Homily of Bishop Farquhar for Accord Golden Jubilee celebration Mass

28 Oct 2012

Homily of Bishop Anthony Farquhar for Accord Golden Jubilee celebration Mass

2012 marks the Golden Jubilee celebration of ACCORD, the Catholic marriage care service.  ACCORD operates in 60 locations North and South.  To mark this special year for ACCORD, BBC Radio Ulster will broadcast a Mass of Thanksgiving live from Saint Mary’s, Chapel Lane, Belfast, this Sunday 28 October at 10:15am.  Bishop Anthony Farquhar, Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor will celebrate the Mass and preach the homily.  ACCORD representatives, family and friends from around Ireland will attend this Mass.  Before the Mass BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence will broadcast a discussion on the work of ACCORD today, and its contribution to marriage support over the last fifty years.  ACCORD representatives Denis Bradley and Mary Goss will speak of their experience in ACCORD’s marriage education and counselling services.

Welcoming this special broadcast of Mass, Deirdre O’Rawe, Regional Director ACCORD Northern Ireland said, “I would like thank everyone for supporting and attending our Golden Jubilee celebration of Mass.  It is particularly appropriate that we gather in Saint Mary's Church as it was in this particular parish that CMAC/ACCORD came into being fifty years ago.  It is most fitting that we should be back here today for this special jubilee celebration.  I would like to thank Bishop Tony Farquhar, who has been deeply involved with ACCORD over the years, for agreeing to be the main celebrant of our Mass.  I wish also to acknowledge the support and encouragement of Reverend Bert Tosh, Head of Religious Programmes for BBC Northern Ireland, for his professionalism and unstinting enthusiasm throughout the planning process for the broadcast of Sunday’s celebration.  I wish to pay a particular tribute to the priests of Saint Mary's for affording ACCORD the privilege of being 'back home'.”

Please see homily of Bishop Farquhar below.

Notes to Editors

  • ACCORD, the Catholic marriage care service, aims to promote a deeper understanding of Christian marriage.  In 2012 ACCORD celebrates 50 years of service to couples seeking to nourish marriage and family relationships.  ACCORD are Ireland’s leading nationwide agency supporting marriage and relationships through 60 locations, North and South.
  • The aim of ACCORD is to help couples prepare for, achieve and sustain their marriage and family relationships, to offer on-going relationship support and assist them in times of difficulty or crisis.  ACCORD’s core services are Marriage and Relationship Counselling and Marriage Preparation Programmes.
  • ACCORD Marriage Care (formerly CMAC) was established in Ireland in the early 1960s and expanded to become a nationwide service.   ACCORD personnel are selected for their unique qualities of warmth and care, and also for their experience in the day-to-day living of their own couple relationships.   ACCORD counsellors and facilitators are trained to the highest professional standard and offer this service on a largely voluntary basis.  ACCORD has acquired particular expertise in couple counselling and maintains a programme of assessment and continuous improvement to ensure that a first class service is always offered to our clients.
  • ACCORD services are available to all who need them, regardless of denomination, race, creed or ability to pay.   Clients are requested to make a contribution towards our services where they can afford to do so.

Homily of Bishop Farquhar


The downtown Church of Saint Mary's in Belfast where we meet this morning may well be known to many of our listeners -shoppers, inner city workers, bus pass-users of one sort or another. You may frequent the church on weekdays. It is a parish of few resident parishioners but of many weekday visitors.

On Sundays the parish community is ever-welcoming for worship to many groups, as it is today welcoming the people of ACCORD, our Catholic marriage care service to this Mass.  Fifty years ago the then named Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, later to be known as ACCORD, was founded in College Square North within a few hundred yards of where we gather together for our morning Mass. The fiftieth anniversary year has seen many celebratory functions, meetings and conferences; a Mass in Dublin with the cooperation of RTÉ and today a broadcast Mass facilitated by the BBC and Radio Ulster. We are joined by many who, after very rigorous training, have made themselves available to care for Marriage.  So too, I hope, we may be joined by listeners who have done the same in the past and by many who have benefitted from this service.

There will always be those in relationships who claim they don't need a piece of paper or a certificate to seal their love but that is not what we are about.  We see marriage rather as a two-way relationship between the couple and indeed a three-way relationship celebrated and lived through in the presence of God.

This is neither the time nor the place for a commercial for the work of ACCORD.  It is rather then an act of thanksgiving for the work of the organisation over the past fifty years.

Many of these fifty years saw difficult circumstances here in Northern Ireland. The work done by ACCORD to ease the difficulties of domestic tension was often carried out against a backdrop of civil and community tension.  As the late Philip Leonard wrote in Like Ministering to Like -a book on the origins and growth of ACCORD (p.66): “One distinction that will remain is the dedication of the Counsellors over the years, especially through the twenty-five years of the Troubles, when they never ceased to be available to their clients, frustrated only when bomb-scares upset their appointments.”

These tensions at times spilled over -particularly into the area of inter-Church marriages. Pressures that exist for all marriages could be accentuated for couples in inter-Church relationships. Through ACCORD many such couples received invaluable help from ministers of other denominations, many of whom are probably at this very moment leading acts of worship within their own denominations, no doubt bringing to those acts of worship those same prayerful and visionary sensitivities which they showed in their work with ACCORD.

In our First Reading today the Lord says: “I will gather them from the far ends of the earth -all of them, the blind  and the lame, women with children, women in labour.”  That is a fairly typical Old Testament list of people in need, particularly today the blind, for that is our link with the Gospel story.

It was Bartimaeus who had real vision: “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”

“Call him here!”, said Jesus.Those followers of Jesus were hesitant, indeed reluctant to become the means by which Bartimaeus would reach Jesus. They were not perfect people. No doubt many counsellors, their spouses, preachers will see themselves in that light but we can still be the people by whom the needy are brought to Christ.

We all have our own blind spots. We can look at the past with begrudging resentment; we can glimpse a present clouded by the cataract of prejudice; we can partially spot a future almost covered by pessimism.

It may well be that those who eventually presented Bartimaeus to Jesus had been reluctant only because they didn't want to be a focus of attention; they may have wanted a quieter life where they could join in the more anonymous respects being paid to Jesus. But Jesus wanted to make use of them – reluctant or not.

As followers of Jesus we are in a privileged position to bear witness to him before others – witnesses with greater or lesser degrees of anonymity. We are in a privileged position to share.  As Pope Benedict said to the young people in Madrid at World Youth Day last year: “Do not keep Christ to yourselves; share with others the joy of your faith.”

Today we thank God for the fifty years where many have found that it is in the work of ACCORD, of education about and preparation for marriage, for counselling within marriage, that they have shared with others the joy of this faith.

Yes, we have had a year of celebrations, social and spiritual. It is suitable that our Northern celebrations should rise to a peak in this celebration of the Eucharist this morning.

As Bishop Christy Jones, President of ACCORD,  said at the Mass for the 50th Anniversary Conference here in Belfast last March:

“Let us pray that all our families as communities of love and life
Will rediscover the Sunday Eucharist as their greatest source of
love for Christ and for each other.”


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