Address by Bishop John Kirby at the launch of the IECE Emigrant Information Pack
“It is not an exaggeration to state that the scourge of emigration affects every Irish family. Therefore a tangible political response is required. I am calling on the Government to consider appointing a minister with specific responsibility for our emigrants. In addition, it would be appropriate that the annual Saint Patrick’s day visits undertaken by government ministers should always include meetings with Irish emigrants and our chaplaincies abroad. Such an initiative would have a dual human benefit: we, in Ireland, would be reminded of the plight which faces our emigrants, and, our emigrants would be reminded that support exists for them at home” – Bishop Kirby
Thar ceann Easpaig Caitliceacha na hÉireann agus mar Chathaoirleach ar Chomhairle na hÉireann do Eisimircigh, cuirim fáilte romhaibh go léir anseo inniu chuig seoladh ár Pacáiste Eolais. Tá áthas orm a bheith ag seoladh an paca seo mar go bhfuil sé faisnéiseach, ábhartha agus fócasaithe. Ag an am céanna tá mé buartha faoi’n imirce, go bhfuil sé a comh forleathan agus a bhí sé go minic roimhe seo.
On behalf of the Irish Catholic Bishops, and as Chairman of the Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants, I welcome you all here today to the launch of our Emigrant Information Pack. I am happy to be launching this pack as it is informative, relevant and focused. At the same time I am saddened that involuntary emigration – that awful ‘E’ word, as it is often described – features in the narrative of the Irish nation once again.
The stories of emigration included in this pack are stories that most homes in our country can identify with today. Forced emigration sees sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, grandsons and granddaughters and even parents leaving their homes to seek work abroad. The tragedy of migration is that it separates people from one of the greatest resources, strengths and inspirational elements of their lives namely, their families.
As both a priest and bishop who ministers in the West of Ireland, I have experienced countless waves of emigration. Today as I see the phenomenon of emigration etched in the life of those I minister to I witness the same pain and sense of loss as I witnessed in previous generations. Time may change the circumstances and reasons for emigration but it does not ease the pain and trauma when a person that is loved deeply has to leave their home to seek a better life abroad. During his Angelus message on the World Day for Migrants and Refugees in January of this year the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI captured these sentiments very clearly when he said:
“Millions of people are caught up in the phenomenon of migration, but they are not statistics! They are men and women, children, young and elderly people, who are searching for somewhere to live in peace”.
My own work with Trócaire has reinforced the point that poverty comes in many forms. I have seen the most abject material poverty in the face of famine and in war torn countries. In Ireland today I witness other forms of poverty. A nation that cannot hold onto young, intelligent, articulate and enthusiastic people experience poverty; homes that have to say goodbye indefinitely to those that bring laughter and life experience poverty; communities that see its future departing on cars, buses, planes and boats experience poverty. It is phenomenon which highlights that Ireland is currently experiencing a poverty that is both hard to calculate and articulate. It was the economist John Maynard Keynes said that ‘Migration is the oldest action against poverty; it selects those who most want help’.
Today, as chair of our Irish Bishop’s Council for Emigrants, I wish to send my warmest greetings and deepest gratitude to the many individuals and organisations that offer material, emotional and spiritual support to Irish people living abroad. My prayers and the prayers of the Irish Catholics go out to you who may be abroad for the first time. We pray also for those of you who may be abroad for a longer period of time. You may find that the initial excitement has diminished and your thoughts and feelings are divided between the part of the world you now live in and the place you call home. We remember too in prayer those who now know the hurt of loss as they witness the people they nurtured leave these shores.
It is within this painful context that I wish to say the following: it is not an exaggeration to state that the scourge of emigration affects every Irish family. Therefore a tangible political response is required. I am calling on the Government to consider appointing a minister with specific responsibility for our emigrants. In addition, it would be appropriate that the annual Saint Patrick’s day visits undertaken by government ministers should always include meetings with Irish emigrants and our chaplaincies abroad. Such an initiative would have a dual human benefit: we, in Ireland, would be reminded of the plight which faces our emigrants, and, our emigrants would be reminded that support exists for them at home.
We consciously chose to launch our Irish Emigrant Pack this week to coincide with the feast of our national patron. This is fitting as we not only seek the prayers and intercession of Saint Patrick we also seek his inspiration as our beloved patron was a migrant.
I hand over to Joanna Joyce to explain the contents of this excellent information pack for our emigrants, I ask that we pray not just for those that have emigrated but we pray for an improved economic outlook for our country and its people. We know emigration is but a symptom of larger problems crying out to be addressed. It is in this spirit that I conclude with a prayer of Saint Patrick which is appropriately is entitled ‘Prayer for the Faithful’:
May the Strength of God pilot us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
Notes for Editors
• Photographs from today’s press launch of the IECE Emigrant Information Pack are available from the Catholic Communications Office for use by media
• Bishop John Kirby is Bishop of Clonfert; chair of Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland; and, chair of the Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants.
• The Bishops’ Council for Emigrants Emigration Information Pack includes: (i) a snapshot of the reality of emigration, including stories from Irish emigrants about their personal experiences of emigration and stories from those who work to support Irish emigrants; (ii) practical information on emigration, such as visa requirements and information on accommodation and employment, and health insurance; and (iii) prayers for emigrants. The emigrants’ pack is now available on www.catholicbishops.ie and the intention is to also make this information available for emigrants in ferry-ports and airports in Ireland, North and South.
• The Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants was established by the Irish bishops in 1957 to co-ordinate support and pastoral care for the many Irish people travelling to work and live in Britain. Since that time chaplaincies have been established in Sydney, New York, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco.
• The plight of Patrick, himself a migrant, has been faced by many Irish people who have struggled to live and integrate into new cultures. Patrick was called to serve and bring God to a people far from his homeland. Ireland’s national saint was a pioneer in an inhospitable climate. In the words of Saint Patrick “May it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing” (The Confession of Saint Patrick). A special web feature for Saint Patrick’s Day 2012 is available on www.catholicbishops.ie and this includes a video interview with Professor Salvador Ryan on the life of Saint Patrick.
• According to data from the Central Statistics Office – published in September 2011 – 40,200 people from the Republic emigrated in the year to April, a rise of 45% on the previous 12 months.
Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444