Opening address by Bishop John Fleming at the 32nd Cura annual conference

21 Feb 2009

21 February 2009

Opening address by Bishop John Fleming at the 32nd Cura annual conference

I welcome the opportunity to address you at the beginning of our annual Conference and I am delighted to have the chance to spend some time with you. In particular I would like to extend to you my appreciation and that of the other members of the Irish Bishops’ Conference for your untiring commitment to the work of Cura.

As President of Cura I extend to Ms Louise Graham, National Director of Cura, to her mother, her brothers and the members of her extended family, the sympathy of all in Cura on the death last week of her father, Tom. I pray that the Lord will grant eternal rest to him and consolation to them.

Cura Cares. These words have become the tag with which our organisation is identified. To many people they are almost as familiar and recognisable as ‘Yes, we can.’ Cura cares and is caring. Your care for those who are experiencing their pregnancy as a crisis is legendary and it is prophetic. It is legendary, in that mothers throughout the length and breath of this country are able to enjoy today the company and the support of children who, during the first months of life in the womb, were a source of anxiety and a cause of fear. The silent gratitude of these mothers is rarely heard but it is nonetheless real. Your work is prophetic, in that your availability to women who today or tomorrow are experiencing or will experience their pregnancy as a point of crisis in their lives is a source of reassurance. Your work has always been valuable and valued. In the economic circumstances in which we now find ourselves in this country today your work will, in all probability, be all the more necessary.

Pregnancy and economic circumstances tend to sit side by side. And very often they do so uncomfortably. Can I afford to become pregnant is a question which is sometimes asked in silence and in fear? What if I lose my job or my husband looses his? What if the cost of child care causes us to compromise our ability to pay our mortgage? What kind of future can I hope to give my child, in the face of the circumstances in which we now find ourselves? And the other side of the coin; with the years passing and a deep desire to have children, can I afford to postpone for any longer a longed for pregnancy? Will we end up as a childless couple, when the deepest desire of both of us is to have children and share our lives with them? As the economic crisis continues and, perhaps, deepens, your work and your availability says to women in our society today, Cura cares. Come to us. Cura will give you a listening ear, a warm welcome and an assurance of complete confidentiality in which to share your thoughts, fears and hopes. It will also provide you with the space in which you can put both your fears and your hopes in their proper perspective. And most of all it will give you time, endless time and a listening ear.

In a world of noise, where many have lost the ability to truly listen, Cura volunteers provide an all important listening ear. Trained to the art of silence, you allow all who come to you the space and the freedom to delve into their deepest thoughts and express their greatest fears. Recently I heard one of you recall a meeting she had with a teenager who was pregnant. The girl said to her “all my family are talking and giving me advice. None of them are listening to me.” Now, as never before, in a society which is full of fear for the future, a listening ear is most important for those who see their pregnancy as a crisis in their lives. In a real sense, therefore, you are heralds of hope and a safe haven in what is, for many today, a season of great anxiety.

A number of years ago I had the opportunity, occasionally, to stay in a guesthouse run by Irish nuns in Fiesole, outside Florence. The warmth of their welcome was legendary in that part of Italy and the quality of their care showed itself when one of them always said to Irish visitors, ‘there is a cup of tea upstairs’. Few words. Great care. You give that same touch of care when your welcome, on the phone or in person, invites those who are afraid into your care.

Care, as a human and Christian quality, is almost indescribable. You recognise it when you see it but you can’t put it into words. We all know what it is not. It is not demanding. It is not rooted in keeping a distance between peoples. It is not intransigent, judgmental or unforgiving. 

St Paul probably came the closest to describing what it is. In the letter which he wrote to the people of Corinth, he picked out the essential qualities of Christian care. He did this to show them what life could be like if they looked at things differently. Corinth, at that time, was a busy place, with lots of trade, commercial activity and Government presence.  Roman officials, soldiers, businessmen, merchants, sailors from all over the Empire gathered there. You could say that a distant ancestor of the Tiger lived there. But life could also be rough, unforgiving, competitive and hard. Against this background, Paul touched on the deeper things and alerted the people of Corinth to the fact that, for the Christian, “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence and it is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes”. (1 Corinthians 13. vv. 4-7) In your work, you bring that quality of care to people who are often vulnerable, sensitive and fearful. You are the face of a caring organisation and, ultimately, as an agency of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, of a caring Church.

But who cares for the carers?  Thoughtful souls have asked this now famous question down through the ages. “Who cares for the carers?” The definitive answer has never been given but an essential element of the answer lies in the care which the carers show to one another and the support which they receive from family members. During the past year and a half I have visited very many of your Centres and I have had the opportunity to see for myself the quality of care and respect which you show to one another. I regard this as a privileged insight. The care which you show for each other as volunteers in a Cura Centre reflects, I believe, the quality of the care which you extend to those who come to your Centre. And the support which you give to each other in the work that you do and the time that you spend together also guarantees the quality of the care which you then give. During these days together each of you, together with the other volunteers in your Centre, will have time to strengthen those bonds and confirm your membership of a Cura Centre. Your work can be demanding as well as rewarding. You need each other, therefore, to help and support you in all that you do for Cura. And I cannot end these moments with you without asking you to convey to your husbands, family members at home and your communities my appreciation of the support which they give to you in this work. During the past number of years I have seen this at first hand and I greatly appreciate their behind the scenes presence.

On behalf of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, and on my own behalf, I thank you for your work and I wish you all well.

I am happy to hand you over to Father Harry Bohan, who will share with us some thoughts on what it means to be a volunteer today.

+John Fleming
Bishop of Killala and President of Cura

Notes to Editors

  • The 32nd Cura annual conference takes place in the Hodson Bay Hotel in Co Westmeath with the theme “Volunteering In Our Time”, from Friday 20 to Sunday 22 February.  It is open only to Cura delegates on Saturday and Sunday.  Speakers include: Bishop John Fleming, Bishop of Killala and President of Cura; Bishop Colm O’Reilly, Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois;  Fr Harry Bohan, Sociologist and Director of Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of Killaloe; Ms Pat McTiernan, Cura Athlone Centre; Ms Caroline Spillane, Director of Crisis Pregnancy Agency; Ms Katharine Bulbulia, Chairperson, Board of Crisis Pregnancy Agency and Ms Louise Graham, Cura National Coordinator.
  • 260 Cura volunteers work in Cura’s 16 centres nationwide. In 2008 Cura had a total of 3,581 telephone and 1,866 face to face contacts in their centres, 104 of which were requests for post-abortion counselling. Cura provides a free and confidential telephone and face-to-face counselling service at its 16 centres in response to the needs of those experiencing a crisis in their pregnancy. All 16 Cura centres can be contacted on locall telephone 1850 622 626
  • Cura was established as an agency of the Irish Bishops’ Conference in 1977.  Bishop John Fleming, Bishop Killala, is President of Cura. Cura provides a range of crisis pregnancy counselling services through its 16 centres and operates under the mandate of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency.  Cura services include:
– Free pregnancy testing
– Crisis Pregnancy Counselling Support
– Information on social welfare and other rights and entitlements
– Linking client with other support services as required
– Support with accommodation, if required
– Post-abortion counselling
– Crisis pregnancy counselling to baby’s father and other family members
– School Awareness Programme
– Post-abortion counselling and support for partner and other family members

For further information please contact:
Charlotte Keery, Cura PRO – 087 6486360
Noreen Keane, Cura PRO – 087 7781777
Martin Long, Director of the Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, – 086 1727678