ICBC General Meetings, News archive 2014

Winter 2014 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference concludes in Maynooth

The Winter 2014 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference concluded this evening in Columba Centre, Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. The following issues were discussed by the bishops during their meeting:

· Caring for our neighbour
· Advent and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
· Publication of the pastoral statement The Meaning of Marriage
· Report on the Synod on the Family: “marriage preparation should be understood as a life-long catechesis – or itinerary of faith – about the Sacrament of Marriage”
· (i) Universal Year of Consecrated Life (ii) Vocations
· Pastoral response to suicide
· National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church
· Living conditions for asylum seekers in direct provision centres
· Peace Process in Northern Ireland
· Humanitarian crisis in Syria
· Celebrating the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus
· Appointment and retirements

· Caring for our neighbour

Bishops expressed support for the call made yesterday by the Archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, for a public summit of all agencies involved in dealing with the growing and complex problem of homelessness. Bishops agreed that it should be a priority target for society to accurately determine the underlying factors which cause homelessness, and to eradicate homelessness completely in Ireland. Bishops discussed the increasing quality of life pressures facing individuals and families and especially at this time of year, in particular those who are experiencing domestic violence, the burden of financial debt, unemployment, inadequate food or heating in the run up to Christmas, or homelessness. Bishops invited the faithful, and all people of goodwill, to look out for their neighbour during the Advent, Christmas and new-year periods, and where possible to offer support to the vulnerable, elderly and less well off. Conscious of the time and financial demands on our citizens over the last six years of recession, bishops encouraged those who can to generously support the Christmas appeals of Crosscare, Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland, the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People and the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, by, for example, volunteering their time; by providing food, children’s toys or clothing; and/or by way of financial assistance, so as to help our neighbours most in need. Bishops asked for appropriate prayers to be offered at Masses throughout the country this weekend.

· Advent and the Sacrament of Reconciliation

The call to renewal of our Christian life is a central part of our preparation for the season of Christmas. The celebration of Advent, which began on Sunday last, should be an integral part of our preparation for the Feast of the birth of Our Saviour. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance), we receive the gift of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Bishops strongly encouraged all Catholics to make time to avail of the gift of God’s love in the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the season of Advent. Bishops invited the faithful to avail of the online Advent Calendar as a resource and it can be accessed on www.catholicbishops.ie

· Publication of the bishops’ pastoral statement The Meaning of Marriage

At a media conference today at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Bishop Liam MacDaid, chairman of the Council for Marriage and the Family, along with Bishop Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin, officially launched the pastoral statement The Meaning of Marriage on behalf of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The pastoral statement advises the faithful that “to redefine the nature of marriage would be to undermine it as the fundamental building block of our society. The Church seeks with others to reaffirm … that marriage should be reserved for the unique and complementary relationship between a woman and a man from which the generation and upbringing of children is uniquely possible.”

Bishops encouraged everyone to read The Meaning of Marriage which is currently being distributed to over 1,300 parishes throughout the island over the coming weeks. The pastoral statement can also be downloaded in the English, Irish and Polish languages from www.catholicbishops.ie. A selection of images from the launch, for use by media, is available on the Catholic Bishops’ Flickr page https://www.flickr.com/photos/irishcatholicbishops/

· Report on the Synod on the Family: marriage preparation should be understood as a life-long catechesis – or itinerary of faith – about the Sacrament of Marriage

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, vice-president of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, represented the bishops at the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme ‘The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangalisation’. The two-week Synod was convened by Pope Francis on 8 October and involved the participation of Synod Fathers from 190 countries. All over the world families struggle due to poverty, unemployment and marginalisation. In many parts of the world families experience emigration, and separation. The message of the Synod was a call for a radical renewal of the Church’s pastoral support for marriage and the family. Marriage preparation should be understood as much more than a requirement for the wedding day, rather as a life-long catechesis – or itinerary of faith – about the Sacrament of Marriage. It was emphasised that marriage preparation, and the accompaniment of marriage, belongs within the work of parishes and the day-to-day life of evangalisation.

In the face of some comments reported by the media regarding the Synod, Archbishop Martin highlighted the importance of looking at Pope Francis’ own assessment of the Synod in his final address:
“I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness, of courage, and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls”. And this always – we have said it here in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life”.

The Ordinary Synod will take place over three weeks during October 2015. Bishops agreed that planning and preparation in the Irish Church for the Synod should begin early in the New Year.

· (i) Universal Year of Consecrated Life (ii) Vocations

Bishops welcomed the Universal Year of Consecrated Life which began last Sunday, the first day of Advent. Bishops acknowledged the contribution and role of Irish religious both here in Ireland and around the world.

Bishops discussed the situation of vocations to the priesthood and to religious life in Ireland, with an emphasis on promotion. The Bishops’ Conference gave its support to a joint initiative with the Conference of Religious of Ireland, which will work to promote vocations in tandem with the Year of Consecrated Life and the 14th centenary of the death of Saint Columbanus. The project will run from 2 February 2015 until 20 February 2016 under the title ‘Take the Journey – Be the Joy of the Gospel.’

· Pastoral response to suicide

Two representatives from Pieta House, which provides a free, therapeutic approach to people who are in suicidal distress and those who engage in self-harm, Ms Cindy O’Connor (Chief Operations Officer), and Dr Paul Surgenor (Director of Research), presented to the bishops on their experience of those who pastorally respond to the tragedy of suicide.

Bishops heard that the tendency to turn to the clergy in times of emotional difficulty is well-established. While priests continue to perform a strong pastoral outreach in the community, they face increasing pressure to provide support on issues related to mental health, an area in which many of them feel that they have little training. One particular cause of distress among priests is a lack of information required to identify, advise, and guide those with suicidal thoughts or behaviours. To help address this issue, discussions were held with Pieta House Chief Executive Joan Freeman to explore the possibility of piloting suicide awareness workshops that would address the specific needs of the clergy and parish councils.

· National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic in Ireland

Mr John Morgan, chairman of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, provided a comprehensive overview to bishops of the status of the revision of the child safeguarding Standards and Guidance, and the extensive consultation surrounding this process. It is hoped to make significant progress on this initiative in 2015.

· Living conditions for asylum seekers in direct provision centres

Bishops reiterated their concerns about the very difficult and stressful living conditions experienced by people seeking asylum and who are living in Ireland’s direct provision system. Bishops welcomed the establishment of the Working Group on Direct Provision by Ms Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice & Equality in October. They also emphasised the need to prioritise solutions for the most vulnerable groups, notably those who have spent more than five years in direct provision and the children who are being prevented from experiencing normal family life at a critical stage in their development.

· Peace Process in Northern Ireland

Bishops expressed anxiety at the fact that historical tensions are re-emerging in the current context of the peace talks and warned that such tensions can lead to stagnation in the movement towards meaningful and sustainable dialogue. However, they welcomed the continued commitment of political leaders to all-party talks, supported by the Irish and British governments. Bishops hope that the talks will result in stability and lasting peace and asked for prayers for reconciliation, particularly as we approach the season of Christmas.

· Humanitarian crisis in Syria

Over the last week a number bishops met with Bishop Antoine Audo SJ, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, Syria, to discuss the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Bishop Audo was on a visit to Ireland as a guest of Trócaire, the overseas aid agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, to share his reflections on the humanitarian crisis prevailing in his country and on his thoughts and vision for the future.

The Syrian humanitarian crisis has resulted in the displacement of nearly 10 million people. One third of the population of neighbouring Lebanon currently consists of 1.2 million refugees from Syria – and Lebanon is half the size of Munster. About 1.8 million Syrian refugees have escaped the conflict to live in temporary accommodation in Jordan and in other countries. Bishop Audo expressed his deep gratitude to the people of Ireland for giving so generously to the nationwide Trócaire coordinated collection in Catholic churches in November 2013. The enormous positive public response to this special collection raised in excess of €5.3 million and it has gone to support those affected by the crisis in Syria, the wider Middle East and by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Bishop Audo explained that the support provided as a consequence of the collection manifests itself in different forms: providing shelter, food, education and medical supports to people on the ground. Bishops asked for the prayerful support of the faithful for those who are suffering at this time in this divided society.

Bishop William Crean, chair of Trócaire, led the discussion on the conflict in Syria, now in its fourth year, and which remains a complex and dangerous environment for the people who live there. Bishop Crean expressed grave concern at the decision taken on Monday, by the United Nations, to suspend a World Food Programme food voucher scheme for approximately 1.7 million Syrian refugees due to a funding shortage. The UN was unable to secure the €51 million it needed to continue the scheme.

· Celebrating the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus

2015 will mark the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus in Bobbio, Italy. Born in Leinster, and having studied in the monastery on Cleenish Island, Co Fermanagh, he then entered the monastery in Bangor, Co Down. From there Saint Columbanus left with twelve followers and dedicated the rest of his life to preaching the Gospel and to establishing monasteries in Europe. This anniversary will be celebrated in Ireland with liturgies and events on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 June 2015, in Bangor and in Armagh respectively.

· Appointment and retirements

Bishops welcomed the appointment by Pope Francis on 22 November of Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly as Archbishop-elect of Cashel & Emly. On behalf of the Bishops’ Conference Archbishop Eamon Martin wished Archbishop O’Reilly well in his new ministry.

Archbishop Eamon Martin led tributes to Archbishop Dermot Clifford, the retiring Archbishop of Cashel & Emly. Ordained as Coadjutor Archbishop of Cashel & Emly in 1986, and Archbishop in 1988, Archbishop Clifford is Ireland’s longest serving archbishop. Archbishop Eamon said, “In this, the fiftieth anniversary year of your priestly ordination we salute your ministry. The Bishops’ Conference has benefited greatly from your wisdom, and from your expertise in research and development. You have made a significant contribution to the lives of the faithful in your own diocese, as well as in more recent times as Apostolic Administrator in the Diocese of Cloyne. For this, the Church in Ireland, and indeed the Universal Church, owes you a great debt of gratitude for your tireless and selfless service during the most challenging of times.”

Bishops extended their deep gratitude to Sister Anne Codd PBVM for her almost ten years of generous and dedicated service both as a resource person for the Council for Pastoral Renewal & Adult Faith Development, and as executive secretary of the Commission for Worship, Pastoral Renewal and Faith Development of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Archbishop Eamon Martin wished Sister Anne “every blessing with her new role and responsibilities as part of the leadership team of the Presentation Sisters”, a position which she will take up in the New Year.

ENDS

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

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