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Autumn General Meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference

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The Autumn 2015 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference took place in Columba Centre, Maynooth, Co Kildare on 29 and 30 September. The following issues were discussed by the bishops at their meeting:

· World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018
· Synod of Bishops: “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World”
· Homelessness
· Human Trafficking and Prostitution
· Refugee, Asylum Seekers, and Migrant Crisis
· Sustainable Development Goals
· Safeguarding Children
· Northern Ireland
· 50th anniversary of Ad Gentes and Mission Sunday 18 October 2015
· Theme for ‘Day for Life’ on 4 October 2015: Cherishing Life, Accepting Death
· Launch of new Catholic religious education curriculum and programme
· Visit to the institutions of the European Union
· Acknowledgements

· World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018
Bishops warmly welcomed the news that the Holy Father Pope Francis has announced that the 9th World Meeting of Families will take place in Dublin in 2018 (see @wmf2018 on Twitter). Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, reported on his attendance at the 8th World Meeting of Families which took place in Philadelphia last week, and on his meeting with Pope Francis who presided at the final Mass on Sunday. The Council for Marriage and the Family has been tasked with assisting in the planning of this special celebration of faith and family.

· Synod of Bishops 2015: “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World”
The President of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference Archbishop Eamon Martin, and Vice-President Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, will represent the Church in Ireland at the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, on the theme ‘The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World’. The synod will take place in Rome from 4 to 25 October, and its preparation has been informed by feedback from parishes on family life in Ireland, and from around the world. An explanation of the purpose and contribution of a Synod to the universal life of the Catholic Church is now available on a special web feature hosted on: http://www.catholicbishops.ie/2015/09/29/archbishops-eamon-martin-diarmuid-martin-attend-synod-bishops-rome/

· Homelessness
Bishops remembered in their prayers homeless people who have died on our streets. Pope Francis has spoken of housing as a “sacred” right: “I said it and I repeat it: a home for every family … Family and housing go hand in hand” (address to the Participants in the World Meeting of Popular Movements, 28 October 2014).

Bishops discussed the current housing situation which is a profound and far-reaching issue of social justice. Catholic social teaching recognises that housing is a universal human right, with corresponding responsibilities on societies to honour that right. Homelessness, inadequate and unaffordable housing, and living with the threat of losing one’s home, are all experiences that impose enormous hardship and stress on affected individuals and families. Such problems place great strain on family relationships, and can even lead to a breakdown of marriages and relationships. Homelessness affects people’s health, their ability to access education and employment and their ability to participate in the normal life of the community. The experience of housing insecurity and homelessness inflicts great damage to the emotional well-being of children, and can adversely affect their participation in education. Bishops called for a redoubling of efforts by all relevant statutory and voluntary authorities in order to pool resources to prevent the death of homeless people on our streets.

· Human Trafficking and Prostitution
Bishops welcomed the briefing on human trafficking and prostitution from Good Shepherd Sister Gerardine Rowley, and Mercy Sisters Mary Ryan and Sheila Curran.  Bishops thanked them and all who work in the Act to Prevent Trafficking Network (APT) and in Ruhama, the organisation which supports women affected by prostitution.  In the context of this Year of Consecrated life, bishops echo Pope Francis in recognising the important contribution of religious congregations to efforts to eradicate human trafficking and provide care and support to victims. “This immense task, which calls for courage, patience and perseverance, deserves the appreciation of the whole Church and society” (Message for World Day of Peace, 2015).

In preparation for the EU Anti-Human Trafficking Day on 18 October, bishops noted last week’s publication of the Criminal Law Sexual Offences Bill 2015.  When enacted, this bill will strengthen existing legislation on prostitution by focusing on the demand which fuels organised crime in the sex trade.  The Northern Bishops had previously advocated for the introduction of similar legislation, which came into effect in Northern Ireland in June.  The APT and Ruhama representatives advised bishops that criminalising the purchase of sexual services would help combat prostitution and human trafficking.  At the same time, however, they emphasised the need to repeal the offence of solicitation in Irish law to protect vulnerable people exploited in street prostitution.

Pope Francis points to human trafficking – modern slavery – as one of the greatest threats to the global common good, which he describes as “an open wound on the body of contemporary society.”

· Refugee, Asylum Seekers, and Migrant Crisis
Bishops discussed the pastoral and practical response to the current refugee, asylum seeker and migrant crisis, and a detailed statement on this issue will be published tomorrow.

· Sustainable Development Goals
Addressing the UN General Assembly on 25 September, Pope Francis emphasised that at the heart of every humanitarian tragedy and conflict are real people in need of help. In this context bishops welcomed the UN General Assembly’s formal adoption of a new global framework Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is composed of seventeen goals and 169 targets aimed at eradicating poverty, fighting inequality and tackling climate change over the next fifteen years. Bishops also acknowledged the important work of the Government of Ireland in supporting the Sustainable Goals. Bishops called on these goals to be effectively implemented so as to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people throughout the world.

· Safeguarding Children
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 on the progress in their work of the revision in safeguarding standards, the extensive consultation process undertaken, and the expected timelines for their approval. Bishops were also updated on the completion stages of the review/audit process.

· Northern Ireland
Bishops discussed the crisis in Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions and echoed the concern expressed by the Church leaders on 22 September that “for the rising number of people struggling to cope on low incomes, the current political instability brings further anxiety”. Bishops also appealed to participants in the current all-party talks process to keep their shared responsibility for the common good at the heart of the discussions. Bishops emphasised the need for all sectors of society to contribute to the work of peace and reconciliation by encouraging political leaders to continue with the challenging task of agreeing solutions to the urgent social need affecting local communities across Northern Ireland.

· 50th anniversary of Ad Gentes and Mission Sunday 18 October 2015
Bishops welcomed the message of Pope Francis for Mission Sunday on 18 October, and for his invitation to reread and reflect on the contents of Ad Gentes, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity which was promulgated by Blessed Pope Paul VI fifty years ago in December. Bishops also noted that the late Bishop Donal Lamont, a native of Antrim, played a significant role in the drafting of Ad Gentes.

Bishops welcomed the theme for mission month and for Mission Sunday which is: ‘Abundant Life’. Bishops viewed a new DVD, produced by World Missions Ireland, and which features the work of missionaries. This seven minute DVD which has been circulated to parishes throughout Ireland, and highlights the work of missionaries with people who live in a cemetery in Manila in the Philippines, with children rescued from people traffickers and with people with AIDS in Seoul, South Korea. Bishops expressed their appreciation to Irish missionaries and asked the faithful to continue to support their work in bringing light and hope into the lives of the most marginalised and oppressed.

· Theme for ‘Day for Life’ on 4 October 2015: Cherishing Life, Accepting Death
‘Day for Life’ is celebrated each year by the Catholic Church in Ireland, Scotland, and in England & Wales. It is a day dedicated to raising awareness about the meaning and value of human life at every stage, and in every condition. The theme for this year is ‘Cherishing Life, Accepting Death’ and it will be celebrated in Ireland on 4 October. In their pastoral message for 2015, bishops share a reflection on end of life matters: “At the end of life there are two thoughts that can help guide us all. The first is that we love life. Every person is loved by God and every life is a precious gift never to be destroyed or neglected. It is wrong to hasten or bring about death … The second is that we accept death. This means that there is no obligation to pursue medical treatment when it no longer serves its purpose – that is when treatment is having no effect or indeed is harming the patient.”

For those who wish to explore the invitation to ‘Cherish Life – Accept death’ in greater depth, the faithful are advised to read End of Life Care: Ethical and Pastoral Issues which was published by Bishops’ Committee for Bioethics in 2002. It can be accessed at:
http://www.catholicbishops.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/End-of-Life-Care-Ethical-and-Pastoral-Issues-2002.pdf

Printed copies of the bishops’ Day for Life pastoral message Cherishing Life, Accepting Death will be circulated at parish Masses this weekend. A special web feature is now available on www.catholicbishops.ie which includes an interview with Bishop Brendan Leahy, Bishop of Limerick; Day for Life prayers and reflections; and, the text of the pastoral message in the English, Irish and Polish languages.

· Launch of new Catholic religious education curriculum and programme
Bishop Brendan Leahy, Bishop of Limerick and chair of the Council for Catechetics, reported on the  launch of the new Catholic preschool and primary religious education curriculum for Ireland, and the new primary school religious education series, Grow in Love.

· Visit to the institutions of the European Union in Brussels
A delegation from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference will undertake an information visit to the institutions of the European Union in November. While in Brussels the delegation will meet with politicians and officials, as well as with representatives of COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community. Previous such visits took place in 2002 and in 1993.

· Acknowledgements
National Eucharistic Congress 2015
Bishops expressed their appreciation of the hard work that went into the preparation and running of the National Eucharistic Congress which took place last weekend, and which gathered over ten thousand people at Knock Shrine. Bishops noted that the focus on the family not only helped preparations for the Synod of Bishops, but also laid the ground work for the hosting of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018. The theme of the National Eucharistic Congress was “Christ our Hope” and the catechetical workshops focussed primarily on ways in which that hope is reflected in the lives of people in Ireland today. First among these was the Christian family, in which the love of God is manifested in so many ways. The presence of young parents and their children was very evident throughout the weekend. Alongside the family groups were numerous religious men and women, marking the Year of Consecrated Life, together with various groups of young adults who are actively involved in the mission of the Church.

Retirement of Marie Purcell
Bishops expressed their sincere gratitude to Marie Purcell, and wished Marie a very happy retirement after her years of professional dedication to the work of the Catholic Communications Office in Maynooth.

ENDS

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444

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