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General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and President of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin and President of Accord, hosted a media briefing at the Columba Centre in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, at the conclusion of the Summer 2015 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  Please see below the press statement and link to photographs from the bishops’ meeting:

  • Presentation by the Archbishop of Mosul regarding the persecution of Christians in Iraq 

The bishops welcomed a delegation from the Archdiocese of Mosul, Iraq, led by the Syrian-Catholic Archbishop, Monsignor Yohanna Petros Mouche. 

Archbishop Mouche described the desperate plight of his people, “We have sacrificed everything for our faith.  Our people have lost everything, simply because they are Christians.  This is a time of terrible insecurity, with little hope of a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the near future.  The Christian community in Iraq is aware that fellow Christians in Ireland and throughout the world are praying for them in their time of need.  With so many people praying for us, it reminds us that God cannot forget us.”

Archbishop Mouche continued, “The material needs of the thousands of displaced individuals and families are acute and wide-ranging.  In addition to the basic necessities of food and clothing, housing is urgently needed to ensure that families can stay together.  Doctors and nurses, as well as medicines and other equipment, are needed to protect the health of those living in these very difficult conditions.  Children and young people need access to education.  This is crucial to their future, and extremely difficult without the infrastructure and resources required.  The Iraqi Christian community would welcome any assistance from the Government of Ireland, and her people, to support the resettlement of refugees to allow families to stay together and provide young people with access to education.”

While the Archbishop does not wish to see his people forced to leave Iraq, the first priority in this time of crisis must be to protect the life, security and future of the Iraqi population. Sadly, many of those who have fled as refugees to neighbouring countries are now living in conditions of extreme hardship.

Bishops assured the delegation of their continued support and prayers in this time of great suffering and the ongoing support of Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

  • New religious education curriculum and programme for Catholic schools

Bishops commended the new Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland for use in Junior Infants/Primary 1 and Senior Infants/ Primary 2 of the 3,349 Catholic primary schools on the island from this September.  The curriculum had previously been approved by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference and by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.  This is the first ever preschool and primary religious education curriculum written for Ireland.  Bishops welcomed the publication of the first two books in the new religious education programme Grow in Love which are based on the new curriculum.  Grow in Love will enable teachers and others involved in religious education at primary level to implement the vision of the new curriculum.  In line with the vision of Share the Good News – the National Catechetical Directory for Ireland, which states “in the religious education of children, co-operation between home, parish and school is essential in encouraging young children in coming to know who they are and to whom they belong” (par. 100),Grow in Love encourages cooperation between home, school and parish in the faith formation of children by providing resources for parents to link in with the work their children are doing in school, and opportunities for schools and families to link with the local parish community.

  • Marriage

Initial discussion on the result of the marriage referendum of 22 May took place in the five Commissions of the Bishops’ Conference whose members comprise lay, clergy and religious, and this was followed by a general discussion by the Conference.  Bishops emphasised:

-          Marriage is important.  Mothers and fathers matter.  The gift of love which flows from the intimate union of a man and a woman in marriage is a gift from God.  We encourage everyone – mothers, fathers, grandparents, couples, single people and children - to work together for the continued health and strength of marriage and the family.

-          We are all called to witness with integrity, balance, compassion and love regardless of the prevailing values of the day.

-          We acknowledge and appreciate the commitment and courage of those who campaigned and voted to maintain the understanding of marriage as it was understood in Bunreacht na hÉireann.

-          At all levels in the Church it is important that we are available to dialogue with those who continue to feel hurt or confused as a result of the referendum.

-          We all have a responsibility to treat one another, regardless of sexual orientation, with dignity and respect.

-          We will continue to reflect on the implications of the referendum in the Bishops’ Conference and its five commissions.

  • Impact of cuts to grant aid for Accord, Catholic Marriage Care Service

Bishops expressed concern regarding the impact of the recent decision by the Board of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to withdraw funding to Accord, retrospectively, for its marriage preparation work with effect from 1 January 2015.  Together with marriage and relationship counselling, marriage preparation is one of the main pillars of the work of Accord, with 694 marriage preparation courses delivered to 15,504 individuals in 2014.  In a time of difficult economic decisions, there is an urgent need for Government to prioritise the protection of the community and voluntary sector, which contributes so much to the support of the most vulnerable and the promotion of active citizenship. Marriage breakdown is not only devastating for the wellbeing of those directly affected, but has significant social costs as a factor in poverty and homelessness, for example.  Accord, with its 936 dedicated and highly trained members, working throughout the country, provides its services on the basis of need, not ability to pay, ensuring the most vulnerable are not excluded.   Bishops decided to set up a special review group to examine how best the Church can continue to support marriage and family life in Ireland.

  • Laudato Si - forthcoming encyclical letter by Pope Francis on the environment

In anticipation of its forthcoming publication, bishops welcomed the expected encyclical letter of Pope Francis Laudato Si (Be praised), a quotation from Canticle of the Sun a popular prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of the Environment.  Laudato Si will be the second encyclical letter published during the pontificate of Pope Francis, following Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith) of June 2013 which wasco-authored with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  Bishops said Pope Francis’ encyclical comes at a crucial time of national and international negotiations on sustainability and climate change, and will offer guidance in the light of human ecology on one of the most pressing global issues of our time.  Christians today cannot close their eyes to the suffering of people who are most exposed to the consequences of environmental degradation.  These are invariably the poorest communities living on our globe, and who contribute least to the destruction of the natural environment.  Agencies such as Trócaire play a vital role in working alongside communities fighting for daily survival, as well as highlighting the impact of our actions – and inaction – in the developed world.

Laudato Si will be available in Veritas bookshops and bishops encouraged everyone to read the new encyclical when it becomes available,and to be open to its Gospel-derived wisdom and guidance.

  • Safeguarding Children

Mr John Morgan and Ms Teresa Devlin, the Chair and CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, updated the bishops on the status of the revision of Safeguarding Children, Standards and Guidance for the Catholic Church in Ireland, and regarding the reviews of safeguarding practice across dioceses and religious congregations.  The revised standards are expected to become operational in January 2016 after a period of induction delivered by staff of the National Board.  Bishops were advised that there has been forty-eight safeguarding reviews that have now been completed and the National Board is hopeful that the outstanding reviews will be completed by end of December 2015.

  • Blessed Oscar Romero

Prayers were offered to Blessed Oscar Romero who was beatified on 23 May in San Salvador, El Salvador.  During his ministry Archbishop Romero spoke out and worked against poverty and other forms of social injustice, killings and torture.  He was assassinated on 24 March 1980 while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a hospital in San Salvador.  Archbishop Romero’s beatification as a martyr reminds us that we must be prepared to endure opposition if we are to truly live as Jesus called us to live.

  • National Mass of Thanksgiving for Saint Columbanus on Sunday 21 June

The 1400th  anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus (also known as Saint Columban), one of the greatest of the Irish missionary monks, is being marked with a national Mass of Thanksgiving at 11am on Sunday 21 June in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh with Archbishop Eamon Martin presiding. There will also be pilgrim walks and gatherings in many parishes and communities to honour Saint Columbanus.

Born in Leinster around 543 and having studied in the monastery on Cleenish Island, Co Fermanagh, Saint Columbanus entered the monastery in Bangor, Co Down and was later principal teacher there.  In 591, desiring to ‘go on pilgrimage for Christ’, he set out with twelve companions and travelled to Burgundy.  He established monasteries at Annegray, Luxeuil and Fontaine.  Later he founded Bregenz in Austria and his greatest foundation at Bobbio, near Genoa, where he died in 615.  See special feature on www.catholicbishops.ie

  • Synod of Bishops - “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World”

Archbishop Eamon Martin and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, President and Vice President respectively of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, will represent the Irish bishops at the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World”.  The synod will take place in Rome from 4 to 25 October, and it has been informed by feedback from parishes on family life in Ireland, and from around the world.

  • Welcoming the Stranger – celebrating the pastoral work of the Irish Chaplaincy in London

Bishops welcomed the publication by the Irish Academic Press of Welcoming the Stranger – Irish Migrant Welfare in Britain since 1957, by Dr Patricia Kennedy, which was launched by Bishop John Kirby, chair of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants, in the Embassy of Ireland in London on 28 May.  The publication celebrates the pastoral work of priests and lay faithful of the Irish Chaplaincy who served our emigrants to the United Kingdom over the past fifty years. Bishops reflected on the changing profiling of the Irish emigrant over this time, and that today the Irish Chaplaincy’s three main pastoral activities – working with Irish prisoners, Irish Travellers, and with the elderly Irish who are often alone – continue to be as much in demand, as they were to our emigrants of previous generations.  On 2 July next Mr Jimmy Deenihan TD, Minister for Diaspora Affairs, will undertake the Irish launch of Welcoming the Stranger in Saint Laurence’s Church on the Grangegorman campus of the Dublin Institute of Technology.

  • Ireland’s response to the humanitarian crisis on the Mediterranean Sea

Bishops welcomed the rapid humanitarian response of the Irish naval vessel the LÉ Eithne, and the supporting efforts of the Irish Defence Forces who have been carrying our brothers and sisters to safety across the Mediterranean in recent days.  Their deployment echoes the “field hospital” and “human ecology” themes of Pope Francis, himself the son of migrants.  We have an obligation to safeguard the rights, the religion and the traditions of migrants fleeing persecution.  The Holy Father, an outspoken advocate for greater European-wide participation in rescue efforts, reiterated in April his call for action during his July 2013 visit to the island of Lampedusa, and issued a “heartfelt appeal to the international community to react decisively and quickly to see to it that such tragedies are not repeated.”

Bishops also acknowledged the recent deployment of the Medical Corps to Sierra Leone in response to the Ebola crisis which reflects the valuable role of peacekeepers since Ireland joined the United Nations in 1955.  In the light of the ongoing missions in Lebanon and on the Golan Heights, bishops invite the faithful to join with them in prayerful support for the spiritual and pastoral work of the chaplains whose job it is to minister to the personnel of Ireland’s Defence Forces, oftentimes in very difficult circumstances. 

  • Irish Church Music Summer School in Maynooth in July

Bishops wished well the participants of the 46th Annual Irish Church Summer School, which is being hosted by the Irish Church Music Association and will take place in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth between 2 and 5 July.  This year will also be the first joint summer school with the Church of Ireland’s Liturgical Music Association.  Musicians from around the country and beyond will sing and pray together and the purpose of the association is to promote, encourage and support an understanding of the use of music in the liturgical and daily life of the Church.  The summer school will conclude with the Sunday Eucharist and an organ recital given by Andrew Reid, of the Royal School of Church Music for Britain and Ireland, in the College Chapel Maynooth.  For more details see www.irishchurchmusicassociation.com.

  • National Eucharistic Congress in Knock in September

A National Eucharistic Congress will be held at the National Marian Shrine in Knock on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 September.  The National Congress will be hosted in the context of Synod of Bishops in Rome, as well as the Year of Consecrated Life.  The Congress will be an opportunity to reflect on the fruits of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress which was held in Dublin in 2012, as well as offering spiritual preparation for the next International Congress in Cebu, Philippines, in January 2016. 

  • ·         Year of Mercy begins in December

Bishops welcomed the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy which Pope Francis has announced. This Holy Year of Mercy will begin on 8 December to commemorate both the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which called the Church to proclaim the Gospel to the world in new ways, bringing God’s mercy to everyone.  Bishops commend the special prayer for the Year of Mercy which was written by Pope Francis and is available on www.catholicbishops.ie.

  • (i) Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan (ii) Bishop Thomas Flynn RIP

Bishops welcomed Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, the new of Bishop of Waterford & Lismore, who attended his first meeting as a member of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  Bishops prayed also for the happy repose of the soul of the late Bishop Thomas Flynn, the former Bishop of Achonry, whose Requiem Mass was celebrated on 6 June last.

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