Statement of the Winter 2018 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

The Winter 2018 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference concluded this evening in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  Please see below topics which were discussed by the bishops during their meeting this week:

  • Abortion cannot be supported
  • Ireland and Brexit
  • Youth Ministry
  • Support for Trócaire’s Christmas appeal for Yemen and South Sudan
  • Safeguarding children in the Catholic Church
  • Launch of publication on the family: A Word of Truth and Hope
  • Catholic Schools Week 2019
  • Extraordinary Missionary Month for October 2019
  • Vocations ‘Come and See’
  • Advent 2018:  Sacrament of Reconciliation and online Advent Calendar
  • In Memoriam
  • Abortion cannot be supported

Reflecting on the current Dáil debate on the abortion bill bishops said, “We are dismayed that, for the most part, the voices of those who voted against abortion in May’s referendum have been ignored.  Even what many people would have deemed to have be very reasonable legislative amendments seeking to provide women with information and to prohibit abortion on the grounds of sex, race or disability, have been rejected.

“As we stated after our Autumn Meeting, Irish society must have respect for the right of conscientious objection for all healthcare professionals and pharmacists.  They cannot be forced either to participate in abortion or to refer patients to others for abortion.

“Every one of us has a right to life.  It is not given to us by the Constitution of Ireland or by any law.  We have it ‘as of right’, whether we are wealthy or poor, healthy or sick.  All human beings have it.  The direct and intentional taking of human life at any stage is gravely wrong and can never be justified.

“Women’s lives, and the lives of their unborn children, are precious, valued and always deserving of protection.  Any law which suggests otherwise would have no moral force.  In good conscience it cannot be supported and would have to be resisted.

“We offer our prayerful solidarity with everyone dedicated to the sanctity and protection of human life at all stages.  We ask everyone of goodwill – whether at home, in parish, in school or at work – to continue to choose and to celebrate the preciousness of life.”

During their meeting a delegation of bishops met with individuals representing various pro-life groups from across Ireland, north and south.  The aim of the gathering was to acknowledge their on-going commitment to upholding the dignity of unborn human life and to consult on the setting up of a new Council for Life under the aegis of the Bishops’ Conference which will operate from March 2019.

  • Ireland and Brexit

Bishops said, “As the deadline for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union approaches and public debate intensifies about uncertainty for the future, there is a risk of deepening political and societal polarisation.  Political ambiguity is generating understandable fear among families and employers, particularly those most vulnerable to the negative consequences of a lack of agreement.  This is not only significant for the civic and economic sectors, but also for faith communities across the island of Ireland.  Our concern is with the durability of relationships, and trust, which have been built up over many years.

“We appeal to all those charged with the heavy responsibility of making political decisions in the service of the common good, to collectively work to maximise the possibility of certainty and agreement.  At this time, in particular, it is necessary for our political leaders to go beyond the personal, party and even national interest.

“The obligations of the Irish and British Governments under The Good Friday Agreement remain of paramount importance especially with regard to the potential impact of any decisions made on the rights of people on the island.  This includes the duty of the Governments to act impartially and with respect for the interests, aspirations and rights of all embraced by the scope of the Agreement.

“Irrespective of the future nature of trading blocs around the globe, the values of interdependence, solidarity and peaceful diversity will continue to be essential hallmarks of the relationships between the islands of Ireland and Britain, and the rest of the EU.”

  • Youth Ministry

Archbishop Eamon Martin and Bishop Donal McKeown updated the Bishops’ Conference on their attendance at the XV General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (October 3-28), with the theme ‘Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment’.  Prior to, during and since the Synod, the two bishops have been engaging with representatives of diocesan youth ministry across Ireland.  At an all-day meeting in Maynooth on 3 December, Archbishop Martin addressed fifty youth ministers on the ongoing process of how local diocesan youth ministry can best be co-ordinated and promoted.

Bishops discussed how the process of synodality and discernment – so evident in the way the Synod in Rome was conducted – might inform and shape the Church into the future, at both local and universal levels.  The official English translation of the final document from the Synod has yet to be published.

Bishops will continue to support the momentum arising from the World Meeting of Families 2018, the Synod of Bishops and World Youth Day for the good of youth ministry in Ireland.  Bishop McKeown and Bishop Denis Brennan, plan to accompany young people travelling from Ireland to World Youth Day in Panama from 22-27 January 2019 www.worldyouthday.com/panama-2019.

  • Support for Trócaire’s Christmas appeal for Yemen and South Sudan

Bishops asked people to support Trócaire’s Christmas 2018 Appeal www.trocaire.org/christmas which focuses on the plight of those affected by conflict in Yemen, South Sudan and in other countries to enable it to respond to hunger crises, displacement, conflict and human rights abuses.

Bishops said, “In this season of Advent, we pray for the millions of people who remain trapped in war around the world and urged support for Trócaire’s Christmas Appeal to provide life-saving care to the most vulnerable members of our global family.  We commend Trócaire for the care and assistance it provides to people living in poverty and conflict.

“We are deeply concerned at the worsening crisis in Yemen, where eight million people are at risk of famine.  The lives of millions of people have been put at risk through the actions of leaders who engage in conflict without a care for the lives of civilians.  We thank Trócaire for the work of its personnel who are providing medicine, safe water and aid to thousands of people in Yemen.  This is a lifeline that we, as Christians, must support and strengthen.”

Over 4.5 million people have been displaced by fighting in South Sudan.  Bishops noted that the conflict has not received adequate attention from the world’s media.  Approximately 85% of South Sudanese refugees are women and 65% are children.  Trócaire is responding to the crisis in South Sudan by supporting tens of thousands of people each month with food, water and other vital needs.

  • 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 a range of activities engaging the current work of the Board.  They also discussed the Board’s recent national conference in Kilkenny which took place on 26 and 27 October on the theme: ‘Be not afraid’.

  • Launch of publication on the family: A Word of Truth and Hope

Bishops welcomed the publication of A Word of Truth and Hope, a series of reflections inspired by Pope Francis’ 2016 Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).  Its launch took place on 4 December after the celebration of Mass in Saint Mary’s Oratory of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, at which members of the Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family attended.

The vocation of the sacrament of marriage and family life enriches the life of the Church and the whole world.  A Word of Truth and Hope, published by Veritas, was prepared by the Council for Marriage and the Family.  It proposes a vision for the family which might shape our response as people of faith and as citizens to the diverse needs and challenges experienced in families in Ireland today.  Many of the questions addressed in the reflections are the same questions which exercised the Government’s Commission on the Family.  The primary objective of that Commission was to examine how public policy could best support and help families in the changing demographics of the day.  While the reflections are motivated by faith in Jesus Christ, the same truth is the goal both of faith and reason.  A Word of Truth and Hope is an expression of our Christian commitment and an urgent appeal, both to Christians and to all people of good will, to actively pursue what Pope Saint Paul VI so often referred to as a ‘civilisation of love’.

Bishops encouraged the use of A Word of Truth and Hope as a helpful resource to clergy, teachers, pastoral groups and anyone in Ireland involved in the formation of public policy.

  • Catholic Schools Week 2019

Bishops offered their prayerful support to the organisers of Catholic Schools Week 2019.  CSW2019 will take place in parishes and schools across Ireland from 27 January – 2 February on the theme ‘Catholic Schools: Celebrating the Work of Our Local Catholic School.’

  • Extraordinary Mission Month for October 2019

Bishops welcomed the news that next October will be celebrated as an ‘Extraordinary Mission Month’ throughout the Universal Church.  Pope Francis announced this initiative during the Angelus prayer on 22 October 2017 so as to foster devotion to the Church’s ad gentes evangelisation activity.  The theme of the Extraordinary Mission Month will be Baptised and Sent: the Church of Christ on Mission in the World and the official website was launched recently to mark the 100th anniversary of the promulgation of the Apostolic Letter, Maximum Illud, by Pope Benedict XV, which gave new energy to the missionary responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel in the World.  Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly SMA, chair of the Bishops’ National Mission Council, said, “It is my hope that next year’s Extraordinary Mission Month will offer an opportunity for a renewed spirit of activity in the Church’s missionary calling which is at the heart of our identity.”

The official video for Extraordinary Mission Month October 2019 is: http://www.october2019.va/en/multimedia/video.html

  • Vocations ‘Come and See’

Bishops thanked the National Vocations Office for hosting a ‘Come & See’ retreat, on 23 and 24 November, for those interested in discerning a vocation to diocesan priesthood.  Feedback from the fourteen men who attended the event was very encouraging and showed that the Lord is still calling men to the priesthood.  Bishops acknowledged the work of vocations directors around the country and asked for on-going prayers in parishes for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

  • Advent 2018:  Sacrament of Reconciliation and online Advent Calendar

Bishops said, “The call to renewal of our Christian life is a central part of our preparation for the season of Christmas.  Our celebration of Advent 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.  We encourage all Catholics to make time during the season of Advent to celebrate and receive the gift of God’s love in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

As a unique Advent prayerful resource, the Bishops’ Conference has provided its interactive online Advent calendar which can be enjoyed by people of all ages.  In its fifth year of publication, the Advent calendar is available on the home page of www.catholicbishops.ie.  The calendar focuses on the theme of family as we reflect together on this year’s World Meeting of Families and visit of Pope Francis.  Each day during Advent the faithful are invited to click open a virtual door where faith content for family, school and parish can be found.  During Advent, families are invited to take special time together to pray, to talk, and to be together.  Family members are encouraged to undertake an act of kindness or charity – as suggested by the daily calendar – and in doing so to reach out to help those around us.

  • In Memoriam

Bishops offered prayers for the happy repose of the souls of Bishop Laurence Forristal, Bishop Emeritus of Ossory, and of Father Paul Byrne OMI, who passed into eternal life on 10 October and 3 December, respectively.

Father Byrne first began working with Irish emigrants in the 1960s in Birmingham; establishing a housing agency for our emigrants to allow them to gain a foothold in their new community.  For the next five decades Father Paul served with distinction in his roles as general secretary of the Conference of Religious of Ireland, Oblate provincial, director of Shelter Housing Aid Society in London and director of the Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants.  Father Paul also played an important role in contributing to Government policy in the area of emigration, not least with the Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigrants.  Father Paul will be deeply missed by all who knew him.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis.

 

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