Service of Penitence and Healing in the Archdiocese of Armagh

23 Jan 2011

23 January 2011

Service of Penitence and Healing, Apostolic Visitation to the Archdiocese of Armagh, led by His Eminence, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

As part of the Service of the Apostolic Visitation to the Archdiocese of Armagh a ‘Service of Penitence and Healing’ was held today at 3:00pm in St Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh.  Please see below homily by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster and Apostolic Visitor to the Archdiocese of Armagh; the addresses by Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Sheila Baroness Hollins, Consultant Psychiartist and assistant to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor for the Visitation. 

Words of Introduction by Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor
I am here today at the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI.  He wishes, as do I, a time for prayer for the outpouring of God’s mercy and, through the Holy Spirit the gift of holiness and strength for the Church in this diocese.  The Holy Father has expressed his deep sadness about the grievous wound of the abuse of children and vulnerable adults in the Church in Ireland.

Today we listen to the Holy Father as he speaks to victims, families, parents and young people as well as priests and bishops.  Most especially he speaks to survivors, recognising their suffering and his sorrow.

After this we will hear a reflection from Baroness Sheila Hollins, who together with Mgr Mark O’Toole, have been assisting me in this Visitation.

Then Cardinal Brady and I will wash the feet of a number of people as a sign of humility and the service of others.

I invite you to pray for the outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit at this time.  We remember the words of the Psalmist

“Have mercy on me Lord in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence
O God you will not spurn a humbled contrite heart In your goodness show favour to Sion – Rebuild the walls of Jerusalem”.

Reflection by Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor
One of my favourite passages in the Gospel of St. Luke is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection of the Lord.  As they walk a stranger comes and walks with them.  The two disciples are sad and downcast, they have fled from Jerusalem, a place of pain and broken dreams and lost hopes.  There is a sense of betrayal of their own faith in the Messiah.  No wonder they want to go back to the normal and familiar and to things as they were.  But there is no normal anymore.  There is no going back for they will always remember the pain and loss, and the unspoken memory of their crucified Lord.

Many people feel the same here in this diocese and in Ireland today.
There is a sense of betrayal and being in a place of pain and most especially of the pain and the damage of those who have been abused.
Many are downcast and sad.  There are broken dreams and lost hopes and an awareness that things will never be the same again.

The stranger joins the two disciples and walks with them and invites them to tell the story from their point of view.  He then tells them that the death of Jesus Christ is part of God’s plan.  He retells the story that they had believed in.  He teaches them to live again in faith.  From this Jesus teaches them, that from the experience of loss and shame, how they are to find the Gospel of Life.  He tells them that there is another road that the Risen Lord is now walking.  It is a road of suffering, confusion, a road the Lord carves out of our failures, our sins and our mistakes which lead not to emptiness  but to Him.

His disciples invite the stranger to stay with them and he stays and they break bread together and, it is only then they recognise him as Jesus the Lord.  Immediately they recognise him, he disappears.  As they continue on their journey, they say to one another:  ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?’

During these past two weeks I have heard many voices:  the voices of great pain and suffering of the survivors of abuse; their shame; their anger.  I have also heard voices of discouragement; voices of honesty and the integrity of the people  and good priests.   I have also heard
voices of faith and a determination to persevere in the building up of the Church in this diocese by prayer and the holy Eucharist and the Word of God and the service of others.  Above all, I have listened to the voices of hope.  First of all, the voice of hope that the past will not be forgotten and that there will be openness and transparency in facing the issues of abuse. There is too the hope that there will be renewal in this diocese and an assurance of the presence of the Lord as we walk along this road.

You are travelling on the same road as those two disciples.  The revelation of child abuse and the failures at so many levels make it a hard road.  I think that we can have confidence that the Lord is with us on the road we are travelling.  There is joy in resurrection.
Jesus is talking to you and me just as he talked to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  He calls and invites us and sends us out again in His name:  “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us”.

We thank you Lord for all the blessings you have given to us and we ask you to continue to bless us as we walk on our pilgrimage here on earth and at the end, to bring us to the joy of our heavenly home.

Cardinal Seán Brady
I wish to say some words of thanks.

Thanks, first of all, to God for the grace of this Apostolic Visitation.  When Pope Benedict wrote his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, he said he intended to hold a visitation of certain dioceses, as well as of seminaries and religious congregations.  The Visitation is intended to help the diocese on the road to a life of deeper faith and practice.

I welcomed the announcement of that assistance and offered that this diocese should be visited.  So, I want to thank, most sincerely, the Visitation Team of Cardinal Cormac, Dr Sheila Hollins and Mons Mark O’Toole.  They have taken on the onerous task out of love for the Church – the Body of Christ.  They have come to help us in our time of need and we appreciate that very much.

I thank them for all of their endeavours and, in particular, I thank them for this Service of Penitence and Healing.  They have brought us together to ask God’s mercy and grace at this critical time.  I am especially grateful for their having reminded us that it is Christ’s own wounds which break the power of evil.  They have called powerfully on us to believe deeply in the healing power of Christ’s self-sacrificing love.  It is a love which even in the darkest situations can bring the promise of a new beginning.

I thank all of you who have answered the invitation to take part in this Service here this afternoon.  It is a sign also of your great love for the Church of Christ.  May our presence here be a sign of our earnest commitment to continue to pray for survivors that they may be blessed and restored to wholeness.

As we thank God for this initiative, we ask for the grace to accept, with gratitude and humility, the wisdom which will emerge from it.
May it be a light for our steps on the road to renew our fervour and enthusiasm as we prepare for the International Eucharistic Congress next year.

In his message for World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict reminded us that:
‘A society reconciled to God is closer to peace…and that peace is the result of a process of purification which involves each individual and people’.  My earnest hope is that this process of purification will proceed in our diocese in accordance with the Will of Christ. Helped by the conclusions of the Visitation, we can better achieve the Aim of the Diocese to share the compassionate love of Christ with all.

Earlier today I spoke to the Dominican nuns in Drogheda and the Cistercian Monks in Collon. They assured me of their prayers for this intention of healing and renewal. I am deeply grateful for the prayers of all the contemplatives and religious for this intention.

We are going to end with a hymn to Mary.  May she, and the patrons saints of our diocese, Patrick and Brigid, Malachy and Monnina, Oliver Plunkett and Blessed Patrick O’Loughran, intercede for us at the throne of mercy for the courage and humility to follow Christ.

Sheila Baroness Hollins
Reflection by Baroness Sheila Hollins, Consultant Psychiatrist, Assistant to Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor during Visitation

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why does God let it happen?
Well, he may not stop bad things happening, but remember, God gave us His only son and let him suffer and die at our hands.  Was this to show us His understanding of our human frailty?

And to show that it is possible with His love to rise above suffering and pain, I believe he gave us His son so that we would learn from him, how to suffer with each other and how to love one another.  Jesus became human and experienced suffering and pain, similar to the trauma of the person who has been assaulted or abused.  He promised to be with us to the end of time.  He didn’t promise to prevent suffering – to prevent us from hurting each other – but he did promise to be with us in our suffering.

Sexual abuse is almost always perpetrated by people who are in positions of power and authority, people whom the child or vulnerable adult trusts.  How can someone who has been abused ever learn to love and trust again when their trust has been shattered in such a devastating way?

I believe that the deep healing that is needed comes slowly, and in different ways, but that the mystery of the triumph of the Cross is very important to try to understand.

What I have heard in these last two weeks is of the suffering of so many people, people who have not been listened to, and who have not felt the Church alongside them, unconditionally loving them and helping them to rise above their pain.  What I have heard is of victims of abuse lending a helping hand and a listening ear to other victims.  I think there is a lesson here for us, that those who have experienced abuse are our essential teachers.  One of the people we met introduced the slogan ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ to make the point that unless we listen and include the very people who have suffered the most, we will get things wrong.

Out of their suffering, some of them, as survivors, have been able to reach out with compassion to victims, to offer a service which is spot on and valued by people in need.  Who knows what service each and every one of us might be called to give?  We know that we all have some gifts to share, and following Christ’s lead we should share them in a humble and honest way, whether we are called to serve in our church as lay people, religious, priests or bishops.  We can build bonds of trust again through openness and through vigilance.  We are all called to love.

Further Information

Martin Long, Director of Communications 00 353 861727678