2 June 2011
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s address to the International Delegates in preparation for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin 2012 All Hallows College, Dublin
I am most grateful to you for being with us in Dublin on these days to learn about the preparation for the celebration of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress. Please bring to your Churches the greetings and the expression of gratitude of the Church in Dublin and the Church in Ireland.
I hope that you will have learned much about what our hopes are and I hope that you will have been enthused about the Congress and the opportunities it brings for renewal in the Church and especially for a renewal in the Church which focuses on the Eucharist.
I need not remind you that you have been invited not in a personal capacity but as representatives of your local Church to bring back the message of the Congress, so that some representative of your country will come as pilgrims. It would also be interesting to establish some ways through which the Congress could be celebrated as a truly international event with some events and liturgies in your own country in prayerful solidarity with what will be happening in Dublin.
The Irish Church is facing a challenging path of renewal. The renewal of the Church in Ireland is a responsibility above all of the Irish Church. The presence at the Eucharistic Congress of pilgrims from around the world would however constitute an enormous encouragement to us in our efforts of renewal. Our hope is that Christians from around the world will come to Dublin as a sign of solidarity and support for the Church in Ireland and will join together with us in prayer for renewal.
I thought that I might share with you some thoughts on the difficult situation in which the Church in Ireland finds itself.
Ireland is today undergoing a revolution of its religious culture. Many outside of Ireland still believe that Ireland is a bastion of traditional Catholicism. They are surprised to discover that there are parishes in Dublin where the presence at Sunday Mass is some 5% of the Catholic population and, in some cases, even below 2%. On any particular Sunday about 18% of the Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Dublin attends Mass. That is considerably lower than in any other part of Ireland. For the second time since I became Archbishop of Dublin there will be no ordination to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the coming years indicate only a tiny trickle of new vocations.
In more recent times Ireland became one of the most open economies in the world and that economic openness inevitably had cultural consequences. In general these consequences were positive and openness was one of the vital – if risky – elements in Ireland’s economic transformation. But Ireland has been and is daily becoming ever more open and diverse culturally.
Certainly my greatest concern is the rift which is growing between the Church and young people. We have bright, intelligent, generous and idealistic young people. Most will have been educated for most of their time in school in Catholic schools. However from a relatively early age they drift away from any regular contact with the Church and especially from Sunday Mass. Now it is true Sunday Mass attendance is not the only statistic which indicates an affiliation with the Church and with the mission of Jesus Christ. But it is hardly possible to remain truly a Christian if one has no contact over years with the Eucharist. This is why the Eucharistic Congress can offer an important contribution in the path of renewal.
Too often the renewal agenda of Irish Catholics is driven by an inward-looking agenda of reform of Church structures. Such an agenda will have very little appeal to those who have really lost contact with the Church and regard such reform as interesting but of little relevance to their lives, indeed it might lead them only to further alienation
It will be very interesting to see the data about religious affiliation which emerges from the National census which took place last month. But the statistics of a census only tell of one dimension of Irish religious affiliation and about the future religious culture of Ireland. It is, in fact, very difficult to estimate the real strengths and the real weaknesses of the current situation of the Irish Church. I for one believe that the secularisation of Irish culture is very advanced.
There are those who feel that my evaluation of the current situation is too negative and gloomier than that of others. I do not think so. I believe however that my evaluation is realistic. If we do not address realities realistically then we will not make progress. I believe that we have to address the realities with clear focus and not live in the unreality of so called better days. To bring about change you have to look at realities as they are, not as they were in the past, not as you would like them to be.
For me the great difficulty is that the Church in Ireland too often is trying to address the challenges of today with the pastoral structures which served well yesterday. Many of our pastoral structures and strategies are no longer fit-for-purpose. They presume that the country is driven by a culture of mass-Catholicism while this can no longer be presumed.
A system in which practically every child in second class in our schools automatically makes his or her first communion and every child in sixth class in elementary school receives confirmation is no longer in tune with the real realities of faith. The danger is to reduce the sacraments to social events.
What has happened and is happening in Ireland is painful. I am not just talking about the horrors of abuse. I am talking about our failure in passing on the faith to the coming generation. Part of that failure is a failure of believers to witness their faith in coherent forms of service relevant to the current cultural situation. Faith and service constitute an unbreakable bond. Eucharist must be communion with Christ and communion with one another. That communion with one another involves services of care and the fostering of justice. But it is more. Our Eucharistic communion with each other must be witness to what a Eucharistic life style means in our lives. Our service to one another must be shaped by our participation in the sacrificial self-giving love of Jesus encountered in the Eucharist.
All I have said, however, does not mean that I am not optimistic. The process of renewal may be slow but there are signs of hope. The Church in Ireland which has been wounded by scandals has to slowly regain the confidence of the Irish people and it has to re-discover its role in society, or better, to regenerate its role in a different way in a changed society.
In the midst of so many negative factors in society we should never loose sight of the signs of the fact that the grace of God has appeared in our communities. We have to remember that the hope which so many people desire in their lives is not our or their creation. It is due to the presence of the grace of God in their lives. Christians live in hope within the same realities which give rise in others to hopelessness. It is only the presence of the grace of God which gives us the courage to hope even in our apparent helplessness.
The fruits of the presence of the grace of God are there. We have to recognise them and we have to allow our lives to be influenced by them.
There is however no time to waste. The coming five years will be among the most critical in the history of recent Irish Catholicism. The process of renewal must go forward and it must go forward with renewed acceleration. Our catechetical programmes must be radically looked at. There is a rift between catechetical programmes as taught in school and what parents understand and what happens in parishes.
Our parishes must be renewed and become real focal points for the religious formation of young and old. Our priests are in many cases already overburdened and we have to learn to form more and more lay people to be actively involved in parish catechesis. We need more priests and we need renewed formation of future priests.
The Holy Father initiated a process of support for the Irish Church which is set out in his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland. His commitment to the Irish Church is remarkable. I have experienced only support from him in my mission through his teaching and his personal support.
I can say that I am impatient to learn about the path that the Apostolic Visitation will set out for renewal for the Irish Church so that our renewal will move forward decisively. At the same time I am also becoming increasingly impatient at the slowness in the process which began over a year ago. This is not a criticism of the Holy Father. It is an appeal to his collaborators. The pace of the change in Irish religious culture is such that the longer the delay in advancing the fruits of the Apostolic Visitation, the greater the danger of false expectations and the greater the encouragement to those who prefer immobilism to reform, and the greater the threat to the effectiveness of this immense gift of the Holy Father to the Irish Church.
I think that you can see from my reflection just how much I look forward to the Eucharistic Congress as a vital element in the reform agenda of the Irish Church. The Congress will be an important event of the Universal Church which, while celebrated in Dublin, will be an event in which the prayer of all our communities will invoke renewed grace on the entire Church. As Pope Benedict recalled in our last meeting of National Delegates:
The International Eucharistic Congresses now have a long history in the Church. Through the characteristic form of the statio orbis they highlight the universal dimension of the celebration. Indeed, they are always a celebration of faith around Christ in the Eucharist, the Christ of the supreme sacrifice for humanity. Those who take part in them are not only the faithful of one particular Church or nation but also, as far as possible, come from various parts of the globe. It is the Church which is gathered around her Lord and her God.
Thank you once again and God Bless.
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