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Statement from the Summer 2017 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

The Summer 2017 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference concluded this afternoon in Columba Centre, Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  Bishops offered prayers for those who have died, for the injured as well as for the emergency services who responded to the scene of the fire early this morning at the Grenfell Tower block in North Kensington, London.  Bishops will remember the victims and their families at Mass, as well as those who have died in recent terrorist attacks in Britain, and assure all those affected of the prayerful solidarity of the faithful across Ireland.

The following issues were discussed by the bishops during their three-day Summer meeting:

  • Bishops welcome Pope Francis’ World Day of the Poor
  • Synod of Bishops on youth, faith and vocational discernment
  • New National Vocations Office
  • Catholic Schools Week 2018
  • Trócaire – presentation on current hunger crisis in east Africa
  • World Meeting of Families 2018
  • Asylum seekers in direct provision
  • Northern Ireland Assembly
  • Faithful across Ireland invited to celebrate the centenary of the Fatima apparitions
  • Appointments and retirements
  • In Memoriam: Archbishop Thomas White RIP and Bishop Eamonn Casey RIP
  • Bishops welcome Pope Francis’ World Day of the Poor

Bishops welcomed yesterday’s announcement, by the Holy Father Pope Francis, that the first ever World Day of the Poor will be held on Sunday 19 November 2017.  Bishops reflected that, on the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy in 2016, Pope Francis announced that he wished to offer the Church a World Day of the Poor, “so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an ever greater sign of Christ’s charity for the least and those most in need” and he invited “the whole Church, and men and women of good will everywhere, to turn their gaze on this day to all those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity.”  The new message by Pope Francis for the World Day of the Poor is entitled Let us love, not with words but with deeds and the faithful are invited to read this powerful message on www.catholicnews.ie and to continue to support local parish, diocesan and wider-Church initiatives which are reaching out to the poor.

  • Synod of Bishops on youth, faith and vocational discernment

During October 2018 Pope Francis will host a Synod of Bishops on the theme “Youth, faith and vocational discernment”.  A Synod is an assembly at which bishops, gathered around and with the Holy Father, have the opportunity to interact with each other and to share wisdom, information and experiences, in the common pursuit of pastoral solutions which have a universal validity and application.  This will be the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.  During their meeting, bishops discussed preparations for the Synod and welcomed the initiative from the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops to maximise the opportunity for young people around the world to be involved in the preparation for the 2018 Synod of Bishops.   A number of youth directors throughout the country have already undertaken a web-based consultation with young people to complement other local diocesan youth initiatives.  Bishops recognise that this is an important time for a review of youth ministry throughout Ireland. 

  • New National Vocations Office

The National Vocations Office of the Irish Bishops’ Conference will officially open on 1 July next.  The Reverend Eric Cooney, a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Dublin, has been appointed as administrator of this new office which will be based in the Columba Centre, Maynooth.  The National Vocations Office will oversee, and coordinate, the work of training diocesan vocations directors and the promotion of vocations to the priesthood.

  • Catholic Schools Week 2018

Bishops welcomed the theme for Catholic Schools Week 2018 which will take place across Ireland, north and south, from 28 January – 3 February next year.  The theme for Catholic Schools Week 2018 is: “Catholic Schools: Called to be a Family of Families”.

  • Trócaire – presentation on current hunger crisis in east Africa

Mr Éamonn Meehan, director of Trócaire, presented the critical challenges which are currently facing the overseas development agency.   Trócaire was established by the Bishops’ Conference in 1973 to express the concern of the Irish Church for the suffering of the world’s poorest and most oppressed people. 

Mr Meehan advised the bishops that parts of South Sudan have fallen into famine, while across east Africa (South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya) over 24 million people are now facing malnutrition and extreme hunger.  Mr Meehan highlighted that this situation demands an immediate response from governments and people across the world.  Trócaire is deeply concerned for the deteriorating health and wellbeing of the people in east Africa who have been struggling and failing to grow food in the face the conflict and drought.

Mr Meehan explained that the humanitarian crisis gripping east Africa is adversely affecting its most vulnerable people – and their livestock.  In Somalia alone, over 1.4 million children face life-threatening severe malnutrition this year.  People in Somalia and South Sudan continue to suffer the impacts of conflict.  War and instability have displaced millions and made it impossible for families to live safe and healthy lives. 

An estimated three-quarters of all livestock have died across Somalia, leaving families without one of their main food sources.  Drought has also led to lack of clean water.  Over 4.5 million people are estimated to be in need of water.  This situation has contributed to an outbreak of cholera, with 36,000 cases and over 700 deaths so far.

The drought in east Africa has contributed significantly to the current crisis.  Northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia have been left ravaged by drought.  Crops and animals have died, leaving people unable to provide for themselves.  Over ten million people in Kenya and Ethiopia are in need of urgent food aid.  The numbers of people impacted by this crisis are estimated at:

  • in Somalia, 6.2 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, including an estimated 3.7 million children;
  • over the second half of 2017, over nine million people in Ethiopia will not have access to safe drinking water;
  • more than seven million people in South Sudan – over half the population of the country – are in need of urgent aid due to conflict and drought.
  • 500,000 children in northern Kenya are facing malnutrition due to drought.

Trócaire is responding to this crisis by providing food, water, purification tablets and other vital life-saving aids to support families in need.  In addition, Trócaire’s health centres in Somalia are providing food and health support to malnourished children, while across Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan whilst it is providing high-energy food and other much-needed support to hundreds of thousands of people facing hunger.  Mr Meehan concluded by encouraging people across Ireland to support Trócaire’s ongoing humanitarian work by donating as generously as possible on www.trocaire.org

  • World Meeting of Families 2018

Father Timothy Bartlett, secretary general of the World Meeting of Families 2018, updated the bishops on the planning for this international Catholic festival of faith which will take place in Dublin from 21 to 26 August next year.  Father Bartlett detailed the recent three-day meeting on 1, 2 and 3 June of international delegates representing fifty Bishops’ Conferences from around the world.  Father Bartlett also advised the bishops of upcoming initiatives:

  • National Novena, Knock, Monday 21 August 2017: The launch of a one-year programme of preparation for World Meeting of Families 2018 will take place during the National Novena in Knock on Monday 21 August 2017.  The programme, entitled Amoris: Let’s talk Family, Let’s be Family!, will be rolled out to parishes and families via an interactive APP and a series of video animations.  Each diocese has been invited to nominate a family who will officially represent the diocese at this event in Knock.
  • Tour to each diocese of the WMOF 2018 ‘Icon of the Holy Family’: A specially commissioned WMOF 2018 icon of the Holy Family will be unveiled and anointed during the one-year launch event at the National Novena in Knock.  The icon is being written by the Redemptoristine Contemplative Community in Drumcondra, Dublin, as part of their ongoing prayer for families who will attend WMOF 2018.  Following the official unveiling at the National Novena in Knock, it is proposed that the icon travel to each diocese around the country.
  • Launch of Volunteer and Host Family Programme: The WMOF2018 volunteer and host family programme has now been launched. The WMOF2018 organising team are inviting thousands of volunteers to participate in this once-in-a-generation event.  The volunteers will be part of the operational team which will organise and run what will be the largest gathering of families in the world. Volunteers must be resident in Ireland, over 18 years of age and respectful of the Catholic ethos of the event. Volunteers will assist at the WMOF2018 events as well as at related preparatory events that will take place around the country.  In addition to the volunteer recruitment drive, a ‘Host a Pilgrim/Family’ programme has also been launched with the aim of hosting pilgrims in family-homes based in and around Dublin.
  • A new website (worldmeeting2018.ie) will go live at the end of June to cater for Irish and international pilgrims who wish to come to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families 2018.  The website launch will coincide with the opening of the registration process for pilgrims.  This website will be available in the following languages: Irish, English, Polish, French, Italian, and Spanish.
  • Asylum seekers in direct provision

The Council for Immigrants of the Irish Bishops’ Conference welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court, on 30 May, requiring a change to the law that prohibits asylum seekers in Direct Provision from engaging in seeking employment, and looks forwards to seeing further progress on this matter.  The words of the Court are powerful and profound, and speak to what we should aspire to:  “This damage to the individual’s self-worth, and sense of themselves, is exactly the damage which the constitutional right [to seek employment] seeks to guard against.”

  • Northern Ireland Assembly

Bishops discussed with concern the ongoing absence of constructive political dialogue in Northern Ireland which, in turn, is preventing the operation of the devolved Assembly.  Bishops urged all parties to avoid the growing vacuum, and instability, and to expeditiously enter negotiations in a spirit of generosity and positivity.  Bishops offered prayers for elected representatives so that they would build bridges, overcome differences and find constructive ways forward to build on the peace which has been established and thereby continue, through the Assembly, to provide leadership for the common good of society.

  • Faithful across Ireland invited to celebrate the centenary of the Fatima apparitions

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.  Between 13 May and 13 October of 1917 three shepherd children, Lucia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto, reported visions of the Virgin Mary.  Pope Francis was in Fatima in May where he canonised the young shepherds Jacinta and Francisco Marto.

To coincide with this important anniversary in the Church, bishops invite the faithful to the National Marian Shrine, Knock, on Sunday 9 July for the celebration of the Eucharist to mark this centenary.  This celebration on 9 July will offer a time of prayer and reflection to coincide with the centenary of the apparitions and also to celebrate the canonisation of two of the visionaries of the Marian apparitions at Fatima.  All are welcome.

  • Appointments and retirements

Bishops welcomed the appointment by Pope Francis, on 13 May, of His Excellency Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo as the new Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland.  Archbishop Okolo is expected to arrive in Ireland in August.  Bishops paid warm tribute to the former nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Charles Brown, now Apostolic Nuncio to Albania.  Bishops acknowledged, with gratitude, the energy, enthusiasm, warmth and openness with which Archbishop Brown undertook his ministry during his time here, as well as the affection and high esteem in which he was held by the faithful throughout Ireland.  

Bishops welcomed last Friday’s appointment by Pope Francis of Bishop-elect Alan McGuckian SJ as Bishop of Raphoe.  Bishops expressed their heartfelt gratitude and prayerful good wishes to Bishop Philip Boyce, Bishop Emeritus and Apostolic Administrator of Raphoe.  Bishops paid warm tribute to Bishop Boyce’s twenty-two years of sterling service to the Bishops’ Conference, and especially for the gift of his leadership in the areas of supporting clergy and vocations.  Bishops thanked Bishop Boyce for selflessly providing, at all times, his wisdom, good humour, unfailing courtesy and an inspirational example of faith for the benefit of the Church in Ireland.

Bishops appointed Monsignor Hugh Connolly of the Diocese of Dromore as Chaplain in the Irish College Paris with effect from 1 September 2017.  He succeeds Father Dwayne Gavin of the Diocese of Meath.  Monsignor Connolly, the outgoing President of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, is a fluent French speaker and has served on the Fondation Irlandaise, the Governing Body of the College des Irlandais, for ten years until 2007.  Monsignor Connolly’s pastoral duties will include ministering to the Irish Community in Paris, liaising with the staff of the Centre Culturel Irlandais, assisting at the local parish of Saint Etienne du Mont and occasional lecturing at one of the theology faculties in Paris. 

Bishops appointed Father Chris Hayden CC, Parish of Coolfancy in the Diocese of Ferns, as the new editor of Intercom, the pastoral and liturgical resource magazine of the Bishops’ Conference.  Father Hayden succeeds Father Paul Clayton-Lea of the Archdiocese of Armagh.  Bishops wished Father Hayden well in his role and thanked Father Clayton-Lea for the vision and quality of content that he provided for Intercom during his tenure as editor.

  • In Memoriam: Archbishop Thomas White RIP and Bishop Eamonn Casey RIP

Bishops offered prayers for the repose of the souls of the late Archbishop Thomas White RIP, the Irish-born former Apostolic Nuncio, and the late Bishop Eamonn Casey RIP, Bishop Emeritus of Galway, Kilmacduagh & Kilfenora, who passed into eternal life on the 8 May, and 13 March last, respectively. 

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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