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Statement of the Autumn 2020 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

In accordance with the public health restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, members of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference gathered this week for their Autumn 2020 General Meeting via video-link, instead of the usual location at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  This was the second 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.

During their meeting bishops acknowledged the depth of pain experienced by people whose loved ones have died during this difficult time and offered their prayerful support to families who have suffered due to the restrictions placed on funeral rites and attendance.  Bishops encouraged the faithful to pray the Rosary together during October, particularly in the ‘domestic Church’ at home, for God’s protection during this time of coronavirus.

The main issues discussed by the bishops during their Autumn General Meeting included:

  • Pope Francis` third encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti on human fraternity and social friendship
  • Do not lose heart – a message in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Samaritanus Bonus (The Good Samaritan), human dignity and end of life care
  • RTÉ to broadcast Mass on World Mission Sunday, 18 October
  • Safeguarding children in the Catholic Church
  • Trócaire
  • Bishops’ Conference membership

 

  • Pope Francis` third encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti on human fraternity and social friendship

Pope Francis’ third encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti (All brothers and sisters), a call to solidarity for all of humanity to live in fraternity and social friendship, was published by the Holy Father on Sunday 4 October, the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi.  The full text of Fratelli Tutti, as well as accompanying multimedia resources, are available on www.catholicbishops.ie.

Bishops welcomed the new encyclical and reflected on its provocative message, in particular that love, which is at the heart of the Gospel – reaches out to all of our ‘brothers and sisters’ who share our common humanity, especially the vulnerable. Bishops agreed that it was significant that Pope Francis wrote this encyclical during a global pandemic, reminding us not only of our connectedness around the world, but also of our fragility, our shared vulnerability and common need for compassion and love and for the hope that faith in God can bring.  Fratelli Tutti speaks directly to the responsibility of faith and civic leaders in our society, and bishops encouraged everyone to read this important encyclical letter so as to benefit from its guidance at this time.

  • Do not lose heart – a message in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic the people of Ireland have endured testing times with courage, resilience, and compassion. Individuals and communities have made great sacrifices for the protection of life, health and the Common Good.  Like many others, the Church has endeavoured to support the people of Ireland, north and south, in the face of considerable uncertainty and disruption. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our priests and to the many volunteers whose continued dedication has ensured that our churches have remained very safe places to gather for Mass and the Sacraments. We have also been blessed in the commitment of our school communities who have been supporting our young people in very demanding circumstances, including assisting with their preparation for the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation.

Now that more restrictive measures are being put in place, we encourage people to persevere and not to lose heart.  Faith and prayer, in the home and in church can be a huge support in difficult times.  While we fully support the guidance of the public health authorities, we will continue to engage constructively in the coming days with the civil authorities to ensure that our people have continued access to the support of Mass and the Sacraments and essential spiritual nourishment for these challenging times.  The communal celebration of Mass and the Sacraments – even with restricted numbers – is at the very heart of what it means for us to be a Christian community.  These are not simply ‘gatherings’ of people, but profound expressions of who we are as a Church.  For parishes, and individual Catholics, the loss of these spiritual supports can be a source of great anxiety, and fear, and can have a detrimental impact on their overall health and well-being.

This year, the month of November, in which we traditionally remember the dead and pray for the bereaved, will be particularly poignant. We sense a huge yearning for consolation and hope in the heart of our people.  We are especially mindful in 2020 of those grieving families, who, because of restrictions, have been unable to experience the customary spiritual and community supports which are so much part of our Irish tradition. On 1 November at 3.00pm the bishops and priests of Ireland will lead a short service of prayer to dedicate the month of November to ‘Remembrance of the Dead and Prayer for the Bereaved’.  We invite the whole country to unite in this moment which will be followed by parish liturgies throughout the month of November, reaching out as much as possible to those who cannot be physically present.

Advent and Christmas are likely to be very different this year.  Advent, as a time of patient, hopeful waiting and longing, will have a particular resonance in these times, while the much- needed joy of Christmas may well be tempered by the impact of restrictions. We encourage parish communities to explore creatively ways in which the hope of Advent and the joy of Christmas can be realised and safely celebrated.

Pope Francis, in Fratelli Tutti, presents the example of the Good Samaritan and urges us to draw close to the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters throughout the world.  We are conscious that the pandemic has seriously impacted the livelihoods of many Irish families.  The plight of poor and homeless people, and the needs of our elderly and vulnerable, have been thrown into stark relief.

The pandemic has also heightened our consciousness of suffering further afield.  The pandemic is a global phenomenon. It has impacted most severely on people around the world who are already seriously disadvantaged in terms of poverty and lack of access to healthcare.  Although we are faced with difficult challenges in our own lives and our own land, let us not forget the need for solidarity with all our brothers and sisters who are suffering throughout the world.

The courage, compassion and generosity of Irish people during the pandemic – especially that of our health workers, carers, priests and others working in essential services – has been uplifting and inspiring.  In this mission month of October, we appeal for your support for Trócaire, Saint Vincent de Paul Society, our missionaries and other charities who are reaching out to the poorest and most in need – both at home and in the furthest corners of the world.  Let us not ‘pass by on the other side’, but, in the example of Christ, open our hearts and reach out our hands in response to their great need.

  • Samaritanus Bonus (The Good Samaritan), human dignity and end of life care

Samaritanus Bonus (The Good Samaritan) was published on 22 September by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  This document discusses end of life care, and its key message is that euthanasia is incompatible with care at the end of life.  Bishops welcomed the timely publication of Samaritanus Bonus and reflected on this important moral issue with the following statement:

Care at the End of Life

Human dignity is inherent in every person from the first moment of his or her existence.  Even under the most challenging circumstances, we never lose that inherent dignity, which brings a unique quality and meaning to everything we do and are.

Hospice

In the challenging context of terminal illness, the dignity of the person is affirmed in Hospice Care.  From simple beginnings at Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross, Dublin, in 1879, and with huge public support, the provision of hospice care has spread to every corner of Ireland. It is based on the principle that “Life is affirmed and dying is regarded as a normal process. Death is neither hastened nor postponed. Pain and other distressing symptoms are relieved.” These principles have inspired people of every religious tradition in providing a unique kind of care at the end of life, which is not just about pain management, but about presence and communication and, most of all, about remaining close to people for whom further medical treatment is futile.

A Community of Compassion and Care

Care at the end of life has a lot to do with relationships. The support of family members, friends and trusted healthcare professionals, including chaplains who offer pastoral and sacramental care, can make an enormous difference. Together they form a community of compassion and care.  For a Christian, death is not a hopeless adventure; it is the door of life that opens to eternity.

Palliative Care

Telling the truth with love is an important aspect of our respect for human dignity. Palliative care, as well as upholding absolute respect for human life, acknowledges and accepts the reality of approaching death.  It is about helping people to live as fully as possible in the time that is left to them, until death comes naturally. Our own pastoral experience has shown us that, in the final days and weeks of terminal illness, the life experience of those who are dying can be greatly enhanced with the assistance of integrated palliative care.  Frequently, relationships are healed, unresolved personal issues are worked through and people often enter into a deeper relationship with God.  We note that many palliative care experts have expressed similar views.

The Relief of Pain

The use of pain relief, in order to maintain and enhance the quality of life is an important aspect of palliative care. Palliative care should not be confused with euthanasia or assisted suicide, which involves the specific intention to end a human life. This is always gravely sinful.

Assisted Suicide

Assisted suicide is often presented as something that would be rare and exceptional. Once assisted suicide is accepted in principle, it becomes very difficult to draw a line. Many countries, which began by legalising assisted suicide on a very limited basis, have moved on to widen significantly the scope of that legislation. 

At the Service of Life

We want to say very clearly that there is no such thing as a life without value. We hope to be a voice for those who, in a time of vulnerability, feel that they have no voice. We ask people to consider the manner in which assisted suicide and euthanasia undermines the whole ethos of healthcare. Doctors and nurses are called to be advocates for life and should never be required to assist in any way in the deliberate ending of life. We invite you to join us in prayer for those who, at this time, are coming to terms with a diagnosis of terminal illness, that they may have the blessing of a community of compassion and care.

  • RTÉ to broadcast Mass on World Mission Sunday, 18 October

October is the Church’s annual month of Mission, which opens on the feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux on 1 October, and builds up to World Mission Sunday, which will take place on 18 October.  This year’s theme is, ‘Together we can do more – Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Mt 5:9).  World Mission Sunday was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1926, to reflect the central role of mission in the life of the Church.

World Mission Sunday
On Pentecost Sunday, 31 May, Pope Francis released his World Mission Sunday message Here am I, send me which is taken from the Book of Isaiah.  In his message, the Holy Father said the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity for true mission and service to others. 

World Mission Sunday is the annual appeal to support the life-giving work of missionaries.  Mass will be broadcast for Mission Sunday at 11.00am on 18 October from RTÉ studios, Dublin, on LW 252 and RTÉ Radio One Extra. The celebrant will be His Excellency Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland. 

In Ireland, World Mission Sunday is coordinated by World Missions Ireland, the Irish Church’s official charity for overseas missions which supports the 40% of the Universal Church that is too new, young or poor to support itself. WMI is part of a network of 120 offices under the coordination of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Rome.  This year WMI launches a special appeal as the Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating for those in the developing world.  The pandemic is also threatening the work of missionaries worldwide, as Mass attendance has declined and the number of donations to charities such as WMI has dropped significantly.  Please support our missionaries by prayer and donation on www.wmi.ie.

  • Safeguarding children in the Catholic Church

Mr John Morgan, chairperson, and Ms Teresa Devlin, chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, advised the Bishops’ Conference on activities engaging the current work of the Board particularly since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.  Bishops discussed the recent guidance ‘Vademecum’ from the Holy See, which sets out procedures for managing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics, and have asked the National Board to ensure that all safeguarding guidance continue to be in line with best practice and requirements of the Holy See.

  • Trócaire

As the Covid-19 crisis causes hurt and concern here in Ireland, its impact is having a devastating effect on the lives of people and on economies in some of the poorest countries in the world.  Too many people are living day-to-day without any safety nets.  Their ability to eat each day depends on their ability to earn.  It is estimated that as many as 270 million people may face food shortages over the coming months. Bishops expressed their gratitude to the overseas development agency Trócaire for its work in providing support to people surviving on the margins and to the people of Ireland for their generosity to date.  Bishops commented that, even in the midst of crisis here in Ireland, parishes are maintaining a global outlook in their determination to help people around the world.

  • Bishops’ Conference membership

Bishop Paul Dempsey of Achonry and Bishop Martin Hayes of Kilmore, were welcomed as the newest members of the Bishops’ Conference.

ENDS

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm +353 (0) 87 310 4444

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