Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s address to the Archdiocese of Dublin gathering of Parish Pastoral Councils

27 Apr 2008

27 April 2008

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s address to the Archdiocese of Dublin gathering of Parish Pastoral Councils

Over 1,200 members of Parish Pastoral Councils attended a Diocesan gathering and celebration of the Eucharist in the Church of Saint Laurence O’Toole, Kilmacud, Dublin at 2:30pm today [Sunday, April 27 2008]. Please see press release below followed by Archbishop Martin’s speaking notes.

Press release

In his address to the first major assembly of Parish Pastoral Council members in the Archdiocese of Dublin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said, “As a Church community we should be attentive to anyone who feels that they have been wounded or hurt or abandoned by the Church in any way. We only learn to heal when we first repent and change from our insensitivities and arrogance.”

Archbishop Martin said, “In a society which is changing we have to address new realities. Our parish boundaries do not always reflect the current demographic reality of the diocese. There is a new sense of mobility that already exists in the lives of people. There has been unprecedented growth in some parts of the diocese in the past five years. In other parts the population has dwindled.

“The Church has no intention or indeed no right to try to impose its beliefs on anyone or on any society. But the Church and its believing members have every right to bring to society the good news proclaimed by Jesus Christ as a message which illuminates and brings meaning. Our parish communities are the first communities where such a witnessing faith will be formed.”

The event, one of the largest of its kind in the Diocese in recent years, calls together members of Parish Pastoral Councils in the Diocese and includes a report on a major assessment of the work of the councils which began late last year.

Parish Pastoral Councils were introduced in the Diocese’s 200 parishes over three years ago by Archbishop Martin. In that time around 2,000 lay people have responded, putting their time and effort into the successful working of the Councils, to ensure the Church in Dublin can carry out its mission.

In a letter to the councils at the start of the evaluation process Archbishop Martin said the work of the councils had “exceeded his expectations”. Archbishop Martin said that a new spirit of co-operation is being engendered between lay people, priests and religious across the diocese.

Pastoral Councils will be central to the workings of the new Office for Evangelisation announced last Holy Thursday. Archbishop Martin said this Office and its work will operate a programme of “concerted outreach to renew our Christian communities, give focus to emerging structures, touch the hearts of those who have drifted from religious practice and challenge the areas where modern Irish culture is being shaped, with the richness of the message of Jesus.”

Speaking notes of Most Reverend Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland (check against delivery)

Over the past few weeks, in this liturgical season of Easter, we have been progressively listening to readings from the Acts of the Apostles. We have been listening to the story of the early Church, the primitive Church of the first months and the first years after the coming of the Holy Spirit, as the Church guided by the Spirit began to grow and to insert itself into the realities of the world of that time.

It is the account of a small group of men and women who, guided by the Spirit, set in motion that extraordinary story of bringing the name and the message of Jesus to all nations, to every part of the world and to every succeeding generation. It is the story of the extraordinary strength of the missionary activity of an extraordinarily weak, fragile and doubting group of disciples. It is the story of the beginning of a new era in the history of salvation: the era of the Church and the era of Holy Spirit.

The period covered in the Acts of the Apostles is one of the most powerful in the history of the Church. From the small group of disciples who despite their frailties had followed Jesus and yet so often misunderstood Jesus, the message reaches right round the known world, into different cultures, into the centre of intellectual reflection at the Areopagus in Athens, and right to the Capital of the Roman Empire itself. The Spirit gave strength to the disciples in their missionary activity.

The Spirit never abandons the Church. The Spirit did not cease to be with the Church powerfully at the moment of the conclusion of the Acts of the Apostles. The Spirit has remained with the Church throughout history and the Spirit is with the Church today. The Spirit has not got a dimmer to tone down his light at any moment in history. He is present in our times with the same vigour and the same brilliance as with the early Church. He is still present today renewing the face of the Earth, renewing the face of the Church.

We see that at this Assembly this afternoon. Four years ago yesterday I became Archbishop of Dublin. I cannot think of a better anniversary gift than this assembly. This assembly tells me and tells you and tells all who have ears to hear that the Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin is strong and vibrant. The Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin is forward looking. The Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin is renewing itself and is being renewed through the Spirit. The Church in the Archdiocese is open, that means welcoming, but it also means receptive, receptive to the word of God, receptive to what the word is saying, receptive to the changes that that word is bringing, to the challenges which that word is placing on our path.

As we have heard, we have here this afternoon representatives of practically all our 200 parishes situated in counties Kildare and Wicklow, Laois and Wexford as well as from all over Dublin county and city and of course the Parish for Travelling People. You who are here represent well over 2000 people, men and women, priests and laity, who have responded to the challenge of establishing Parish Pastoral Councils in all the parishes of the Archdiocese. The mission of Parish Pastoral Councils is above all that of animation and encouraging others to be more active in their life of faith. How many people have been motivated to respond with new commitment within the Church during these past few years? We are looking at new energy in the Church in the Archdiocese. We see the Spirit at work. For this I thank you all and I give thanks to God. We have here the new face of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

But let us come back to the Acts of the Apostles. There are a number of key short passages which describe the primitive Church community. They are clearly formulae which became known to the early Christians wherever their communities sprang up. We find the phrases in various forms. They are therefore not just historical statements of facts, they are mission statements; they state not just what the Church was like, but what the Church should be like. Let us look at one of these formulae:

“Those who welcomed the message of Jesus were baptized and that day about three thousand were added. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and distribute the proceeds to all as any had need. Day by day they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved”.

Let us look at some of the constitutive elements of the early Church communities. The early Christians still frequented the temple and felt themselves fully Jewish. But they had begun to develop as a community with practices and prayers of their own and a body of reflection and teaching about Jesus and his identity. Their number increased day by day. The believers spread throughout the known world. The sense of universalism which emerges, however, is not so much about numerical expansion but above all about the fact that now people of every origin could belong part of the community of the saved. The Church is a sign of the unity in Jesus Christ of all humankind.

Without doubt the numbers of those who regularly participate in the Eucharist in our diocese is dropping, at times dramatically. This is not as unusual as some might imagine. The Church is a sign of the unity of all humankind. The sign is not about numbers but about the quality of commitment and witness. This is not to say that the Church is a sect of the elect which does not care about others. This is not to say that the Church is the Church of the perfect. It is the Church of Saints who fight against their sinfulness, of saints who fall and experience the healing and reconciling power of Jesus. It is the Church where God’s mercy is encountered in a society which despite all its talk of tolerance can at times be ruthlessly un-merciful.

In our description of the early Christian communities, the term “breaking of bread” is repeated. It refers to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The breaking of bread, we are told, took place at home. It was in the home, in the family, that the Eucharist was celebrated. The family was not just a vague domestic Church; it was the primordial Christian community. It is interesting to note there is no talk in the Acts of the Apostles of renewal programmes. There is no mention in the Acts of the Apostles about a special outreach to young people. Faith was transmitted and nurtured and celebrated in the family. Church sprang from and was celebrated in the family.

Today all too often discussion of the family quickly degenerates into discussion of problems, of breakdown, of alternative models. Rarely do we speak of marriage and the family as resources for the Church. Too rarely do we hear of the call of Christians to exercise their ministry in and through the sacrament of marriage, a sacrament which by its nature – like all the sacraments – is oriented towards the building up of the Church. Evangelization of the family must be a priority for our activities in parishes and throughout the diocese. Family is the fundamental base for passing on the faith to children and young people. Where the faith life of families is weak, evangelization will loose its roots. Where families totally delegate their responsibility for the formation of their children in faith to schools, they are loosing sight of their responsibility but also of the special grace of the sacrament of marriage.

Parish Pastoral Councils, because of their predominantly lay character, can foster a platform for reflection on the family as a resource for society and the Church. Together we can work on developing new resource material for family-focussed catechesis. A priority for our new Diocesan Office for Evangelization will have to be to find ways to support you in this task.

What was it about these early Christian families which made them such a dynamic part of the expansion of the early Church? Perhaps it is to be found in that strange paradox whereby Jesus had told his disciples to leave their families, to turn away from father and mother, brothers and sisters and children for the sake of the kingdom. The early Christian family was a strong nucleus and resource for spreading the Gospel, but never one closed in on itself. The sacrament of marriage assigns a true ecclesial mission to families as families.

This leads me to a second characteristic of the early Church. It was outgoing. It was missionary. It was missionary both in the manner in which it won new converts but also in the manner in which it quickly left its mark on the society in which it lived. The description in Acts is beautiful. It says that the Christians “had the goodwill of all the people”. The Christian community will evangelize not through polemics and denunciations, but through living its life in a way which wins the respect, the goodwill and the confidence of “all the people”.

The Church in the years to come has to be attentive to the authenticity of its witness. This was always true, but we cannot overlook the fact that the Church’s goodwill among the people of Dublin was damaged by scandals and by a reaction of what appears as near arrogance in not realising the damage that had been done to the weakest.

The Church in Dublin must become regain the goodwill of all. The Church in Dublin must be a place where all the necessary measures for the safeguarding of children and vulnerable persons are in place. Measures for the safeguarding children must be seen as a priority and not as a burden. The Diocesan Child Protection Service will work more and more with Parish Pastoral Councils in providing training and assistance in this area. Training programmes are well underway.

Similarly as a Church community we should be attentive to anyone who feels that they have been wounded or hurt or abandoned by the Church in any way. We only learn to heal when we first repent and change from our insensitivities and arrogance.

A third characteristic of the early Church and that which generated the goodwill of all was its spirit of fellowship. Indeed one could say that “the fellowship” was one of the titles of the Church. For the future, our diocese must assume in a more definitive way the characteristic of fellowship. Ministry and service in the Church are never the private property of those who exercise them. Every form of ecclesial ministry and service, beginning with my own as Bishop, must be exercised in a spirit of fellowship.

We have to form a fellowship which responds to the needs of the twenty-first century, to the realities of our time. We need a form of fellowship which recognises the different talents and callings within the Church and enables those talents and callings to flourish. Our relatively short experience with Parish Pastoral Councils has shown us very clearly how the fellowship of priest and laity that we are already experiencing is not the fruit of the type of analysis by which a business school looks at effective use of resources, but it is a fruit of our recognition of the call of all believers to holiness and to be full members of the Church of Christ. It is the experience of what the Church is.

I repeat what I said during the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday: “If we look on lay involvement as a stop-gap solution [due to the shortage of priests] it will simply fizzle out. Our plans for working together in mission will only work when they are rooted in an understanding of the calling of all Christians to the ministry of witness to their faith within the ecclesial community and in the world”.

We need a variety of ministries. We need to be receptive to new ideas, to new commitment, to the emergence of new faces in our communities which are different expressions of the Christian life. We have to be careful to avoid yesterday’s progressives in the Church becoming today’s conservatives. Christ continues today to exhort us today with the words he used at the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes: “You yourselves, give them something to eat” (Mt 14:16). Jesus calls each of us to share in his mission. Each of us is truly called to be bread broken for the life of the world.

Fellowship belongs to those who share the same table of the Lord which is the centre of each parish. That fellowship should be evident in the manner in which liturgy is celebrated. Our liturgies must be participative because that is the nature of the liturgy. Our liturgies must be participative above all in the deeper sense of identification with the Mystery of the Eucharist. Eucharist is at the heart of Ministry. It is through our participation in the celebration of the Eucharist that, day by day, we become “worship pleasing to God” by living our lives as a vocation. Beginning with the liturgical assembly, the sacrament of the Eucharist itself commits us, in our daily lives, to doing everything for God’s glory.

Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become “bread that is broken” for others, and to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world.

The Archdiocese of Dublin is a fellowship of Eucharistic communities. All our structures must respect that reality. We are not a business, a benevolent organization, an ideology. In a society which is changing we have to address new realities. Our parish boundaries do not always reflect the current demographic reality of the diocese. There is a new sense of mobility that already exists in the lives of people. There has been unprecedented growth in some parts of the diocese in the past five years. In other parts the population has dwindled.

As we address this situation which is not static, ministry in the diocese must also take on the characteristics of fellowship. Teams of persons, priests, deacons and lay persons will be called to work together to support a number of parish communities. This will not be easy for everyone. We all feel more secure within our tried ways. We have to recall that fellowship rather than individualism is the characteristic of ecclesial ministry. Our ministry will be a fellowship between clergy and laity; it will be a fellowship of local communities working together for ministry.

My aim is to keep intact the sense of our local parish communities, as worshipping and caring communities. But the very notion of community is changing and people’s choices are influenced by the mobility. Very few people’s lives are today completely lived within the boundary of a single parish. Many ministries and services can be better providing at the level of a number of parishes or through the cooperation of neighbouring parishes. Indeed, the mobility and diversification which people experience in their daily lives can leave them isolated and disorientated. A ministry exercised in fellowship can indeed be an antidote to individualism and be a true witness to the sense of community which people are seeking in our new realities.

The fellowship of the early Church was more radical than most of us would envisage for ourselves today. It was marked by a spirit of sharing of all goods by all in order to ensure that no one was left in need. The call to such radical renunciation of personal possession is a call addressed to a few. I wish to say a special word of appreciation to the male and female religious in the diocese for their work and witness. Today I think that no-one will object to my singling out our parish sisters, who are among hidden treasures of renewal in the diocese.

We are not all called to total renunciation of our goods. The Archdiocese however must still respond in a radical way to the call to be truly a community which cares and which reflects God’s love in the realities of the world. Society will change and many of the services which the Church provided in the past can be and should be provided today by public authorities. We are grateful for that. The economic forecasts are not good and inevitably the funds available for public services will be under scrutiny, hopefully in a manner which will not compromise quality or the access of the poorest.

In such a situation, Popes Benedict’s words on the importance of true Christian charity take on a new relevance: “Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate humanity as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable… This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support…”

The community of Christians must be a caring community. It is not authentic for the Christian to join in the fellowship of the breaking of the bread and then slip instantly back as quickly as possible into individualism, anonymity and conformity with the values of society.

Pope Benedict sets out a characteristic of Christian charity which we must never loose: “Love of neighbour… consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know”. Christian charity involves loving people we do not even know. As sign of the unity of humankind, the Church must always be aware of the needs of people worldwide. I am pleased to see that many Parish Pastoral Councils are planning forms of partnership with the Church in poorer communities around the world, inspired by a sense of justice, care and of fellowship among the Churches. I would like to see new ways in which the Archdiocese could also more visibly witness to this fellowship among the Churches, perhaps adopting each year a particular Church which needs our support.

The expansion of the Church came about by an encounter between living and witnessing communities. The leaders of the early Church were the witnesses who had seen and lived with Jesus and who has seen him risen. In the apostolic preaching about the resurrection, for example, there is no attempt to build up an archaeological-historical-theological treatise based on the historical fact of the empty tomb. No: it is the preaching of those who had seen the risen Lord that was essential. Today more than ever the Church needs witnesses as well as teachers. The first element in every form of ministry is conversion.

This is another dimension of Pentecost. At Pentecost the scriptures are anxious to tell us of the variety of nations that were present on that day and who came to listen to and welcomed the message of Jesus. Ireland today is becoming a nation of people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Our ministry must welcome those who come to our shores. Whereas immigrants need forms of pastoral care which respond to their particular cultures and spiritualities, the Church is the fellowship of all peoples. Parish Pastoral Councils can provide leadership in ensuring that our immigrants do not feel themselves guests but full members of our communities.

When I met Pope Benedict XVI at the ad limina visit of the Irish Bishops one and a half years ago, I came well prepared, with ample statistics, facts and figures at hand. When I sat down, the Pope very quietly turned and asked me: “Where are the points of contact between the Church in Ireland and those areas where the future of Irish culture is being formed?” It is not the kind of question that can be answered just by regurgitating statistics. It is a deeper question which requires a deeper answer.

On the first Pentecost the disciples spoke and were understood by Parthians, Medes, Elemites residents of Mesopotamia Judea and Capodoccia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya, Romans, Cretans and Arabs. The places where Irish culture is bring formed are as numerous and as diverse as those who first heard the announcement of the Risen Christ at Pentecost. We have to form communities of believing Christians with an understanding of their faith which will enable them to speak to and be understood in the situations where the future of our society is being forged. The Church has no intention or indeed no right to try to impose its beliefs on anyone or on any society. But the Church and its believing members have every right to bring to society the good news proclaimed by Jesus Christ as a message which illuminates and brings meaning. Our parish communities are the first communities where such a witnessing faith will be formed.

On Holy Thursday I announced a series of initiatives to foster a broad programme of renewal in all sectors of diocesan life. A first aim of this renewal will be to provide formation for those who answer the call to leadership in the Church, as you have done by accepting to be part of your Parish Pastoral Council. Our survey shows that you feel the need for support and formation.

There are various ways in which you can be helped to acquire the personal and organizational skills needed to carry out your work effectively. We need to develop a much more intense network for formation in the faith, in theology and in spirituality. Conversion is not a process of a single moment. Formation in the faith is on-going and life-long.

Renewal today means regaining the missionary spirit of the early Church. It means reaching out to as many people as possible in a missionary spirit. Today, as I said on Holy Thursday, there is a true sense in which the Archdiocese of Dublin is mission territory. A few years ago many would have thought that type of affirmation somewhat exaggerated. But today so many of those who were baptised as Christians no longer really know Jesus and their way of living demonstrates that the message of Jesus touches their lives only in a marginal way.

This is why I have invited every parish in the diocese to join in a common programme of missionary outreach and evangelization during the year 2009, like that which has been carried out in a number of European capitals over the past years. Every aspect of diocesan life and of the diocesan administration will be focussed on that programme.

Many have been struck by the idea that every home in the diocese will be visited as part of that process. Some parishes have already done this and others are in the process of doing so. Hopefully it will be possible to give each home a copy of the Gospel for the year 2009, the Gospel which will be the object of all our reflection as we allow the Spirit to open our hearts.

In the coming weeks it will be looking more clearly at objectives and methodologies. We can learn from the experience which some parishes already have. The current Parish Development and Renewal, which has done such great work since its introduction – and which planned and organized this Assembly – will be integrated into a new Diocesan Office for Evangelization, which will provide technical and resource back-up for the new missionary outreach and will help coordinate the work of education in the faith, liturgical and scriptural animation, outreach to young people, and our work for justice and charity. This office will maintain its roots in the five pastoral areas into which the diocese is divided, while working in a coordinated way to address the common cultural challenges of the day.

I have already written to parishes regarding candidates for the permanent diaconate, as well as a programme for training lay people who wish, on a full-time basis, to enrich our pastoral service through their specific charism as lay persons. These pastoral workers will form a fellowship in ministry, serving in different roles focussing on liturgical formation, on catechetics and pastoral animation, either working in an individual parish or providing a specialist support to a number of parishes.

It is my intention to establish, by this summer, a Diocesan Pastoral Council which will be to me as Archbishop what a Parish Pastoral Council is in a Parish, particularly in assisting me in the process of renewal and mission across the diocese.

All of this renewal will take place within the context of the National Year of Vocations which I had the pleasure of launching on behalf of the Episcopal Conference here in the Pro-Cathedral recently. I thank Father Eamonn Bourke for his work as Vocations Director, together with his team. We need priests. We need good priests. I encourage priests to share their life-experience with the coming generation. Please support your priests. They need your support and affection and I know that they will respond with renewed generosity.

Our consumerist world needs an injection of idealism and generosity. Our world needs God. It needs a true understanding of God, that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, the God who loved us to the point of dying for us, but who rose and who restored life to us in our weakness and fragility.

Renewal is not just a renewal of structures but a renewal in holiness. This call to holiness is universal, it applies to all. The call to renewal goes out to all, young and old, laity, clergy and religious. We urgently need to renew all our efforts to bring the message of Jesus right into the hearts of our young people. We need to place the message of Jesus’ love at the heart of marriage and family life. We need to bring to our world that unique message of truth, justice and love witnessed to by Jesus. We need to teach people to pray.

Yesterday, four years ago I became Archbishop of Dublin. Four years ago I could not have imagined that I would be seeing what I see here today. Together, we have achieved more than we imagine in these years. We thank God for what he has done in our lives. There is more to come! The Lord God is the Lord of surprises.

When I asked my close co-workers what you were expecting coming here this afternoon, I was constantly told that you want to hear what I think, what plans I have. From my first day as Bishop in Dublin I have constantly stressed that I do not have all the answers. It would be arrogant for me to attempt to take credit for what you have achieved. I get great satisfaction in being able to preach the word of God, week by week, in parishes. May plan is to continue to preach that word and to have confidence in the Lord and in you. Thank you for the fellowship I have experienced in working for you and with you.

May the Lord accompany this diocesan family as it heads out on its path of renewal through a new partnership and sharing of charisms. Let us place out trust and our hope in the Lord, and the Lord alone.

+ Diarmuid Martin.

Further Information: Annette O Donnell 087 8143462