PARISHES WORKING TOGETHER FOR MISSION
All Hallows College, Dublin, 30th September 2004
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
This morning we had an interesting and useful discussion. I thank Sister Helena O’Donoghue for the manner in which she guided our reflections. We have looked at the difficulties and the challenges from which we start out on our path of renewal. This afternoon I want to look forward and to illustrate some concrete suggestions or proposals which I would wish to see launched on a diocesan-wide level in the coming year.
Our session this afternoon has the title: Parishes working together for Mission. It is a title which stresses two things:
- that our programme of renewal is focussed directly on mission, on the mission of the Church to announce more effectively the name and the saving message of Jesus within every ambient of the great diocese to which we belong;
- that the task of mission is a task, not just for priests, but for parish communities and for the entire Christian people of the diocese.
I have listened to the suggestions and the critical comments made here this morning. I had already received some written comments from priests who cannot be here as well as from many lay persons who took the initiative to write directly to me. I thank all who have shared their views and suggestions.
I came here this morning with a deliberately unfinished text, because I wanted to take into account and respond in some way to the questioning which was at the heart of this morning’s discussions. I have tried over lunch to put some order on my reflections.
Our gathering is a gathering of priests. I think that we can all agree that it is important that we have the opportunity as priests occasionally to be together on our own. But it was not my intention that this would be a clerical gathering, it is a gathering which sets out to prepare a new openness and a new partnership in mission, involving the broadest possible involvement of clergy, laity and religious in a common project.
Working together must be part of the motto of the diocese as it progresses into a moment of renewed mission.
Let me say at the outset that I am trying as much as possible to be conscious of the problems of priests. I am still in the learning phase. I repeat that I will meet as soon as I can with any priest who wishes to see me. You can be sure that any letter addressed to me marked “confidential” will be opened by me alone.
As I have already said, it is my intention to appoint an Episcopal Vicar for Priests, who will act as a renewed sign that I wish the priests of the diocese to know that they are listened to, that they are to be treated as mature persons, respected in their dignity and worth and that they have voice. I hope that when the Vicar for Priests begins his work he will be able to deepen the spirit of openness and trust among us all.
I have learned over these months that there is a good deal of hurt among the priests of the diocese, for various reasons. There is frustration and a certain fatigue around the very concept of ministry. With God’s help we can overcome that together.
That will require an effort on all our parts. Each of us must struggle to focus on mission as central to our life and identity. We have to rediscover passion for ministry. We have to remove those structures or those subcultures which have frustrated good priests who are anxious to live out their mission with passion. Priests need to be enhanced in their ministry and in their own personal lives.
We have as priests to learn to interact with each other in a way which is worthy of our calling. We are not all the same. Each of us has his own special talents, but also his own sensitivities and his own weaknesses. We have to support each other and build relationships of respect, solidarity and charity. I would like to see – on a voluntary basis – more community living and new forms of community in ministry and life and I am very open to suggestions in this regard. This will be even more important as numbers go down and more and more priests will minister alone and the risk of loneliness grows.
There is no shortage of work for priests. That shortage will not go away as more and more lay persons share ministry with us. We have to ensure that in our ministry as priests the workload is shared equitably. All of us must pull our weight. We should be looking at ways of guaranteeing more accountability in our use of time. We have an obligation before God to ensure that the fundamental rights of the members of our believing community are respected: their rights to the sacraments, their rights to have the word of God proclaimed for them, their rights to pastoral care, their rights always to be treated with Christian charity. Every encounter with a priest should be an encounter which affirms the dignity and worth of the person concerned.
Speaking the other evening to the National Conference of Priests, I said that one great challenge for priests in facing a new call to evangelization is that of addressing mediocrity, the mediocrity that often we ourselves allow to take over our lives, rather than letting the radical newness of the Gospel shake us out of complacency. We are the first evangelizers in our communities; we also have the greatest need to be the first to be evangelized, day after day through our encounter with Jesus in word and sacrament and in his people.
The diocese is extremely fortunate to have so many religious priests working in our parishes, as well of course as Bishop Fiachra who is unfortunately not with us today and to whom our best wishes go. Religious priests bring special witness from the charisms of their congregations, they give the witness to the value of community life and of the linked value of poverty. I think that it would be a good idea to have some kind of ad-hoc forum for religious priests working in the diocese that could look at their needs and help ensure that their specific charisms enhance the diocese as a whole.
Let me look at some specific questions and proposals which I wish to present to you as outlines of the policy of the diocese for the coming years.
We have begun the process of the election of the new Council of Priests. I want the Council of Priests to take on a more significant role within the diocese. It is my intention to work very closely with the Council especially on anything which regards the mission and welfare of priests. In the few months since I have become Archbishop I have learned that working together in that way can be of great benefit to all. This day itself is the result of a fruitful cooperation with the outgoing Council. I thank Martin Cosgrove and Liam Rigney for the untiring efforts they have made in organizing this gathering and in setting things in place for the beginning of a new period of renewal.
I ask you, therefore, as ever, to give very serious attention to the process of election of the members of the Council of Priests. They will represent you in the emerging programme of renewal. It is important that we have a genuinely representative team in place. The voting procedures will be slightly altered. In a first round of consultation you will be asked to present names of candidates. On the second consultation you will be asked to vote for a list of candidates drawn up from those who received most votes. The process will be coordinated by a small working group formed of members of the outgoing Council.
One of the tasks which the outgoing Council of Priests concluded in the past few weeks was the drafting of a set of guidelines on Parish Pastoral Councils. Working together for mission will require effective structures of coordination of the pastoral activities within parishes. I have taken up, with some changes, the suggestions made by the Council of Priests. The diocesan guidelines will be sent to you in the next few days, but I can announce today that it is my wish that every parish in the diocese should have a Parish Pastoral Council in place at the latest by the beginning of Lent 2005.
I wish to see that every parish adheres to this diocesan norm, just as they should have a parish finance committee as required by Canon Law. I will ask the Vicars Forane to see that parishes receive any help and advice they may need in applying the norm and to do all they can to see that both these institutions, Parish Pastoral Council and Parish Finance Committee, are successfully in place in every parish by the designated time.
There is ample literature on the concept of a Parish Pastoral Council. Some parishes already have such a Council. We can learn from their experience and from the different models that exist. There is information available today of what has been done by a representative group of parishes: Holy Redeemer in Bray, Ballyroan, Blessington and Corpus Christi, Drumcondra. Parish Development and Renewal is also available to help in training and formation. There is no one size fits all model. We will make mistakes. We will learn from experience what works best. In two years time, we will begin a process of evaluation of what we have been able to achieve and then we can move towards the articulation of more definitive guidelines as well as hopefully towards the establishment of a Diocesan Pastoral Council.
Parish Pastoral Councils are at the service of mission and evangelization. They are not debating societies or places for honorary membership. They should facilitate the coordination of parish services regarding:
- the proclamation of the Word of God and faith formation, especially for the young,
- the fostering of the sacramental, liturgical and prayer life of the parish,
- the support of marriage and family life,
- the strengthening of commitment to social justice and caring for the marginalised,
thereby ensuring that the parish communities be true witness to the love of Jesus.
Parish Pastoral Councils must also provide leadership in reaching out to young people and engaging them in their questioning about faith. They should look to new members of their communities, especially the new Irish and ensure that people of different nationalities and cultures find their place in the liturgy and parish life. They must address social challenges. I am growingly concerned about the drink culture in Ireland, among young and old, and the link with violence. I was horrified by the brutal beating of a Lithuanian worker in Dublin just a mile away from where we gather.
Working together must be at the heart of parish life, but parishes themselves must work together. There is a very wide variety of parish structures in the diocese. We have rural parishes and inner city parishes; we have parishes with a long history and more recent parishes which are growing in new areas, sharing in that broader search for community and development. We will have to look again at the manner in which we share financial resources to ensure that poorer parishes are more adequately catered for in their new needs.
For some time the term clustering has entered the diocesan vocabulary. I prefer to use the phrase: Parishes working together for mission and that is the title of the second initiative I wish to launch today. Parishes working together for mission is a descriptive term, rather than a slogan. It tells us something both about the subject of the endeavour and the task we want to achieve. It is not just a question of managing more effectively the distribution of priests. It is a question of ensuring that parish communities, with the richness of their own experiences, begin to work together, seeing what can be best done on a broader level, responding to new challenges of evangelization and faith formation, sharing resources and services.
It will also involve an examination of the most effective way for parishes and larger communities to provide pastoral services. Not every parish will have on its own the resources necessary for certain services, such as formation. Groups of parishes could well use the service developed in one parish. While always being sensitive to local traditions and needs, and especially the needs of the elderly and housebound, greater mobility should allow us to rationalise Mass schedules on an area basis. This will also ensure that our liturgical celebrations are more truly community celebrations which can draw on adequate musical and liturgical resources.
I ask each of the Deaneries to address Parishes working together for mission at their next meeting. Where the theme or the speaker at deanery meeting next week have already been designated, then the deanery can call a special meeting at some time in November. I would like each deanery, under the guidance of the area Bishops or Episcopal Vicars, to propose one or two concrete pilot projects which might be put in place during the coming year. The resource mapping project initiated by the Vicars Forane will be a useful instrument in planning these pilot projects. I hope also that there will be genuine consultation of the communities which are involved in the pilot project.
This is one area where deaneries will take on a greater role in coordinating the sharing of resources, both with this process of Parishes working together for mission, and on the ordinary day to day cooperation to ensure that priests can get a day off and get to take a well earned holiday.
A project like Parishes working together for mission will look at how we can foster a much greater contribution of lay persons, women and men, in our ministries and pastoral services. In some cases, we may be looking at establishing full time lay ministries, in others the support will come from the willingness of men and women to offer their services and specific competence on a voluntary basis, as a sign of the community dimension of the Church and of the commitment of lay persons. When I launched the Crosscare appeal earlier this month a leader from the Docklands community said that “volunteers are an endangered species”. That can never be the case in the Church, which must always be a participative community.
It is my intention to ask the incoming Council of Priests, together with the Moderator of the Curia, to draw up some common guidelines for the employment of full time lay workers in pastoral services in the diocese, on a diocesan, parish or supra-parochial level. Working in ministry, for priests, religious and lay persons, is in the first place an ecclesial service and not just a profession alongside any other profession.
Full time lay workers will require spiritual training for their mission, and in-service training for the specific ethos of the diocese, alongside technical professional formation. It is important, however, that lay persons who are called to full time service of the Church be treated with justice regarding working conditions and remuneration and that all contracts are fully compliant with appropriate employment law. Haphazard and unthought-out practices or private arrangements inevitably create problems, if not at present then certainly in the future.
You have already heard something of the plan for our new Diocesan Liturgical Resource Centre. I thank Pat O’Donogue and Des Hayden for the work they have placed into setting our gathering today in a framework of prayer. The Eucharist is at the centre of all out pastoral activities. The manner in which we celebrate the Eucharist is extremely important. We have to strengthen diocesan prayer initiatives. I look forward to seeing new investment in resources for liturgical formation and for enhancing our capacity for music. One of the things I miss most since my return is that great tradition of congregational participation in music which is typical of the Churches of continental Europe. It is something we have to develop much more in Ireland.
I wish to launch a diocesan wide programme of faith formation for the period of Lent 2005. My hope is that we can develop a theme and resource package which can be applied, according to, local situations in every parish of the diocese. I invite also the Churches which are under the direction of Religious Congregations to join with us in the same endeavour, as well as our educational institutions and houses of religious women. CYC will also hopefully take up the idea and insert it into the preparation for World Youth Day 2005, at which I hope to see a large Dublin participation.
It should be evident to all that during lent 2005 the entire diocese of Dublin is in mission. I would like to see that mission having three dimensions:
- Concrete programmes of faith formation on a popular level which reach out to all the members of the parish community
- Liturgical celebrations which focus on the traditions of Lent and the period of preparation for the celebration of Easter
- Fasting and alms giving oriented towards specific charitable initiatives, whether they be particular projects of the parish or carried out within the overall Lenten initiative of Trocaire. I would very much like to see more young people being challenged to take a leadership role in this area.
Once again, I will, ask the Priests Council to work with me by designating some of its members to join a steering group for this Lenten initiative.
Some priests would like to think that I have some master plan for this new diocesan project, worked out in every detail. I do not. We have to find the right path together, bishops, priests, religious and lay women and men. We have to launch out into the deep, even if it gets us at times out of our depth and even into deep water. I have no idea how the structure and distribution of priests will look in Dublin in ten years time. I have no idea what I will be appointing priests to in ten years time. Parishes will not be as they are today. I do not know what forms collaboration in the shared mission of clergy and laity will eventually take.
Some may say that that does not sound such a great diocesan pastoral plan! What is clear to me is both the vision of where we wish to go and the criterion for evaluating our plans. It will be their effectiveness in establishing a Church which is community in mission, community in evangelization. I regard a meeting as having been successful if we all come away renewed in our commitment to evangelization, each of us anxious to fulfil our own special mission.
When the Apostles were called, they responded instantly. Later they found themselves constantly quarrelling and discussing with Jesus. But there is something about the original call, then and today, which is always radical. In Saint John’s Gospel, (1: 35) the early disciples ask Jesus “Where do you live”, which means “Who are you”. Jesus replies “Come and see”. It is only when we answer the call to come, that we can then see who Jesus is. It is not a question of “Have a look and see if you like it and then we can negotiate the terms”. The call to mission is always radical.
How our future structures will evolve will depend above all on our own ability to live in a new way the Gospel which is always the same. I do not know about you, but I feel I go will go away from here more encouraged. I thank you once again. I feel that this gathering has been a grace for all of us.