Address by Bishop Colm O’Reilly at Cura Annual Conference
21 February 2001
“Are we getting it wrong when it comes to communication?” is the theme of the address by Bishop Colm O’Reilly, President of CURA, which he will deliver on the opening night of the CURA Annual Conference, at the West County Hotel, Ennis on Friday 23rd February.
The Conference, which runs from 23 to the 25 February, will be opened by Ms Mary Hanafin, TD, and Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, and speakers include Ms Margaret Collins-Smith, M.I.A.C.T, M.I.A.H.I.P and DrWilliam Walsh, Bishop of Killaloe. The “Cura Annual Report” for 2000 will be launched at the Conference.
With the Year 2001 designated as the International Year of the Volunteer, CURA recently announced that the theme of their Conference this year is: “Supporting the CURA Volunteer”.
CURA (an Agency of the Irish Bishop’s Conference) was founded in 1977 as a caring service for women who are unhappily pregnant. Today, Cura has 400 volunteer counsellors in 17 regional centres around the country. Cura volunteers provide counselling to over 11,000 women each year. Earlier this year Cura launched a national pregnancy counselling Helpline to cater for the changing needs of their clients.
The Cura Helpline 1850 62 26 26 is open from 9.30am – 9.00pm Monday to Friday and from 10.00am – 5.00pm on Saturdays.
The full text of Bishop Colm O’Reilly’s address follows.
Are we getting it wrong when it comes to communication?
When CURA was set up, it relied on posters in church porches and announcements from the pulpit to tell people about our services. We still needthese means to communicate our message but a revolution has taken place in the world as far as communication is concerned. I am especially conscious of this where I am speaking, in Ennis, the Information Technology Capital of this part of Ireland. So if I speak of some concerns that I have about communication, I can assure the computer wizards of Ennis that I shall not try to tell them anything! I intend to stay within CURA’s area: are families and society as a whole failing to communicate in regard to matters of greatest concern?
Some massive steps have been taken in the field of communication which have been of great benefit to families whose members are scattered all over the globe. What a wonderful thrill it is for grandparents to see a picture of their grandchild transmitted by e-mail just a few hours after its birth in far-off Australia. Maybe this kind of experience will not be so thrilling once it becomes very commonplace. For now it is truly wonderful.
Technology has not done much, I fear, to bridge other kinds of gap. The breadth of a kitchen table between a teenage girl and her parents may only be three feet but there may be a chasm to cross in terms of communication. There are some questions which some cannot speak when they really need to “phone a friend”, unless that friend is anonymous. So it does seem that, for a time at least, there will be need for that kind of acceptance that CURA offers to women in distress who cannot communicate even with those closest to them. We hope that the recently introduced 1850 number which is now a part of the CURA network will make it easier for our clients to reach a sympathetic ear.
There are many ways in which we need to assess the impact of communication on CURA and its work. A young person, female or male, who is struggling with a problem about a pregnancy will hear the word “abortion” in the media in different contexts. It comes up in news reports, often from the U.S. or Britain. It has become a ‘must’, it would appear, in the plot of
the soaps on the television screen. I am no expert on television entertainment; so I cannot assess the impact of these programmes on the viewers. But one thing is sure: the numbers viewing such programmes are enormous. Also for many what is played out in the story is more “real” than what is reported on the news bulletins.
I take some comfort from what is happening in the media in debates on abortion. The fact that heated argument rages on regarding the morality of abortion is proof that, even if the Western World has tolerated continuing growth in abortion figures, it is a long way from being accepted as anything short of disastrous in society. Also all that is portrayed on the subject in television entertainment is not bad. In one episode of a soap that I happened to see by sheer chance – it was in EastEnders – the message was such that CURA could have written the script. It was a well stated case for the sacredness of life in the womb.
The world in which CURA works to-day is very different from that which existed when it was founded in 1977. To some degree the world of the third millennium will continue to write the agenda for us. The unwanted pregnancy, the agonising about abortion will, I am sure, continue to make the perfect storyline for those who compose the soap operas. How will we effectively commmunicate the message that we are here to help?
As I say this I am very conscious that I am looking down at people who are not just CURA counsellors but family people, who have the same questions in their minds as all parents have. I really need to address what I am saying to a much wider audience. When I ask how can CURA get across its message, I am really asking how can all of us, all the vast majority of our population who share the same abhorrence of abortion, play our part in doing what is best for unborn children and their mothers alike?
I have no doubt in my own mind about where the best work will be done for what CURA holds most sacred. It will be done in living rooms and in kitchens where the values that families share are passed on. That too is where, crucially, the art of communication is most important. Much is made of the fact that there is more willingness to talk about matters that were taboo in times past. I just hope that in time we will have arrived at the day when CURA’s helpline will seem to people to have been an unecessary intermediary between concerned parents and their worried children.
If communication, just ordinary human sympathetic listening, were at its best among people with close bonds of blood and friendship, some of the work that CURA does would be needed no more. I do not see the least sign of that that day is near. For now, we shall need our loyal CURA volunteers to be at the ready to listen to those in distress. In this Year of the Volunteer I salute not just the present workforce but all those who have contributed time and talent since we first announced the CURA helpline.
In recent weeks there is one aspect of the communications revolution which must have caused shudders of anxiety in many homes. We read reports of the horrendous pornography on a website visited by paedophiles around the world. Police investigators who are used to horror in many forms were shocked by the material on “Wonderland”. That was followed by startling figures for the numberof young people in Ireland who are accessing pornography on the internet. The survey was carried out in a limited way but is disturbing nonetheless.
Computers have transformed our lives, mobile telephones and on-line exchange of news have drawn us together so that distance is not the barrier it was. You would like to think that no longer would isolation and loneliness drive people into dark despair. Sadly, it seems that among the loneliest are the young who have no one to whom to speak but a friend whom they have never seen, another internet fan somewhere out there in the darkness. This is surely not the route to travel for those who are in need of what CURA and other caring agencies provide.
Let me end with a few inspiring words from the last Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul, At the Beginning of the New Millennium. At the heart of the caring Church he emphasises that there must be what he calls a “Spirituality of Communion”. This is what he says: “a spirituality of communion implies the ability to see what is positive in others, to
welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother and sister who has received it directly but as a gift for me”. Let me apply that to CURA. Our volunteers gather to-night, now a well bonded family who share a clear vision about the sacredness of life. They themselves benefit enormously by the work to which they are so committed. But so does the whole of the Church in Ireland. They are, as the Holy Father’swords suggest a gift to all. We are greatly indebted to them.
Fr Martin Clarke 087 220 8044
Ms Brenda Drumm 087 233 7797