I was greatly shocked, as we all were, to learn of the extent of the numbers of children buried in the graveyard at the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam – Archbishop Michael Neary
Each year, on the First Sunday of Lent, the Church puts before us, in the Gospel passages She has chosen for us, the accounts of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. We are invited to enter into these scriptural texts and to acknowledge how they mirror what is going on in our own lives, and to avail of the opportunity to be changed for the better and transformed by them during the forty days of Lent.
This is true of the texts before us this year too, but I am sure you will understand if I do not reflect with you on the Gospel we have just heard proclaimed but, rather, if I speak for a moment on the news which emerged from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation on Friday morning.
I was greatly shocked, as we all were, to learn of the extent of the numbers of children buried in the graveyard at the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam. I was made aware of the magnitude of this situation by media reporting and historical research. I am horrified and saddened to hear, through the Commission’s interim statement of 3 March 2017, that quite a large quantity of human remains were discovered on this site which, on analysis, matches the timescale of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. This points to a time of great suffering and pain for the little ones and their mothers. Albeit not unexpected, I was very upset as I read the Commission’s findings made public on Friday, 3 March 2017.
I can only begin to imagine the huge emotional wrench which the mothers suffered in giving up their babies for adoption or by witnessing their death. Some of these young vulnerable women may already have experienced rejection by their families. The pain and brokenness which they endured is beyond our capacity to understand. It is, then, simply too difficult to comprehend their helplessness and suffering as they watched their beloved child die. In this context my thoughts did not turn to any of the readings from today’s Mass but, rather, to the first reading from last Sunday’s Mass. I found God’s words, spoken through the prophet Isaiah, particularly comforting, and I repeat them now in the hope that they bring comfort to all who are upset and sad and affected by the recent revelations.
“Zion was saying, ‘The Lord has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the child of her womb? Yet, even if these forget, I will never forget you.” (Is. 49:14-15)
Regardless of the time lapse involved this is a matter of great public concern. I welcome the fact that the Commission has already asked that the relevant State authorities take responsibility for the appropriate treatment of the remains, and that the Coroner has been informed. It continues to be a priority for me, in cooperation with the families of the deceased, to seek to obtain a dignified re-interment of the remains of the children in consecrated ground in Tuam.
As the Archdiocese did not have any involvement in the running of the home in Tuam, I have no specific information on the manner of interment of remains, but any material we have which is even remotely related to the investigation, has been handed over in full to the Commission.
The Commission’s update on its work is very difficult for us to read and comprehend, but it is another necessary step on the path to the truth. We have nothing to fear from the truth because, as Jesus himself assures us, the truth always sets us free (cf. Jn. 8:32). Therefore, the Archdiocese will continue to assist the Commission in every way possible until its work is concluded and its Final Report is published.
Today, however, those who have suffered are uppermost in our minds and at the very heart of our prayers. May the Lord’s infinite mercy console all those mothers whose children died in the Mother and Baby Home, their families, and all who are affected by and upset by the news which came as a body-blow to us all, and may Mary, the Mother of God, who witnessed the death of her only child on the cross be our comfort and consolation now.
- Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop of Tuam.
- This homily was preached in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Tuam at the 10.30am Mass for the First Sunday of Lent, today, Sunday 5 March 2017.