Spring 2014 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

12 Mar 2014


Spring 2014 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Key news points – please see full statement below:

  • Bishops issue message of congratulations to Pope Francis as he concludes the first year of his Pontificate
  • Bishops discuss the survey of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, and the Council for Marriage and Family of the Bishops’ Conference will host a special conference on marriage and family on 14 June
  • Bishops express their deep gratitude to everyone who contributed to the shared nationwide church collection, held for those affected by the crisis in Syria, the wider Middle East and by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which raised in excess of €5.3 million
  • Bishops encouraged the faithful to participate in the Lenten initiative of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation entitled ‘24 hours for the Lord’
  • Bishop William Crean, chair of Trócaire, on the announcement that the government commitment to achieve the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income by 2015 will not now be met in next year’s budget
  • Bishops call on the government to increase its resettlement commitment to victims from the Syrian conflict to at least 300
  • As Saint Patrick’s Day is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics in Ireland, the best way to honour our Patron Saint is to attend Mass
  • Saint Columban is remembered as one of the greatest of all Irish missionaries.  Bishops will promote a pilgrimage from their dioceses to Rome, between 8 and 15 October next, to mark the 1400th anniversary of his death
  • Bishops asked for prayers for peace in the Ukraine and especially for all who have suffered greatly in that country in recent weeks, and that there will be a just resolution to the dispute.


  • Synod of Bishops on the Family – statement to be issued tomorrow
  • The first year of the Pontificate of Pope Francis
  • National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland
  • Lent and preparation for Holy Week and Easter
  • The Solemnity of Saint Patrick
  • Trocáire
  • Migration and the plight of children in Syria and Direct Provision
  • Canonisations of Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II
  • 1,400th anniversary of Saint Columban
  • Appointment and anniversaries
    • The first year of the Pontificate of Pope Francis

Bishops sent warm wishes to Pope Francis for tomorrow, 13 March, which marks the first anniversary of his election to the Chair of Peter.  From his humble introduction during his first urbi et orbi where he requested the prayers of people across the world, Pope Francis has truly captured the imagination, hearts and minds of women and men in Ireland and beyond.

Joy and mercy have thus far been key messages of Pope Francis’ ministry.  These sentiments have been beautifully captured in his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), which Pope Francis published on 24 November last.   Evangelii Gaudium opens with the words: “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.  In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”

The first year of the Pontificate of Pope Francis has not only been captured in words, but also in the many images which we have witnessed of the Holy Father reaching out to those on the margins and evangelising through action as well as words.   Bishops said, “We are all challenged by the Holy Father’s call to reach out to the margins.  We wish Pope Francis health and happiness for his future ministry.  May the Holy Spirit pour out upon him in abundance and bless him with all the gifts needed to shepherd the flock of the Catholic Church, and to strengthen all your brothers and sisters in the faith and to be an inspiration to all people of goodwill throughout the world.”

  • National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland

Bishops welcomed the recent appointment of Ms Teresa Devlin as the new Chief Executive Officer of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.  Ms Devlin, along with the chair of the National Board, Mr John Morgan, appraised the Bishops’ Conference of current issues including the National Board’s review process of dioceses and congregations, and the review of  Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document.

Bishops reaffirmed their full commitment to the continuing implementation and development of best practice in relation to safeguarding children.  They said this includes our wholehearted support, financial and otherwise, for the work of the National Board for Safeguarding Children, the implementation of the National Board’s Standards and Guidance Document at a local level, and the on-going audit and review process of all dioceses and congregations.

  • Lent and preparation for Holy Week and Easter

Lent began on Ash Wednesday 5 March.  In this the season of Lent the call to renewal of our Christian life is a central part of our preparation for Easter.  Bishops ask the faithful to offer up their fasting, prayer, reading of Scripture and works of mercy during Lent for the grace of a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal for the Church in Ireland in line with the challenges presented by Pope Francis in his recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).  An online Lenten calendar can be accessed on www.catholicbishops.ie

Guided by a Lenten initiative of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation entitled ‘24 hours for the Lord’, and to facilitate reception of the Sacrament of Penance, many dioceses will arrange for churches to be open for a period of twenty four hours beginning on Friday 28 March at 17:00pm.  The Sacrament will be offered to the faithful during Eucharistic Adoration.  In Rome the initiative will be presided over by Pope Francis with a penitential celebration in Saint Peter’s Basilica during which the Holy Father himself will be available to administer the Sacrament.  It is planned that this initiative will become an annual Lenten event.

  • The Solemnity of Saint Patrick

As we approach 17 March on Monday next, bishops prayed through the intercession of our patron saint, Saint Patrick, for the faith and well-being of the people of Ireland.  Patrick was called to serve and bring God to a people far from his homeland.  As Saint Patrick’s Day is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics in Ireland, the best way to honour him is to attend Mass.  In 2014 we celebrate our national Saint’s day in the midst of an economic recession which has resulted in domestic heartbreak throughout Ireland for many individuals and families due to the pressure of unemployment and emigration.  As the plight of Patrick, himself a migrant, has been faced by many Irish people who have struggled to live and integrate into new cultures, bishops encouraged the faithful to pray for migrants at home and abroad as many face challenges arising from displacement and poverty.

  • Trocáire

Lenten Campaign 2014: ‘Global Water Crisis’

Bishops encouraged the faithful to give generously to this year’s Trócaire Lenten campaign which addresses the global water crisis and the struggle facing communities, where Trócaire works, to get enough water.  The Lenten campaign aims to show how vital water is and how a reliable water supply can help the future of a community.  1.1 billion people are living without access to a reliable source of water.  Water scarcity is a global crisis and water is also a fundamental human right.  Water is needed to live, grow food, farm livestock and stay healthy.  Yet over large parts of the developing world, people do not have a clean water supply.  Bishops welcomed the revised scheme introduced by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) aid programme, whereby Trócaire Northern Ireland qualifies for matching funding from DfID.  To find out more about the Lenten campaign/ or to make a donation visit www.trocaire.org/lent or call 1850 408 408 (RO1) or 0800 912 1200 (N Ireland) and/or at the Trócaire centres in Maynooth, Dublin, Cork and Belfast.  Liturgy resources are also available to download on www.trocaire.org/lent

Trócaire’s Lenten 2014 Lecture

Bishops noted that Trócaire’s Lenten Lecture this year in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, will take place on 26 March at 7.30pm, and will be given by guest speaker, Father Agbonkhianmeghe E Orobator SJ on the theme: Water has no enemy: ethical narratives, claims and conflicts surrounding accessibility to water in sub-Saharan Africa.

Overseas aid commitment and the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income

Bishop William Crean, chairman of Trócaire, commented on Ireland’s overseas aid budget and the recent news that the government has said it will not be reaching its promised UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2015.  Bishop Crean said:
“Given the nature of funding cuts that have taken place within the overseas development aid budget since 2008, I  am very disappointed that the government will not be keeping its commitment to meet the UN target on overseas aid in next year’s budget.  This is not the first time that there has been an announcement that the aid target will not be met.   I am very concerned that the government has not outlined a new date or time-line for achieving this long-standing commitment, despite it having been a pledge of successive governments since 2000.
“There will always be reasons given as to why the government cannot commit to certain obligations.  However in this case, it will be the poor and the most vulnerable who will suffer as a consequence.  Irish overseas aid funding makes a crucial difference to the lives of millions of marginalised people.  As Chairman of Trócaire and having recently seen our programme work which is part-funded by the Irish government, in places like Malawi, this funding is an issue of life or death for people living in extreme poverty across the developing world.
“I would urge the Minister for Trade and Development, at the earliest possible opportunity, to clearly set out how Ireland is going to meet our obligations to this UN objective.   There is currently a review of Ireland’s foreign policy underway, and given the importance of this issue, the government should use the context of this review to set out a clear roadmap for meeting our 0.7% commitment.”

Update on humanitarian situation in the Philippines, Syria and the wider Middle East

Bishops expressed their deep gratitude to everyone who contributed to the shared nationwide church collection, held on 16 and 17 November 2013, to support those affected by the crisis in Syria, the wider Middle East and by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.  The enormously positive public response to this special collection raised in excess of €5.3 million.

  • Migration and the plight of children in the Middle East and Direct Provision

Bishops received a report on the recent conference ‘Journeying Together: Challenges Facing the Migrant Today’ which was jointly hosted by the Episcopal Council for Emigrants and the Episcopal Council for Immigrants in Dublin city on 19 February last.

Bishops discussed the difficulties facing people who are forced to migrate.  Forced migration is fast becoming the defining aspect of the 21st century.   Civil wars, deepening global inequality and the intensity of natural disasters have forced millions to flee their homes and seek sanctuary in other countries over the past decade.   In the eye of this storm are children.  Forced to flee their homes, they are not just leaving behind their friends, their family, their way of life and all too often their childhood.

For example, daily life for children in Syria is treacherous.  Recruitment for combat, detention with adults and their use as human shields are just some of the atrocities against children in Syria reported by the United Nations.  By their very nature, children constitute some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees that Ireland and other countries in Europe have committed to re-settling in response to an appeal by the UNHCR to relocate 30,000 of the most at risk refugees.

Syrian children, and families, are not alone in seeking safety and refuge In Ireland.  Yet, hope has often been in short supply for many asylum seekers already in Ireland.  More than one in three residents in direct provision have been waiting for more than five years for a final determination of their claim with their lives on hold. One third of all asylum seekers are children.   There are practical day to day constraints on family life for children in direct provision.  Children in direct provision often grow up without ever having seen their parents cook a family meal. Living for prolonged periods in this institutionalised environment is not appropriate for children and can inhibit their healthy growth and development.

Recognising the scale of the current crisis in Syria and the desperate plight of Syrian refugees, the Bishops’ Conference called on the government to increase its resettlement commitments to victims of the conflict.  Whilst the government has informed the United Nations Refugee Agency that it will accept 90 Syrian refugees this year: bishops called for this figure to be increased to at least 300 and that the welfare and protection of children be prioritised in any resettlement programme.

  • Canonisations of Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II

On Sunday 27 April next the Universal Church will celebrate the canonisations of Blessed Pope John XXIII – feast day to be 11 October; and Blessed Pope John Paul II – feast day to be 22 October, by Pope Francis in the Vatican.

Pope John XXIII will always be remembered as the Pope who called the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965), whose 50th anniversary we celebrate at this time.  In October 1958, he was elected Pope, just a month short of his 77th birthday.  Many assumed he would be a ‘caretaker’ pope but instead his short but significant pontificate was not only marked by his calling of the Council – which has had such an impact on the life of the Church – but he also penned no less than eight encyclicals in his five years as pope.  Two of these in particular stand out: Mater et Magistra, an important social encyclical, where Pope John XXIII states that a Christian must, in addition to being concerned with a person’s spiritual well-being, also look out for their health, education and general well-being: “the economic prosperity of a nation is not so much its total assets in terms of wealth and property, as the equitable division and distribution of this wealth” (74); and Pacem in Terris, where he argues that real peace does not lie in building up armaments, but, rather, in building mutual trust.

Pope John Paul II is fondly remembered by many, and much loved in Ireland.  In his inauguration homily, he invited us to “open wide the doors to Christ”; and encouraged us not to be afraid – themes which percolated through his papacy.  Of course for Irish people our biggest memory is of Pope John Paul’s Apostolic pilgrimage over three days in 1979, when he visited Knock, Galway, Limerick, Drogheda, Maynooth and Dublin.  Those who were able to be present will never forget and now, almost thirty-five years later, how easy it is to recall his uplifting words in Galway: “Young people of Ireland, I love you!”; and in Drogheda, when he implored, “On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace.”

Throughout his papacy John Paul II was unafraid to confront issues such as the protection of human life, justice, solidarity and peace, as witnessed in his dealings with Communism, and his opposition to the war in Iraq.  Our enduring memory of Pope John Paul are of his final days, when he bore his suffering with dignity and reminded us of the value of human life in all its stages.  Throughout his life and his papacy he defended the Gospel of Life from conception until its natural end.  His death was his final witness before he was called home to our Father’s house.

As Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II are soon to be recognised as saints, bishops encouraged the faithful to pray to them to intercede for the renewal of the Church in Ireland at this time.

  • 1,400th anniversary of Saint Columban

Saint Columban, also known as Saint Columbanus, was born around 543AD.   He became a monk at Bangor and later principal teacher there.  In 591, desiring to go on a pilgrimage for Christ, he set out with twelve companions and came to Burgundy.  He established monasteries at Annegray, Luxeuil and Fontaine.  Later he worked in Bregenz in Austria. His greatest foundation is at Bobbio, near Genoa, where he died in 615.  He is remembered as one of the greatest of all Irish missionaries.  2015 marks the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columban at Bobbio on 21 November 615.  Bishops agreed to promote a pilgrimage from their dioceses to Rome, between 8 and 15 October next, to mark this important anniversary.

  • Appointment and anniversaries

Bishops welcomed the appointment on 25 February, by Pope Francis, of Bishop Donal McKeown as the new Bishop of Derry.  Bishops also congratulated Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Archbishop Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, as they recently marked the golden jubilee anniversary of their ordination to the priesthood on 23 February last.


For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444