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Statement of the Summer 2020 meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

In accordance with the public health restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID19, members of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference gathered this week for their Summer 2020 General Meeting by way of video call instead of the usual location of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  This was the first plenary meeting of bishops hosted using this medium.  The President of the Conference is Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and the Vice-President is Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin. 

At their meeting bishops prayed for the repose of the souls of those who died due to COVID19.  Bishops acknowledged the depth of pain experienced by those who lost a loved one and offered their prayerful support to the many people who have further suffered due to the restrictions placed on funeral rites and attendance. 

The main issues discussed by the bishops during their Summer General Meeting were:

  • Bishops express their gratitude to the people, clergy and religious of Ireland and publish a framework for parishes to assist reopening churches safely
  • Celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation in the context of COVID19
  • Christian response to racism and violence: defend equal dignity of each person
  • Pontifical Irish College, Rome
  • Trócaire box donation
  • Welcoming Pope Francis’ theme for the next Synod of Bishops
  • Intercom magazine – liturgical and pastoral resource for people in ministry
  • In Memoriam

 

  • Bishops express their gratitude to the people, clergy and religious of Ireland and publish a framework for parishes to assist reopening churches safely

Bishops thanked the faithful for their prayers, sacrifice and perseverance during the public health restrictions announced in March.  This commitment has successfully served to protect life and health.  However this has also been a time of great sadness in terms of death and illness, as well as uncertainty and anxiety with the sharpest rise in unemployment, severe social and travel restrictions and most shops, businesses, schools and colleges having to close.  In addition, this has been a stressful time from the perspective of family relationships while the mental health of older people, and young adults, has been put under particular pressure. 

In general, the experience of lockdown for priests has been both innovative and difficult.  The widespread use of webcam technology provided an opportunity for online ministry and evangelisation like never before, enabling many priests to keep the light of the Gospel shining during this dark period.  But faith practice is also about community and the COVID19 crisis has been tough on many priests at a personal level and especially for the many cocooning at this time.

During their meeting, bishops published a Framework Document to assist parishes as they prepare for the celebration again of public worship in a measured and safe way.  This consists of a checklist focusing on: initial steps; the need to follow the most up-to-date public health advice at all times; and, on liturgical matters:

Framework Document

Archbishop Michael Neary reflects on Church Life and Covid-19

  • Celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation in the context of COVID19

In accordance with current public guidelines, bishops expect that the Sacrament of Confirmation will begin to be celebrated from late summer onwards.  In arranging the celebrations, public health guidelines will determine the number of candidates that can be confirmed at a time. Local arrangements will only take shape later in the late summer/early autumn. Bishops acknowledged with gratitude how children and their families have continued in their preparation for the sacrament during these difficult days for everybody.

  • Christian response to racism and violence: defend equal dignity of each person

The Bishops’ Summer General Meeting was held this week immediately following a weekend when Black Lives Matter protests took place all over the world.  Bishops reflected that the evil of racism is not simply an American phenomenon.  Racism can take many forms, covert and overt, and we in Ireland need to examine our own consciences.  Irish society, including our Church communities, benefits from the gifts of many people of different racial origins who contribute to our life and to the quality of life in manifold ways.  At the same time, many people of colour, including Irish citizens, report experiences of racist rejection and discrimination.

Racist attitudes are learned early in life.  They can and must be countered in homes and in school communities where the fundamental dignity of every person is celebrated.  Saint Paul affirmed that there is no place among Christians for racist ideas of any kind: ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3:28).  In post COVID19 times a key priority and option for the Christian must be the promotion and defence of the equal dignity of each human person as a child of God and member of the one human family.

  • Pontifical Irish College, Rome

During discussion of the future of seminary provision for the Church in Ireland, the Trustees of the Pontifical Irish College, Rome, reported to the Bishops’ Conference that the College does not intend to receive Irish seminarians for the academic year 2020-2021, but that this decision will be kept under review. 

Bishops recognised that the College continues to provide an important service to the Church in Ireland and confirmed that they are open to the possibility of sending seminarians to the College in the future.  Bishops noted the report of the Acting Rector, Father Paul Finnerty, that the College will continue to be a place of ongoing formation for priests.  This includes facilitating those pursuing postgraduate studies and those wishing to undertake a longer or shorter period of sabbatical renewal in Rome.  The College will also continue to host the semester abroad programme for seminarians from the USA.

Bishops continue to consider, in line with the new Ratio for Seminary Formation, future ways to prepare priests with the human, spiritual, theological and pastoral aptitudes needed to address the challenges of contemporary Ireland.  They acknowledged the Trustees’ commitment to explore new ways in which the College can be of service to the Church in Ireland.  This will include both its historical ministry of priestly formation – initial and ongoing.  Other consideration given to contributing to formation for new forms of ministry in Ireland included the permanent diaconate, parish catechists, and parish pastoral workers.

Bishops agreed that the broad, global, and universal viewpoint offered by a Roman experience has been enriching for many down through the centuries.  This remains true today, and into the future.  

  • Trócaire box donation

Bishops thanked parishioners who returned Trócaire boxes or supported the charity’s work by donating online or over the phone.  The COVID19 pandemic, with the consequential lockdown of social activity, has severely restricted Trócaire’s ability to collect this year`s Lenten boxes.  Notwithstanding the restrictions owing to the pandemic, bishops have been heartened by the enthusiastic response of parishes to return boxes to Trócaire.  The return of these donations is vital for Trócaire’s ability to fulfil the Church’s mission of bringing support to those in great need overseas.  This is particularly important as Trócaire contributes to the effort to stop the spread of COVID19 in the world’s poorest countries.

Bishops expressed their gratitude to parishes for their generosity which has allowed Trócaire deliver life-saving and life-changing support to almost three million people around the world.  Bishops paid particular tribute to clergy, staff, volunteers and parishioners for their commitment to seeing this vital work continue under very difficult domestic circumstances.

  • Welcoming Pope Francis’ theme for the next Synod of Bishops

The XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place in October 2022 in the Vatican.  Bishops welcomed the announcement by Pope Francis in March that the theme of this synod will be: For a synodal Church: communion, participation, and mission.

During their meeting bishops reflected on the timeliness of this synod and how its theme has characterised much of the pontificate of the Holy Father.  For Pope Francis a synodal Church is a way of being in communion with one another and one which discerns God’s plan in the signs of the times in our world.   In recent years in Ireland many bishops have organised assemblies, gatherings and deep-listening processes in their dioceses to help encourage a more synodal, missionary Church throughout the island – a Church which fosters greater “communion, participation and mission” for the benefit of all.

  • Intercom magazine – liturgical and pastoral resource for people in ministry

On his retirement as editor, bishops expressed their gratitude to Father Chris Hayden of the Diocese of Ferns, for his hard work at the helm of Intercom – the liturgical resource for people in ministry which is published by Veritas on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference.  Father Hayden’s intellect, theological breadth and writing gifts were of clear benefit to Intercom during his three-year tenure.  Bishops also extended their support and good wishes to the magazine’s incoming editor Father John Cullen of the Diocese of Elphin. Intercom continues to be published online during Covid19 restrictions. The latest issue can be downloaded on https://www.intercommagazine.ie/june-intercom-2020-download/.

  • In Memoriam

Bishops prayed for the happy repose of the souls of Bishop Francis Lagan, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Derry; of Monsignor James Cassin, Diocese of Ossory; of Father Ed Grimes CSSp; and, of Father Séamus Galvin CSSp, all of whom passed into eternal life since the last meeting of the Bishops’ Conference.

Bishop Brendan Kelly of Galway, speaking in his role as chairman of the Council for Education of the Bishops’ Conference, paid tribute to Monsignor Cassin who had worked in the Columba Centre, Maynooth.  Bishop Kelly said, “staff and clerical colleagues deeply mourn the passing of our beloved friend, Jim, who served with dedication as secretary of the Bishops’ Commission for Education from 2002 until 2016.  This was a period of notable change, north and south, involving the creation of new trustee bodies for Catholic secondary schools, and new models of patronage at primary level in the Republic.  To this end, Jim led the effort to bring about greater cohesion and vision for the future of Catholic schools through the establishment of the Catholic Schools Partnership.  Running in parallel with this progress, as a trusted interlocutor, Jim forged constructive relationships with key State officials and with other education patrons as he worked to maintain a choice for parents – within a rapidly growing and increasingly diverse environment – who desired a Catholic ethos for the education of their children.  A gifted preacher, Jim’s ministry was characterised by the joy of the Gospel: holiness, fidelity, service and a kindness, warmth and love for anyone fortunate to meet with him.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis.”

ENDS

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678

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