The Winter General Meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference concluded this evening in Maynooth. Bishops are available for media comment by contacting the Catholic Communications Office. The following issues were discussed at the Bishops’ Conference:
- Appointment of the new Apostolic Nuncio, Monsignor Charles Brown
- Advent and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
- A Bible in every home
- (i) Budget 2012; and, (ii) Hope in Challenging Times – reflection for Christmas 2011 (see below)
- Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church
- Publication of Living Communion – Vision and Practice for Parish Pastoral Councils in Ireland today
- Trócaire’s Christmas 2011 ‘Global Gift’ campaign
- 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Ireland in 2012
- Retirement of Bishop Séamus Hegarty
Appointment of the new Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Monsignor Charles Brown
Bishops welcomed the appointment of the new Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Monsignor Charles Brown. Cardinal Seán Brady said “As this is the first time that we have met since the announcement of Monsignor Brown’s appointment I, and the bishops of Ireland, wish to take this opportunity to formally welcome the appointment of Monsignor Charles Brown by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. We offer Monsignor Brown our prayerful support and look forward to meeting him and to his taking up his appointment and residence in Ireland. We are greatly encouraged by Monsignor Brown’s appointment at this time of Church renewal in Ireland.”
Bishops discussed diplomatic relations between Ireland and the Holy See and looked forward to improving the existing diplomatic relations between the two states. As a state’s foreign policy should include respect for the spiritual values of its citizens, and religion ought not to be relegated to the purely private sphere, bishops expressed regret with the recent Government decision not to appointment a resident ambassador to the Holy See. The opening of diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1929 was a very significant moment in our people’s history. It was also very important in asserting the identity and presence of the Irish Free State internationally in view of the fact that Irish diplomatic representation abroad was then confined to the Legation in Washington, the Office of the High Commissioner in London, the Permanent Delegate to the League of Nations, and the Embassy to the Holy See.
Bishops expressed the hope that the Government would revisit this decision and that the arrival of new Apostolic Nuncio will continue to develop positive, strong and respectful relations between Ireland and the Holy See.
Advent and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
During this season of Advent, the period of preparation for the feast of Christmas, the call to renewal of our Christian life is a central part of this preparation. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance), we receive the gift of God’s mercy and forgiveness. The celebration of Advent should be an integral part of our preparation for the Feast of the birth of Our Saviour. During this season of Advent, bishops strongly encourage all Catholics to make time to avail of the gift of God’s love in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
A Bible in every home
As part of the call to renewal in the Church in Ireland at this time, bishops made a special appeal to parishes to support and encourage families on the Feast of the Holy Family (30 December 2011) and throughout the New Year to acquire a Bible for prayer at home. Bishops encouraged families to use the Bible as a source of renewal of family prayer and of bringing the presence of the Living Word into the daily life of their home.
(i) Budget 2012; and, (ii) Hope in Challenging Times – message for Christmas 2011 (see below)
Society’s vulnerable must be protected at all costs – in and out of a recession. For the poorest members of Irish society every day brings a struggle to maintain a decent standard of living in an increasingly harsh economic climate. Many people in Ireland today are anxiously calculating the impact Budget 2012 on their ability – and that of their family – to participate in society. Public policy decisions which condemn vulnerable people to a life of poverty damage the common good. Discussing the impact of Budget 2012, bishops:
- expressed concern about the impact of this budget on the vulnerable in our society;
- welcomed today’s decision not to go ahead with the proposed cut in disability benefit to people under 25 years;
- urged Oireachtas members to reverse the proposed reduction to the rate of child benefit payment, which could have a devastating impact on larger families with low incomes; and,
- urged Oireachtas members to retain the period for fuel allowances at 32 weeks – the proposed reduction could have a serious impact on older people and those suffering from ill-health.
Bishop Christopher Jones, chair of the Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family, said: “Bishops are not public policymakers and we are acutely conscious that, with limited resources available to Government, there are difficult decisions to be made. But Government can make choices and has a responsibility to adequately assess the impact of any proposed policy measures on the lives of the vulnerable.
“In its 2011 pre-election statement From Crisis to Hope, the Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Bishops’ Conference highlighted that not everything in our society can be measured in purely economic terms. An assessment of a person’s contribution based on their economic worth gives rise to a distorted view of society in which the dignity of the human person is under threat.
“In Budget 2012 Government has decided not to apply any further taxation to the highest earners stating as its reason that it does not wish to disincentivise people from striving to achieve their full potential in terms of their career and income. If we compare this with the impact of the proposed measures on families, it appears that there is a serious imbalance between the recognition given to the contribution made through economic activity in comparison with the contribution made by families in bringing up children. This analysis needs to be challenged as it gives rise to serious concerns for the future of our society. Families are the cornerstone of strong communities, and children represent the future of our society, yet where is the incentive to people to make their contribution to society through family life?”
Bishops discussed and issued a special message for Christmas 2011 Hope in Challenging Times – please see below.
Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church
The first six reviews of safeguarding practice in dioceses were released by the respective bishops last week. Copies of these can be downloaded from the respective diocesan websites and also from the website of the National Board www.safeguarding.ie. The National Board has started into its next round of reviews which will include a number of religious congregations as well as dioceses.
Representatives of the National Board and bishops discussed the complex and sensitive issue of leave from sacred ministry. The National Board will now, in the light of these discussions, finalise interim guidelines which will be approved for use for a period of one year and then reviewed.
Publication of Living Communion – Vision and Practice for Parish Pastoral Councils in Ireland today
Bishop Seamus Freeman, Chair of the Council for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development, today launched the publication Living Communion – Vision and Practice for Parish Pastoral Councils in Ireland today. This revision of the bishops’ 2007 framework document for Parish Pastoral Councils (PPCs) has the benefit of a growing wisdom regarding the function and operation of PPCs as the structure by which parishes can grow in co-responsibility for life and mission in the parish and the Church as called for Pope Benedict XVI.
Copies of Living Communion – Vision and Practice for Parish Pastoral Councils in Ireland todayare available from the Catholic Communications Office and from Veritas bookstores nationwide.
Trócaire’s Christmas 2011 ‘Global Gift’ campaign
Bishops ask for prayers for the world’s poorest people this Christmas alongside families and individuals struggling in Ireland. According to Trócaire, the bishops’ overseas aid agency, its Christmas 2011 campaign is critical for the agency due to an almost 50% sales drop of its Christmas Global Gifts in the last three years.
“This Advent our prayers are with the families and communities in the world’s poorest countries who are suffering untold hardships and are being denied their basic human rights, leaving them in life-threatening poverty” according to Bishop John Kirby, chairman of Trócaire. Bishop Kirby continued, “A 50% drop to Trócaire’s Christmas Global Gift campaign means that fewer families will get the critical support they need next year. However despite the crisis here in Ireland, our people’s compassion and empathy for the families and communities that Trócaire supports has been remarkable and we hope and pray that this will continue.”
Trócaire’s Global Gift campaign, which has been running for 12 years, raises €2 million a year for the charity’s overseas aid projects. Gifts can be purchased at trocaire.org/globalgift or by calling 1850 408 408. Gifts are also available in Avoca and Veritas outlets nationwide and in Trócaire centres in Maynooth, Co Kildare; 12 Cathedral Street, Dublin 1; 9 Cook Street, Cork, and in 50 King Street, Belfast.
50th International Eucharistic Congress in Ireland in 2012
Bishops discussed plans for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress which takes place in Dublin from 10 – 17 June 2012. With just under 200 days to go until the Congress, bishops discussed the Congress programme, speakers, stage three and four of the pastoral preparation programme and the volunteer programme.
Bishops asked parishes to continue to promote the Congress using the materials available from the Congress headquarters in the RDS, Dublin. Parishioners are encouraged to book for their attendance at the Congress by completing a booking form. The various booking options for the number of days people wish to attend are available on www.iec2012.ie/registration. A special booking office for those who do not have access to a computer is now available from the Congress offices in the RDS.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, President of the International Eucharistic Congress 2012 said: “We look forward to welcoming pilgrims from both Ireland and overseas next June. Our Congress will focus on the theme of ‘The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another’. It will be different in many ways from the 1932 Congress because we are a changed Ireland, a changed people and a Church that is going through an important period of renewal. All of this change brings challenges. We are renewed by the constant centrality of the Eucharist in our lives as Church.”
Next year’s 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Ireland involves two main venues in the RDS and Croke Park, Dublin. The week long programme in the RDS consists of prayer, Eucharist, workshops, discussion groups, catechesis and testimonies, cultural events, tours, exhibitions, and a Eucharistic Procession. It is expected to involve 25,000 pilgrims participating in over 150 workshops; including 12,000 pilgrims from the five continents; and 80,000 participants at the Statio Orbis – the official title for the final Mass of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, which will take place on 17 June 2012 in Croke Park, Dublin.
Retirement of Bishop Séamus Hegarty
Bishop Séamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry, retired last month on the grounds of ill health and bishops wished him well and expressed appreciation for his contribution to the Irish Bishops’ Conference and especially for Bishop Hegarty’s pastoral leadership in assisting the challenges facing our emigrants and their families – difficult conditions which apply again today – North and South. Bishop Hegarty also worked with the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas, and showed unwavering commitment to the welfare of prisoners and assistance to their families. Bishops extended their good wishes to Monsignor Eamon Martin who has been elected Diocesan Administrator for the Diocese of Derry.
Christmas 2011 reflection Hope in Challenging Times
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” [Luke 2:10-11]
Christmas, in many homes, is the highlight of the year. It can be a time to get together with family and friends, to share food and exchange gifts. For many children it is a time of great wonder and joy, and the most treasured memories of many adults come from the family Christmas experience of their childhood. It is a moment of great significance for our lives as Christians, where we come together to celebrate the joy of ‘God-with-us’ in the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Christmas is also a time when we reflect on the Holy Family, a family whose love for each other and faith in God helped them to overcome great trials and suffering. This year we are conscious of the many homes across Ireland where pressures on family life have never been greater because of worries about debt, financial insecurity, unemployment and heavy workloads just to make ends meet. All of these can easily become sources of tension and conflict, putting new strains on relationships within the home, even on otherwise stable relationships between parents. It is no coincidence that from the very beginning of the current economic crisis organisations such as ACCORD have reported significant increases in the number of couples coming to them for help. We would encourage any couple, experiencing pain or difficulties in their relationship at this time, to avail of the safe and confidential space offered by organisations such as ACCORD, where they can share their experiences with people who understand the joys and challenges of marriage. As pressures on families increase, it is important that all couples take time to think about how much of themselves and their time they give to nurturing their relationship, which is at the heart of family life.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew (2:2-12) we read of the journey of the Magi to present their gifts to the baby Jesus. These gifts had a special significance, acknowledging the identity and future mission of Jesus. In these financially straightened times it is important to ask how much meaning is really attached to some of the gifts we give to each other at Christmas today? An over-emphasis on the material aspect of giving can mean those in our society who are struggling financially experience a crisis of self-esteem, feeling that they have little to give to others and that the expectations of children in particular cannot be met. In reality, however, the greatest gift we can give is the gift of our time and attention. Impersonal, material gifts will soon be forgotten, but time spent with a person, showing that you value and care for them, means so much more and will leave them with memories to value forever.
This, after all, is very nature of the gift given to us in the incarnation of the Son of God at Christmas. In the words of the famous Christmas hymn, O Holy Night, we celebrate the ‘The King of Kings, lay thus in lowly manger; in all our trials born to be our friend’. This Christmas we encourage all to take the time to stop and reflect: are we so busy rushing around buying presents, stocking up on food and decorating our houses, that we don’t have time to actually be present for those who need us? We also ask is there more each of us could do to reflect the original simplicity of the Christmas scene by wasting less food, packaging and energy?
We remember in a particular way this year all those who are suffering as a result of the crisis in East Africa. This hunger could be prevented through a fairer distribution of the world’s resources. While it is good to celebrate with family and friends, it is important to consider how our behaviour as consumers impacts on the lives of people in the developing world. There are small changes we can all make on an individual basis, such as opting for Fair Trade products, that will help to make a difference. Organisations such as Trócaire, working to improve the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people throughout the world, offer the opportunity for us to support their work at Christmas time through the purchase of ‘global gifts’. Instead of giving unnecessary items to family and friends we can, in their name, give the gift of hope to a family in the developing world, helping them to feed themselves, protect their health and educate their children.
As Bishops we recognise that recent years in the Church in Ireland have been especially difficult. We are deeply sorry that so many people have felt hurt, betrayed and shaken in their faith. This is especially true for the victims of child abuse in the Church, for whom no expression of regret could ever suffice. As 2011 draws to a close, we renew our commitment to work to address the failings of the past in truth, justice and humility.
People sometimes express regret that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost amidst the consumerism and excess so often associated with it. Whatever our circumstances, the true meaning of Christmas is always available to us in reflection and prayer on the Christmas story itself. We take this opportunity to thank those in radio, television, printed media and new media who give space and resources at this time of year to making the Christmas story known in a reflective and respectful way. We thank those of other religious traditions and none who join us in celebrating the spirit of peace and goodwill to all heralded by the Angels on that first Christmas night. As Bishops, we make a particular appeal to members of our own Church, especially those who have become alienated or distant from regular participation in Mass, to rediscover the hope and strength that comes from the celebration of the Christmas story in their parish community gathered for the Eucharist.
Next June we will celebrate the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, with the theme ‘The Eucharist – Communion with Christ and with One Another’. This event and the months leading up to it offer an opportunity for renewal of our faith and strengthening of our hope. As we face into the many challenges that lie ahead for the Church and for our country we recall that our greatest hope is in our communion with Christ and with one another in prayer, in reflection on God’s Word, in participation in the Eucharist and in our shared mission to bring the Good News to the world. This Good News, as the Christmas story reminds us, is ‘news of great joy that will be for all people’ (Lk 2:10). Our prayer is that this joy will touch the hearts of all this Christmas and strengthen our hope in challenging times.
Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444