and for listening to them, at every stage of their growth. Television might seem to draw
families together. In fact, it also cuts them off from genuine communication with one another.
Television can be a great obstacle to communication within the family. It may simply mean an end
to family conversation, each viewer retreating selfishly or sadly into his or her own solitude.
Television in the home must be made our servant, not our master.
20. Parents must try not to be afraid of teenagers’ questions and not to resent their arguments
or objections. All modern education takes the forms of dialogue and discussion. Young people
are taught and trained nowadays to talk, to debate, to question, to argue. They can’t understand
why this should be resented at home. For teenagers, to question is not the same thing as to deny,
to argue is not the same thing as to disobey. Young people expect to be given reasons for doing
or for not doing certain things. They also ask for reasons for believing the Christian faith.
They no longer take things for granted. To say: “This is what was always done”, is for a teenager
no reason why it should go on being done. We adults can be “copping out” if we are not prepared
to give our teenage children reasons for what we know to be the deepest truths and truest values
which give meaning and worth to our own lives and will give meaning and value to theirs. St Peter
tells us that we must be ready “to give reasons for the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15).
Answering teenagers’ questions and meeting their arguments can be demanding. But it will
“stretch” and strengthen our own faith. It can improve the quality of our Christian lives.
Discussing religion with teenagers is by no means a one-way process. We learn from them as much
as we teach them.
Adults can become disillusioned, ready to “settle for” mediocrity in the name of realism. It can
be good for us to be challenged by young people. Many teenagers demand great sincerity in religion.
They can be generous, idealistic. Usually they have no time for snobbery or class-distinctions.
They can have a keen sense of justice. They want to make the world a better place. They want to
bring Christianity into life, into society. All this can challenge us adults into trying harder,
to be Christian ourselves.
Surely, after what Pope John Paul said to young people in Galway, none of us can refuse to believe
in young people, to have confidence in young people, and to look forward to what they will do for
We recall again the Holy Father’s words:
“On returning home, tell your parents, and everyone who wants to listen, that the Pope believes in you
and that he counts on you. Say that the young are the strength of the Pope, of the Church, of Ireland,
of the world, and that the Pope wishes to share with them his hope for the future, and his encouragement.
I have given you the words of my heart.”
21. We wish to return now to parents and to say: do not worry unduly about modern youth. Beneath
their apparent self-confidence there often lies a deep-seated insecurity. They will respond to
nothing so much as to your love and understanding, your patience, acceptance and forgiveness.
In the long run, your sons and daughters will want to be the kind of fathers and mothers that you
have been to them. They will want to make homes like the homes you have given to them. Try to
become the kind of people and the kind of Christians you would like them to become in their turn.
22. One of the really worrying things in Ireland now is the growing materialism in our outlook.
Too many young people, too, have become quite materialistic in their thinking. This does not come
naturally to young people. They are absorbing this from the adult world, where all that matters in life for many
seems to be money, pleasure, comfort, self-indulgence, fashion, parties, “keeping up with the joneses”,
and if possible outshining them. Self-denial has become almost an ugly word. Self-control seems to be “old
“Every man for himself”‘, every group for its own interests” – these seem to be the new slogans.
It is urgently necessary for us to get back to the Christian “gold-standard”, the standard of Christ’s “golden
rule”: “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you” (Luke 6:31)
Adults must teach young people Christ’s message that you cannot make a god of money and still call
yourself a Christian.
Christ said: “You cannot be the slave both of God and of money”(Matthew 6:24)
“A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses,
even when he has more than he needs” (Luke 12:15)
23. Several times during his days amongst us Pope John Paul repeated his anxiety about the
dangers to the faith created by growing materialism in Ireland.
In the Phoenix Park, he said: “Many people now, are tempted
to self-indulgence and consumerism and human identity is often defined by what one owns.
Prosperity and affluence even when they are only beginning to be available to larger strata
of society, tend to make people assume that they have a right to all that prosperity can bring,
and thus they can become more selfish in their demands.
Everybody wants a full freedom in all the areas of human behaviour, and new models of morality
are being proposed, in the name of would-be freedom.”
The Pope challenged the young people in Galway:
“The prospect of growing economic progress . . . will appear to you as an opportunity to achieve
greater freedom . . . In order to make more money and to possess more, in order to eliminate effort
and worry, you may be tempted to take moral short-cuts where honesty, truth and work are concerned.”
The Pope challenged parents, families, adults, in Limerick:
“Ireland is at a point of decision in her history. The Irish people have to choose today their way
forward . . .Will it be … the way that many nations have gone, giving excessive importance to economic
growth and material possessions, while neglecting the things of the spirit . . . Ireland must choose.
You, the present generation of Irish people, must decide; your choice must be clear and your decision
firm…… What would it profit Ireland to go the easy way of the world and suffer the loss of her
Parents must themselves reflect deeply on these solemn words of the Holy Father. They must examine
their life-style and the life-style of their home; they must examine the example their lives are giving
to their children. Parents must help young people to respond to the Holy Father’s challenge. They cannot
do this by word and warning only. They must do it, above all, by example.
24. The 1977 Synod of Bishops emphasised that it is the whole Christian community which hands
on the faith.
It is the whole Christian people which teaches religion; teaches it by the way it lives much more than
that by the way it lectures.
Young people learn about Christianity from watching how adult Christians behave much more than from
books and projects and audio-visual aids. It is true today that the future of the Church depends on today’s
youth. It is also true to say that the future of today’s youth depends upon today’s adults.
It is we adults, all of us, who either bring young people to Jesus, or who stop them from coming to him.
ADULT EDUCATION IN RELIGION
25. If we want our young people to grow up Christian, we must be always “growing up” in Christ ourselves.
People who are no longer children are called “grown-ups”. How “grown-up” really are we in what
concerns religion? Have we a grown-up understanding of our religion? Or are we going through our adult lives
with ideas about religion more suitable for primary schoolboys and schoolgirls than for modern adults?
If so, what are we waiting for? Why not begin now to work at improving our understanding? Have we a
grown-up way of behaving as Christians? If not, today is the best day to begin to work in earnest
at becoming a Christian.
The primary source of education in the faith is the Church’s liturgy. Trying to improve our understanding
of the liturgy of Mass and the sacraments, and to participate more intelligently and actively in
them, is a most effective form of religious education. The readings and the homily have a leading
part to play in the process of religious education. We are constantly working, along with our priests,
at trying to raise the standards of our preaching so as to make it more adequate to the needs and
problems of our time.
26. All through our lives, we must all be working at becoming the Christians we say we are.
Part of our present pastoral programme must be to develop and extend everywhere schemes of adult
religious education. In a world which is more, and more sophisticated adults cannot be content
with primary school religious knowledge. Doubts and difficulties about faith nearly always come from
misunderstanding or lack of adult knowledge about our religion.
Adult education in religion is one of the urgent religious needs in Ireland in our time.
An educated world needs an educated faith.
We hope that more and more people will take part in some programme of adult religious education.
The Church is only beginning her work in history. Her best days are still before her.
Christ is the only final answer to all human questions, and to every human need.
But our ideas about Christ are not big enough.
We must grow up into the full measure of Christ in faith, in love, in hope, in mind and will
and action; so that we may not be a hindrance to Christ’s work in the world. The problem of how
to bring children up in the Faith is basically the problem of how to live up to the Faith
Above all, and in spite of all, in spite of difficulties and failures, Christ is with you, dear
parents. He loves your children even more than you love them. He will draw your children close
to himself and keep them safe in his love.
Take courage from the words spoken in Limerick by Pope John Paul:
“Dear fathers and mothers of Ireland, believe in your vocation, that beautiful vocation
of marriage and parenthood which God has given to you. Believe that God is with you –
for all parenthood in heaven and on earth takes its name from him. Do not think that
anything you will do in life is more important than to be a good Christian father and mother….
The future of the Church, the future of humanity, depends in great part on parents and on the
family life that they build in their homes. The family is the true measure of the greatness
of a nation.”
27. We, your Bishops, depend upon you parents. We compliment and we thank you for all that
you are doing, through the change and difficulties of our times, to keep your homes and families,
places of faith and prayer and virtue.
We want to help you. We want to serve you. We want to work with you in that great task, which
is your task as well as our task, which is our shared and common task, the task of ensuring that
no fault and no omission of ours, may endanger or may weaken, the link in faith between the
generations of the Irish people.
We can do this only together.
We bishops and our priests are powerless and helpless without the support and the loyalty, the
help and the co-operation, of our laity, and above all of the parents. Together, we shall not
fail Christ in our time, because Christ will never fail us;
Christ is with us always; yes, to the end of time.
We have enjoyed trying to share with you in this Letter our thoughts and hopes about the problems
and the future of the faith of Christ in Ireland in our time. What better way could we find to
end this Letter than to make our own the words of Pope John Paul, as he ended his address to
families in Limerick:
“I entrust all this to Mary, ‘bright Sun of the Irish race’.
May her prayers help all Irish homes to be like the holy house of Nazareth. From them may all
Christians go forth, as Jesus did from Nazareth.
May they go forth in the power of the spirit to continue Christ’s work and to follow in his
footsteps towards the end of the millenium, into the twenty-first century.
Mary will keep you all close to him who is ‘Father of the world to come’.
Dia agus Muire libh!
May God and Mary be with you and with the families of Ireland, always!
Slán go deo le brón is buairt, agus beannacht Dé libh go léir.”
On behalf of the Hierarchy of Ireland,
Saint Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1980
+TOMAS CARDINAL O FIAICH
Archbishop of Armagh
Archbishop of Dublin
Archbishop of Tuam
Archbishop of Cashel
First published in 1980 by
7/8 Lower Abbey Street,