Friday 20 January 2017 – A Athair Ró Naofa, Ba mhaith liom buíochas a gabháil leat as ucht an cuireadh chuig an Suí Naofa agus an fáilte a thug tú dúinn le linn an cuairt seo Ad Limina Apostolorum.
Most Holy Father, Thank you for your invitation to the Holy See for our visit ‘ad limina apostolorum’, and for your warm welcome here today. On behalf of the Irish Episcopal Conference, I offer sincere thanks to you and to those in the dicasteries of the Roman Curia who have engaged with us so positively this week in an open and constructive dialogue.
It is very special for us to have this opportunity to meet and have a discussion with you.
Holy Father, we bring you warm greetings of affection from the Catholic people of Ireland and thank you for the powerful witness you are giving to the world – and especially for your emphasis on mercy for those who are on the peripheries of Church and society.
In Ireland in recent years, despite enormous economic turmoil and hardship, the Irish people have remained generous in the works of mercy towards those who are often overlooked in our fast-paced society – including the poorest and most defenceless. In this regard the Bishops of Ireland continue to promote the dignity of the life of the unborn, as well as that of the elderly, the sick and all who are vulnerable at any stage of their existence.
So much has changed for Church and society in Ireland in the ten years since our last ‘ad limina’ visit in 2006. Since then we have been making determined efforts to safeguard children and vulnerable persons from abuse. I assure you that it remains a priority of the Church in Ireland to acknowledge and learn from the past, and persevere in our efforts to bring healing to all those affected by the sinful and criminal acts of abuse.
Holy Father, your personal outreach to survivors of abuse is an inspiration for us as we continue to travel the path of penitence, reparation, healing and renewal. The publication this morning in Belfast of Sir Anthony Hart’s Report into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland reminds us that much work remains to be undertaken in this regard.
We thank you for honouring Ireland with the privilege of hosting the Ninth World Meeting of Families in Dublin, August 2018. We look back with joy to June 2012 when the Fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress took place in Ireland, with the theme ‘Communion with Christ and with One Another’. That was a joyful and grace-filled occasion for us.
Like the Eucharistic Congress, we see the World Meeting of Families as much more than a ‘once-off‘ event. We look to it, rather, as a graced opportunity, a process by which we can celebrate and explore further the riches of the Church’s ‘Gospel of the Family’. It shall be a catalyst for reflecting on the challenging pastoral manifesto you have set out for the universal church in your post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’.
We take this opportunity to repeat our invitation to you to visit us in August 2018 – we promise you, as we say in Ireland, ‘céad míle fáilte’ – one hundred thousand welcomes!
The pastoral care of marriage and the family remains a priority for us. In spite of various social changes and challenges, the ethic of family life remains strong in Ireland. As pastors, we meet many different family situations and we admire the high ideals which mothers and fathers have for their children. We also recognise the critical importance of the family to handing on of the faith, to the life of our parishes and as the fundamental building block for a safe and stable society.
We are therefore committed to ensuring that our Catholic centres of education assist parents and families and are places of dialogue and encounter with the ‘Joy of the Gospel’ of Jesus Christ. We continue to hold the view that the presence of Catholic schools enhances, rather than undermines, true diversity and pluralism in the provision of education.
During our ‘ad limina’ visit we have been reflecting on vocations and on the well-being and ministry of our priests and religious. In today’s culture many people struggle to comprehend how anyone can be called to a life of service to God in these ways. We are working on how to help foster a culture of vocation in Ireland, and on how best our seminarians can be adequately formed for service as priests in contemporary Ireland.
The well-being of our priests is dear to all of us bishops. We are aware that declining numbers of priests, their increased workload and ever more challenging pastoral situations has taken its toll on them. We thank God today for their resilience, dedication and generosity, and for the kindness and support of the faithful. We also thank God for the many shoots of new growth and renewal that are emerging in parishes and dioceses all over the country, especially in catechesis, lay involvement and pastoral outreach to the marginalised.
We are happy to have the ongoing fraternal support of the leaders of the other Christian Churches in Ireland. This is particularly important for the nourishment and protection of the ongoing peace process. Things are politically uncertain and delicate these days in Northern Ireland where the Stormont government has collapsed and following the United Kingdom’s referendum decision to leave the European Union. Please pray for us, because we need everyone, including our Church, civic and political leaders, to build bridges of friendship and reconciliation, rather than put up barriers of division and recrimination.
You often remind us that the bonds of solidarity must also be extended to those who arrive among us as refugees and asylum seekers. The Church is rightly concerned about the thousands of men, women and children seeking refuge in Europe. We are proud of the humanitarian efforts of Trócaire, the Catholic Church’s overseas development agency, and the merciful work of the Irish Naval Service which has helped to rescue thousands of refugees from the waters of the Mediterranean.
Holy Father, we realise that the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland is likely to be very unlike our past or even the present. We know that we need to find new ways of ensuring that the voice of faith is heard, because many people in Ireland yearn for a reason to hope. There is so much uncertainty around us – including homelessness, economic hardship, violence on the streets, a lack of purpose in the lives of many of our gifted young people, problems with mental health and the awful spectre of suicide.
The Joy of the Gospel needs to be heard today in Ireland, more than ever. It is a message of hope and positivity about conversion and starting over, about forgiveness and reconciliation, about the sacredness of all human life and the wonder of God’s creation, about marriage, family and solidarity, about charity, truth and justice.
We ask for your prayers, Holy Father, that we can return from our ‘ad limina’ visit emboldened by the Joy of the Gospel and more determined to make it known!
Guímis rath Dé ort agus ar do chuid saothar i gcónaí. We pray success from God on you and on your work always.
• Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland.
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