Sunday, December 03, 2023

Pastoral Letter for Advent from Archbishop Dermot Farrell

On the First Sunday of Advent our Church, and many others, begin a new Church year. 

The Church begins its year with a time of hope, and Advent—so frequently ‘lost’ in the preparation for Christmas—is the season of hope par excellence. 

It is the season of hope, because our God who gave himself to us by creating us, and who came to us in the coming of his Son, will come again.

Our God “comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings.” (Pope Francis, Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Bangui Cathedral (CAR), November 2015). Our God comes to save us. “Unless the Lord comes to us, we are completely helpless,” as St Maximus the Confessor, so dramatically put it.

In Advent, we proclaim and celebrate our hope and our trust that our God is faithful: that the Lord will come again and again to rescue us, to heal us, to console us, to be with all that he has called into life. 

God calls us forward to a new world, to embrace a new future. That is God’s deeper gift to us. His call is not to return to a wonderful place where “everything was wonderful”—be that Bethlehem or the ‘wonderful world’ of our shared past. 

Our prayer this Advent and always is, therefore, shaped by that hope. In this time, for many, it is also framed by the experience of loss and continuing grief.  

Our anticipation of the joy of Christmas is all the greater for the depth of the crisis through which we have been travelling. Christian hope is not naive. It does not give rise to nostalgia, denial or conformity.   

Rather it is realistic in its faithfulness and bold in its imagination. Pope Francis tells us that hope ‘is able to see a tomorrow; hope is the door that opens onto the future.’  Hope changes everything. 

As we prepare to celebrate the overwhelming gift of love that was the Incarnation, we are invited to take stock of how well prepared we are, not only to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord at Christmas, but to live the kind of life we are meant to live, loving one another and the whole human race as much as we are loved.

The Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent reminds us that the Christian life is rooted in prayer; we are urged to pray at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, so that we can stand with confidence before the Son of Man.

We have been living through a very testing time. Sickness and death resulting from the Covid-19 virus have taken a heavy toll.  The necessary restrictions on everyday life have at times been very hard to bear. 

The continuing pressure on healthcare staff and other vital workers has increased our admiration for their commitment and care. Our gratitude for the remarkable success of those developing vaccines and treatments has been tempered by a growing realisation that there is no easy or simple solution for this crisis.

So it is for us, the community of faith that is the Church in this Archdiocese.  We are living through dark days.  We confront immense challenges, not least that the dominant culture is hostile to faith, while there is much in our story that discourages and even repels many people. Yet as Christians we are called to bring Good News to the whole world, to accompany those at all stages of life‘s journey towards an encounter with Jesus Christ. We are hopeful, despite the immensity of these challenges, some of which have become even more stark as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

It was to build hope that, some months ago, I established a Task Force to develop a pastoral strategy to support parish communities of faith to undertake a radical renewal, looking to the future with creativity, while enabling the Archdiocese of Dublin to act now so as to give effective witness and service in the years ahead. The Task Force received views and suggestions from over 3,000 people, the vast majority of them laypeople involved in different ways and to different degrees in the life of the Church. 

I have received the recommendations of the Task Force and I am reflecting upon them and praying about them.

The strategy that has been recommended involves principles to guide our renewal, a process of engagement that would involve the whole diocesan family, and a framework to guide discussion and discernment. It is my intention to invite the whole diocesan family, and every parish, to begin the process of discussion and discernment early in the New Year, and to provide guidelines and suggestions to support this journey, which will be, in itself, an expression of the synodal path on which the Church has embarked.

Any pastoral strategy that is true to our Christian calling will acknowledge, as the Task Force has, our need to hear the call to conversion of hearts and minds, and to deepen the spirit of prayer and attentiveness to the word of God.

I am therefore inviting the Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin to use this season of Advent as a time of prayer and reflection to prepare ourselves spiritually for the challenge of renewal. Responding to the Task Force Report, we need to create a prayerful atmosphere this Advent as we begin to look to the future of parishes, groupings of parishes, and the Diocese itself.  Our prayer must be, above all, to be open to the Spirit to guide us in our mission as bearers of light and carriers of good news to the people of our time. We honour our history and our traditions. We draw strength from what has been built up. But we are not afraid to craft new wineskins to carry the new wine of the Good News to those who thirst for it today.

In Advent we begin the Liturgical Year preparing for the coming of the Lord. Our diocesan theme this year is ‘Be Still’, waiting for the Lord, preparing ourselves for the year ahead with Him.

There is a ‘Be Still’ resource available on the Diocesan Website, and our Mission and Ministry Team are offering a daily prayer posting on Facebook every day during Advent with a variety of contributors.

We need to ‘be still’ during Advent, and mark time a little with the Lord, as we set out on a year of prayer, reflection and planning.

I am asking each parish community to pray for conversion of heart so that we may be effective missionaries. I ask that the Synod prayer be prayed every day during Advent, especially during our celebrations of the Eucharist, so that we are reminded of the call we have received and the hope-filled response which we will craft together under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In the season of Advent, we unite yourselves with our Blessed Mother Mary, whose own preparation models for us the spirit of hope and faith that brings the light of Christ to life. 

Let us pray:

Ever faithful God,

You sent your son into the darkness of human history to fulfil your will, and guide your people home to you.

Fill our hearts with the hope of your coming that we may draw close to all our sisters and brothers especially those who bear the cross of Jesus in the heart of our world.

May the Light of his victory over darkness and death, guide our feet on the way of justice and peace.

We ask this in the name of Him who came and will come again, Jesus, our Lord, for ever and ever. Amen

+Dermot Farrell,

Archbishop of Dublin

HIV memorial monument unveiled in Phoenix Park

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has unveiled a monument in the Phoenix Park today to remember and celebrate the lives of people affected by HIV and AIDS.

Speaking at the event, Mr Varadkar announced that Ireland is giving €750,000 in extra funding to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

"The great advances in prevention, treatment and care we have seen for HIV/AIDS over the last 20 years have helped to save millions of lives," Mr Varadkar said.

"In spite of this incredible progress, we can never forget the devastating effect that HIV and AIDS has had on people, families, communities and entire nations," he added.

The 'Embraced Loop' monument is located in the People's Gardens in the Phoenix Park and is designed to express solidarity with everyone who has been affected by HIV and AIDS.

It was also created to remember those who have died and celebrate their lives and the people who supported them.

Artists Anaisa Franco and Michael R DiCarlo designed the monument, with their design being selected for having universal appeal and for its use of the red ribbon associated with HIV and AIDS awareness.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: "It is fitting that we now have a permanent memorial to remember and celebrate not only the lives of all of those impacted by HIV and AIDS directly and their families and friends, but also the doctors, nurses, carers and researchers who dedicated so much of their lives and work to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of HIV and to improving care."

In a statement, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said the monument is a reminder that the world must continue trying to combat the impact of HIV and AIDS.

"Access to that treatment remains a problem in many countries, particularly for the most vulnerable in society and particularly in Africa. Ireland continues to support organisations to provide access to treatment that keeps people healthy and prevents transmission," Mr Martin said.

Younger men lose faith in a priestly vocation

With dwindling numbers of priests serving in parishes across the country, the clergy’s next generation have spoken about the “daunting” task facing them, and the challenges of celibacy in the modern world.

A steep decline in recruits to the ­Catholic priesthood for a number of decades­ is pushing up the age profile of the clergy in Ireland and has left the church in the midst of a battle for the ­survival of its existing model. 

Father Brendan Hoban, a priest based in Killala in Co Mayo, has claimed in a new book, Holding Out for a Hero, that the average age of priests is now 70-plus.

At St Patrick’s Pontifical University in Maynooth, Co Kildare, Ireland’s national seminary, there are just 20 seminarians undertaking vocational training, compared with about 600 students at its peak in the 1960s. 

Across the entire country, there are 64 seminarians in total today.

Many priests feel overstretched and struggle to juggle responsibilities in their communities, with some senior clerics warning that Masses in a number of areas may be reduced as a result.

To combat the decline, initiatives such as the Take the Risk for Christ have been launched to encourage young men to consider making a commitment to the church. 

Last month 36 young men from around the country attended an information weekend in the national seminary to reflect on whether they felt they were being asked to answer a call from God and pursue a career in the church.

There are positive signs: this academic year’s intake has risen 50 per cent, with 15 seminarians embarking on the 2023-24 propaedeutic programme, a preliminary stage of the priestly formation process.

In the diocese of Killaloe, one of Ireland’s largest dioceses, problems created by the shortage of up-and-coming clergy are particularly acute. 

The diocese launched its own year-long initiative to promote vocations as a response.

Father Mike Geraghty, who at 39 is ­Killaloe’s youngest diocesan priest, said he had always been devout and had an awareness of a spiritual calling towards God since he was a child but did not choose to formally commence his vocational training until the age of 25. 

In ­Killaloe, nearly half of all parishes do not have a priest under the age of 75. 

Despite being responsible for tasks usually carried out by more senior priests, he said the religious training and mentorship he had received had helped him to cope with the pressures.

“Back in the day, at 39 you probably wouldn’t have been let out of the house too often as a priest and now I have responsibility for one of the biggest parishes in our diocese [Shannon] … it’s still very daunting,” Geraghty said, adding that he was “stretched” every day in carrying out his duties. Those who enter the priesthood must vow to remain celibate and unmarried for the duration of their ministry. ­

Geraghty said he was unfazed by this pledge and past experiences, such as attending the Technological University of the Shannon for four years and working at a ski resort in France for a winter season, helped him to cope.

“Experience is a huge thing because when you are a priest you have to let go of certain aspects of life and relationships, but you can have a new relationship with Christ,” Geraghty said.

Mark Nestor, 31, a seminarian at Maynooth and a former Fianna Fail councillor, said he had been considering joining the priesthood since his late teens but he was not ready to follow the path into the clergy until last year. 

“There’s a notion that, because you can’t get married, the priesthood is a lonely life — but if you’re living your priestly ministry as best you can, I feel you will never be lonely because there will always be somebody to be helped,” he said.

Due to a lack of homegrown priest the church has turned to drafting in pastoral ministry workers from across the world with many arriving from countries in Africa and from India to fill the gap. ­

Martin Hayes, the bishop of Kilmore, said ensuring a parish priest was available to attend all funerals, baptisms and other community ceremonies was becoming unfeasible.

“[In Kilmore] we have 64 priests with 44 in active ministry, and over one third of them are over 75. More than half are over 70. Two thirds are over 65 and three quarters are over 60. Just over a quarter are under 60 years of age. That’s the reality­, and the average of priests is 70. Priests are older and they are stretched … We may not be able to have priests in every parish,” Hayes said, adding that the diocese also had five Nigerian and two Indian priests serving in Kilmore.

However, he was optimistic that current trends could be reversed through a collective approach. 

“The future I see is basically ministry teams: lay people and priests working together, so that they [lay people] become identified by people as the key people within their dioceses. They may not be doing it full-time but they will be doing it part-time,” he said.

Father Ignatius McCormack, vocations director in Killaloe, said the diocese’s ­initiative was already having results. 

“About 14 months ago we had no seminarians and now we have three,” he said.

Gospel Reflection for Sunday December 3rd 2023 | First Sunday of Advent (Contribution)


Over the years I have worked in several places which catered for visitors and therefore had important ‘Health & Safety’ regulations. 

One of the most important was fire safety, and at every check-in I reminded visitors that if they heard the fire alarm during their stay, it would not be a test and to take it seriously, meaning out as quickly as possible!

Yet, amazingly, time and time again, when the alarm did sound (always, thankfully, due to some fault), particularly during the night, quite a number just stayed in bed, while those who did respond seemed in no hurry at all, rambling out ten or more minutes after the alarm sounded. 

If I apologised for the inconvenience the following morning and maybe subtly asked why the others stayed in their rooms, most smiled vaguely and said, “we guessed it was a false alarm!”

I never dared ask them, “…but what if were not a false alarm?”

It seems that all of us, in different ways, have a unique ability to put off important things until it is too late or, at best, the last minute. The hordes of shoppers urgently dashing around shopping malls late on Christmas Eve is more than enough evidence of this. Each year they (dare I say ‘we’?) say, “Next year it will be different” and next year……well, you know the rest!

Mark, when he wrote his Gospel, was aware of this phenomenon and so, from the very beginning of his Gospel he is constantly reminding those who read it that what he says – what Jesus said – is both important and urgent. The word he uses repeatedly, sometimes making his writing sound awkward, is the word ‘immediately’. He wants to create the impression that even Jesus was in a rush to share his message with us; that he did everything ‘immediately’, so that he could rush off to the next place to share his message.

Mark was also the first to write his Gospel, evidence that he was the first to realise that what Jesus said and did needed to be written down, lest it be lost forever.

With that as a background, today’s Gospel jumps off the page at us. It yells at us, “This is urgent, don’t miss out on it, don’t ignore it or sleep through it. If you do you will miss something so awesome it cannot be fully comprehended..”

In case we might miss the urgency, he repeats it in different ways – “Be on guard…”, “Be alert…”, ‘keep watch…’, and his final, almost desperate appeal to us, “…What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’.

The message that Jesus brought was that the Kingdom of God was coming very soon and we needed to prepare for it. When, in the Gospel, Jesus says, “…you never know when that time will come…” the ‘time’ he is referring to is the time when ‘the Kingdom of God’ is finally with us. We often talk about it as the ‘end of the World’ and we mean it in a frightening, threatening kind of way, but that is not at all what Jesus means. The coming of the ‘Kingdom of God’ is the most joyful, awesome and satisfying thing imaginable.

We imagine that the world will end in cataclysm, and we use the language of the Old Testament to imagine it – the sun and moon falling to earth, great earthquakes, fear, trembling, etc.. This is language used throughout the Old Testament to describe the ‘power’ of God, and God’s control over everything that exists (sun, moon, stars, earthquakes, etc.). It is not meant to be taken literally. If I say that a soldier “was a lion in battle” we all know that that soldier was not literally a lion, but that he/she was strong, brave and courageous. The language of the Old Testament is similar.

When Jesus talks about the coming of the Kingdom of God, he is talking, I think, about something far more peaceful, more gentle, something closer to the kind of person he was and the kind of God he revealed to us.

In the ‘Our Father’, the prayer (or prayers) of Jesus himself, we find this, “…thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.” As Jesus prays it, there does not seem to be anything violent or frightening about it. Jesus talks, it seems to me, as if the coming of the Kingdom on Earth will be more like a transition to the Kingdom in Heaven, which we know is simply Love. It is difficult for me to say the ‘Our Father’ and be in any way frightened or threatened by the coming of that Kingdom on earth.

God’s Kingdom is already here among us. How it will be fulfilled nobody knows. I certainly don’t! We can all have our own versions and pictures of how it comes about, and we can be sure that almost certainly they are all wrong!

Ask me how this planet will end and, if we don’t destroy it ourselves, which is, I fear, more and more possible, I can tell you that in about 7 billion years (give or take a few hundred million!) our Sun will expand, devouring our planet in a hot, fiery death. In cosmological and scientific terms this will be ‘the end of the world’ but will this be when God’s Kingdom will come “on earth, as it is in Heaven?”.

I have no idea, but I very much doubt it, and thankfully I will not be around to find out!

What I do know is that if we imagine the coming of ‘God’s Kingdom’ to be a time when Love reigns ‘on Earth as it does in Heaven’, then I know that the way I choose to live my life now will make that time a little bit closer or a little bit further away.

Imagine if two and a half billion Christians suddenly and urgently began to live the message of Jesus in their lives. Imagine how so many of our world leaders would change. Imagine how politics would change. Imagine how institutions, and multi-national companies would change. Imagine how the country I presently live in would change. Imagine how my neighbourhood, or parish, or family, or just my own life would change.

Change always begins with one person, one idea, one plan, one message. For us that person was Jesus and the message was ‘The Sermon on the Mount’. Now, every day, as followers of Jesus, we are called to make the ‘Kingdom of God’ a little bit more visible by “feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the captive”, just as we read in last week’s Gospel.

We can stay in our rooms when the fire alarm sounds, leaving it to others to check or just ignoring the danger. Of course we can, and that is dangerous for ourselves and for others who may die trying to save us.

…And we can stay in our own narrow, selfish worlds, complaining about the way things are, and leaving it to others to make the necessary changes. Of course we can, and that is dangerous for ourselves and for everyone else on our planet. One quick look around our world; at our politics, many of our leaders, the ways we treat each other, and the huge danger we are in shouts at us to be taken seriously.

Mark, in today’s Gospel, recognises the importance and urgency of Jesus’ message. It is why he shouts at us: “Be on your guard; Be alert…. Jesus has left us in charge of his world, each of us with our own assigned tasks (our families, our careers, our responsibilities and opportunities). When he returns he must find us ready and waiting. It is urgent; it is immediate.”

Jesus brought the fire of Love and life to earth. His resurrection sounded the fire alarm. We are called to respond – urgently and immediately.

But will we?

Advent 2023

Advent (from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming") is a season of the Christian church, the period of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus; in other words, the period immediately before Christmas.

It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday.

The Eastern churches begin the liturgical year on 1 September.

The Eastern Christian equivalent of Advent is called the Nativity Fast but it differs both in length and observances.

The progression of the season may be marked with an Advent calendar, a practice introduced by German Lutherans. At least in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25; in other words, the Sunday between November 27 and December 3 inclusive.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used in reference to the Second Coming.

Christians believe that the season of Advent serves a dual reminder of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah as well as the waiting that Christians today endure for the second coming of Christ.


The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is often to prepare for the Second Coming while commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas.

With the view of directing the thoughts of Christians to the first coming of Jesus Christ as Savior, and to his second coming as Judge, special lessons are prescribed for each of the four Sundays in Advent.

The usual liturgical color in Western Christianity for Advent is purple or violet. The color is often used for hangings around the church, on the vestments of the clergy, and often also the tabernacle.

On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, rose may be used instead, referencing the rose used on Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent.

In some Anglican and Lutheran churches, blue is the liturgical colour for Advent, a custom traced to the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the medieval Sarum Rite.

This color is often referred to as "Sarum blue". Red is used in the Eastern churches.

The "Late Advent Weekdays", December 17-24, mark the singing of the Great Advent 'O antiphons'. These are the antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, or Evening Prayer (in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches) and Evensong (in Anglican churches) each day, and mark the forthcoming birth of the Messiah. They form the basis for each verse of the popular Advent hymn, "O come, O come, Emmanuel".

From the 4th century, the season was kept as a period of fasting as strict as that of Lent (commencing in some localities on 11 November; this being the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, the fast became known as "St. Martin's Lent", "St. Martin's Fast" or "the forty days of St. Martin").

The feast day was in many countries a time of frolic and heavy eating, since the 40-day fast began the next day.

In the Lutheran churches this fasting rule was later relaxed, with the Roman Catholic Church doing likewise later, but still keeping Advent as a season of penitence. In addition to fasting, dancing and similar festivities were forbidden.

In many countries, Advent was long marked by diverse popular observances, some of which still survive. In England, especially in the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry around the "Advent images", two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

A halfpenny was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited, and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest.

In Normandy, farmers employed children under twelve to run through the fields and orchards armed with torches, setting fire to bundles of straw, and thus it is believed driving out such vermin as are likely to damage the crops.

In Italy, among other Advent celebrations, is the entry into Rome in the last days of Advent of the Calabrian pifferari, or bagpipe players, who play before the shrines of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Italian tradition being that the shepherds played these pipes when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus. It is the second most important tradition behind Easter for Roman Catholics.

In recent times, the commonest observance of Advent outside church circles has been the keeping of an advent calendar or advent candle, with one door being opened in the calendar, or one section of the candle being burned, on each day in December leading up to Christmas Eve.

End of the liturgical year

In Anglican churches the Sunday before Advent is sometimes nicknamed Stir-up Sunday after the opening lines of the collect for that day.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the final Sunday of the liturgical year before Advent has been celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King since 1969.

This feast is now also widely observed in many Anglican, Lutheran and other Protestant churches, sometimes as the Reign of Christ.

The First Sunday of Advent, called Levavi is thus the first Sunday of the liturgical year.

UK Catholic agency says COP-28 food deal benefits big companies, not farmers

Industrial giants, not ordinary famers, will be the main beneficiaries of the COP-28 declaration issued by the United Arab Emirates on Friday, according to the English Catholic international aid agency.

More than 130 countries signed a “Leaders Declaration on Food Systems, Agriculture and Climate Action” at the climate change summit in Dubai on Friday, a result hailed by organizers as the first such committment to cut carbon emissions in the global food system.

“This declaration is there to help galvanise the political will needed from countries across the globe to transform our food systems in the face of climate change,” said Miriam Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, in announcing the declaration.

Yet while the Food Systems Advisor for CAFOD, the overseas charitable arm of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, called the declaration a step in the right direction, he also said the “irony is glaring.”

“While the declaration addresses our broken global food system by targeting support for indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers,” said Diego Martinez Schuett, he also argued that plans to boost global trading systems through the World Trade Organization are only going to benefit big companies.

“Currently only 0.3 percent of climate finance goes to small-scale farmers, although they produce one third of the world’s food. This declaration will only work if it encourages governments to focus on strengthening local food systems through solutions that have already proven effective, such as agroecology,” he said in a statement.

The negotiations, called “Conference of Parties,” are in their 28th iteration in Dubai. Any final decision is non-binding, meaning countries can agree to something and then not follow through.

Last year’s climate talks – COP27 in Egypt – produced a landmark agreement for rich countries to contribute to a fund to help developing nations adapt to climate change.

For decades, environmental activists had argued that a “loss and damage” fund was necessary because rich nations, which industrialized with fossil fuels, were largely responsible for climate change, while developing countries were being hit the hardest as they didn’t have the resources to withstand floods, heat waves, prolonged drought and other manifestations of a warming world.

Early discussions of loss and damage at COPs were always on the fringes, not even on the official agenda. That changed last year, as the topic, and thus the final decision, ended up being the centerpiece of the summit.

The COP28 climate talks have begun with countries agreeing on the first day of the UN summit how a “loss and damage fund” will operate.

Negotiators at COP28 agreed that the new loss and damage fund would be run by the World Bank in its first years of operating, with funding provided by rich countries who have contributed the greatest volume of greenhouse gases in recent decades.

Governments agreed in 2022 at COP27 to set up a loss and damage fund, but details of how the fund would operate were left to be decided.

Pope Francis, who was forced to cancel plans to attend the COP-28 summit due to ill-health, has called for world leaders at the annual climate conference to put the “global common good” above their own national interests.

Liz Cronin, the Climate Policy Lead at CAFOD, said the COP28 decision to finally operationalize the long-awaited loss and damage fund is “a really positive way” to start the two weeks in Dubai.

“The UK has pledged up to £60 million which is a really welcome recognition of how important the fund is and the country’s historic responsibility for climate impacts,” she said.

“Whilst this is a great start to COP, the fund now needs filling up with new and additional climate finance that isn’t just moved from existing climate finance commitments. CAFOD are calling on the UK and all developed countries going forward to step up and contribute their fair share to the fund,” Cronin added.

Noting that it is one of the largest historic emitters of the greenhouse gases driving the climate crisis, CAFOD is calling for the UK government to play its part by taking action on three fronts:

  • Push for the world to consign fossil fuels to history in order to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C. Staying below this limit can only be achieved by stopping all new oil, coal and gas projects and rapidly phasing out existing production.

  • Fund the loss and damage fund with new money from grants, rather than loans which will only exacerbate the debt crisis faced by low-income countries. Governments at COP27 agreed to set up this fund to support countries suffering from the impacts of climate catastrophes.

  • Support small-scale farmers who are growing food in ways that protect nature rather than harm it. The government must channel financial and technical support towards small-scale farmers and away from big agricultural companies that are damaging the environment.

Thousands of CAFOD supporters have called for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to stick to the UK’s climate pledges in the months leading up to COP28 and for the UK government to push other countries to make ambitious commitments at the summit in the UAE.

Speaking in Dubai on Friday, the British prime minister said the UK is “absolutely committed” to the country’s Net Zero targets.

“We’ve already decarbonized faster than any other major economy. Our emissions are down 48 percent since 1990. Compared to limited cuts from others, and a 300 percent increase from China,” Sunak told the summit.

“We’re also one of the largest climate donors, because we want to help those suffering the impacts of climate change,” he continued.

“As I said in September, we won’t tackle climate change unless we take people with us. Climate politics is close to breaking point. The British people care about the environment. They know that the costs of inaction are intolerable.  But they also know that we have choices about how we act,” the British prime minister said.

“So yes we’ll meet our targets, but we’ll do it in a more pragmatic way, which doesn’t burden working people.  We’ve scrapped plans on heat pumps and energy efficiency, which would have cost families thousands of pounds. We’ll help people to improve energy efficiency and cut bills – but we won’t force them too,” he added.

Bishop John Arnold of Salford, the lead of environmental issues for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales, asked political leaders to take decisive action at this summit and create energy transition targets that are efficient, obligatory and readily monitored.

“Care for God’s creation is intrinsically bound up with care for all our brothers and sisters and, given that climate change will affect poor countries the most, caring for creation can be thought of as an intrinsic part of the ‘preferential option for the poor’,” the bishop said.

People, not buildings, are the future of the Catholic Church (Contribution

People, not buildings, are the future of the Catholic Church

What is the future for Christianity in the West? 

What will the Roman Catholic Church specifically – for so long the dominant manifestation of that faith – do in the coming decades as pattern and practice change so much? 

What does the answers mean for those who remain members of that church, and how will they interact with those people who have an increasingly reserved relationship with it?

I discussed these questions with Monica Morley, an important voice and leader in the life of the church in this region, best known for her role as co-presenter of Faith Alive on Midwest Radio. 

She is also the Director of the Family Centre at Knock Shrine, a role which arises from her “passion for pastoral ministry”. 

Following her studies in psychology, her work at Knock has evolved from general family ministry into a focus on bereavement care. Her programmes and training and individual care in this area will be well-known and much appreciated among many readers.

On Faith Alive, Monica skilfully steers a programme that does not just explore theological or liturgical questions: it examines how a person lives a faith-inspired life today, how they might satisfy “the hungers of the heart that we all have for a greater meaning in life”. 

With all that experience, she is well placed both to reflect on the changes that have happened, and look down the track over the next 30 years.

How would you describe the changes in religious life, practice and organisation in the West over the past 30 years?

“Changed hugely," she tells me, “almost unrecognisable.” 

While that is – to use a term suitable to our theme – no revelation, the examples she uses from her broadcasting experience to illustrate the changes are very insightful. One is amusing, the other profound.

She tells me first that when Faith Alive began broadcasting in 1989, the presenters were herself, Fr Brendan Hoban and Fr Colm Kilcoyne. Comments from listeners at the time focused on why she would refer to them as ‘Brendan’ or ‘Colm’ rather than as ‘Father’. She hasn’t heard that raised as an issue in 20 years.

The second observation is that when the programme started, the questions that would come would be along the lines of: "Ask Fr Brendan what I should do about X, Y, or Z", whereas today the questions are more: "This is my experience... how can the Church include me?" That precisely explains the change both in how people view their church, and figures of authority more widely.

The scandals and their impact on the Church have, of course, diminished its authority and led to a decline in the numbers participating. Monica’s view is that a good deal of this would have happened in any case – “Ireland was changing anyway: moving from a society that was very dominated by religion; the global world was coming into our world” – but the scandals accelerated the pace dramatically.

Every church sees pretty much an elderly congregation now, made even smaller following Covid. 

As Monica recounts, this all means that church (she calls the community of believers ‘church’ rather than ‘the church’ to distinguish the people from the physical buildings) is running out of resources: priests; volunteers; and money. This is placing pressure on local churches: in respect of both the liturgical, the services of public worship; as well as the pastoral, the work of providing care, support or spiritual guidance. That creates a Mount Sinai of challenges.

Large numbers of churches with no one to fill them (and pay for their upkeep); numbers of priests diminishing and congregations dwindling; the absence of resources and volunteers to deliver the pastoral services that are still in great demand.

And yet, Monica is hopeful. 

The traditional manifestations of church involvement may have diminished, but all those challenges create space in her mind to imagine more innovative liturgical services, to renew the focus on pastoral care, and to travel towards a church where the wider community of the entire baptised are given the opportunity to show leadership in their own local areas. 

The church does not “need to fear the world”, she argues, but rather go out into the marketplace of life and meet people there, exploring with them how they experience spirituality and engaging with them on their terms – something which has a deep resonance with the early Christian church in Ireland.

As she puts it, “The church is not meant to be confined to a building, it is meant to be lived as community”, which means “you are trying to bring God out of the tabernacle into the streets.” 

How will that look over the course of say the next 30 years?

We start this discussion with the role of women, where Monica is quite clear that there are going to be major and significant changes that are long overdue.

She argues this on the basis that having women in anything other than a leading and equal position with men is now so out of sync with wider society that it is no longer remotely sustainable or theologically credible. She is clear that for many women the roles offered at present within the church have often been experienced as tokenistic.

She is also quite clear that the roles of women must not be just limited to pastoral duties but also to liturgical and wider church governance duties. As she put it “many women are natural leaders, and they need to be given leadership positions at all levels within the Church". The emphasis that Pope Francis has put on governance, at parish, diocese and global church level, is creating the space for women to play key leadership roles here, she believes.

Where it leads in terms of ordination remains to be seen, but Monica feels it will be post-Francis before that comes to fruition. So how quickly will the wider process of a greater role for women develop?

Monica feels that the world is moving at such a rapid pace that things are going to change “very quickly”. In five years’ time, she reminds me, there will be very few priests in the West of Ireland – and women will be needed to respond to the gaps.

Monica feels there are women willing to perform liturgical roles, but there is a lot of preparatory work needed to help them feel confident and competent in these ministries. Much of the debate on all this is coming about in the context of the Synodal process and she is clear about the risks to the church if women are let down again on these issues.

What is ‘the Synodal process’?

The Synodal process, established by Pope Francis, is the road map to the future of the church. Monica cuts through the awkward word to tell me that the synodal process means “a focus on church as a place where all of the baptised are equal’’, a big change from the days where the ordained had a special status.

What does that mean in practice? 

Parishes will now be run – actually run – by a parish council which is drawn from all the baptised people in that community. It will be there that questions about the life of the parish – how it conducts its liturgical services and considers pastoral and operational questions – will be resolved. 

This means that decisions about what’s best for the local parish will be taken locally by a body of local people, and the days of the priest and bishop deciding everything will be over.

Indeed, in the coming years, Monica explains, there will in all likelihood be one diocese for the West, with one bishop and perhaps 20 priests in active ministry to service that whole area. 

It is in that context that local and lay people will have to take on the leadership in their parish. Certain roles will still be reserved for priests, but local people will largely deliver the work of animating the life of the church – both pastorally and liturgically. 

Best practice will be shared by lay leaders and experts – be that in bereavement or scripture – across parishes.

Parish life will change: there will be times when there won’t be Mass, or the full liturgy of the Eucharist: parish life, as she describes it, will instead involve “a variety of liturgical experiences”. 

And, for places not used to this, Monica tells me that before long a woman will lead the prayers from the altar, or at the graveside, and when that happens, “people will wonder what all the wait and all the fuss was about”. 

Lay members – women and men – will lead in all aspects of church life, on big days as well as on routine occasions.

This isn’t exactly new: we discussed how this method is already in action on the islands along our coast, where, in the absence of a resident priest, the local community takes responsibility for many of the services. 

And it certainly has an historical echo in Penal times. The declining number of priests makes this a necessity, but Monica sees the positive value of it also. 

She points out that recently at Breaffy House it was expected that 100 people would show up for parish council training for the Archdiocese of Tuam. 

In fact, 200 showed up, so many that some had to be turned away and return another night.

As regards concerns that people won’t like these changes or won’t respond to the call of leadership, Monica is confident. 

“People take to this very very easily,” she tells me, suggesting it is a response to the calling of their baptism rather than just something they enjoy doing or feel they should do.

Traditionalists have a place as well as anyone else, and tradition needs to be supported and given a place in the church. 

“We need to stay grounded in our tradition," she says, but “we don’t need to stay imprisoned in it.”

How will local issues be addressed while staying faithful to the doctrine and teachings of the wider church?

This all leads me to ask how you can ensure there is a consistency of belief and practice across all these locally governed parishes? Monica is quick to say that this doesn’t mean the body of doctrine and belief is discarded, but rather that local issues will be resolved locally – and in the light of local pastoral and human considerations. 

Above the parish council, there will be a need for the diocesan council to resolve disputes or differences which cannot be reconciled, but this will be shaped by the same synodal decision-making model, which is itself replicated all the way up to what the Pope is doing at central level.

And when I asked, humorously, who will people blame in such a structure when they can no longer blame the priest, Monica quipped, “probably the Bishop”. 

While an amusing exchange, it also raises a serious point: as the church moves from a command-and-control model, where will authority lie, and will it be respected? 

That, to Monica, is a challenge and an opportunity to show leadership, a matter to be acknowledged and respected but not to be feared.

Monica sees this Synodal process as the path towards the church talking about and attempting to engage with many social issues it has found difficult to discuss constructively.

For Monica, Francis is giving the lead here by allowing local bishops and dioceses to sort such things out locally, applying good pastoral practice to local realities. 

And while doctrine may not change – at least in the medium term – Monica does say there is “no point in having doctrine if we don’t have people”, taking her lead from Francis when he said, “who am I to judge?” 

She points to the example of the German Church as a way for local churches to make decisions in the light of their lived experience on the ground. 

As she describes it, what is needed is to respond to such issues in a different way – by listening to the people affected and then responding to them pastorally, using the light of the Gospels as well as human experience as a guide in how best to respond.

The Pope is the key to all this change. 

“He is constantly speaking to where people are at," she remarks.

He is saying to bishops and clergy and people: don’t be looking to me for all the answers. And so he is deliberately not making decisions, consciously breaking his own authority. He is changing the dynamic of decision-making, to put it back into the hands of the body of believers.

At 86, his future is on all minds, but, for Monica, after Francis, “the toothpaste is out of the tube”, and so there is no going back. 

The successor does not need to be a replica “because Francis has made a huge difference that’s not going to be able to be changed very easily; or in fact at all”. She feels things will change organically because he has changed so much of the dynamic.

What will all that mean on the ground in the West?

On the large number of churches around the West, Monica is practical and matter-of-fact. 

Attendance is down, and income at the parish level is down – in some cases by as much as 50%. 

Churches need people and money to survive. 

It is hard to be specific in numerical terms, but before too long we won’t have close to the number of active churches we have now.

Monica sees the future as less about buildings and more about church members operating as ‘field preachers’. 

In her outlook, you will find ‘church’ at a funeral, “where you have people coming together to lead prayers and comfort families at this key moment in their lives”. 

That, for Monica, is what gives the West of Ireland an advantage in this new reality, for she believes our particular sense of community is built around the Gospel and beatitude values in the lived world. 

But of course that also means, as she freely acknowledges, that when a priest is lost to a small parish, that is a big set-back and a painful reality: but one that is coming nonetheless.

There will be many challenges on that road, she tells me, not least of which is the sense of tiredness out there and the need to ensure that the structures must be created to facilitate change to a synodal church driven by the leadership of the whole baptised, but if that is provided, she says: “There is enough goodwill there; local interest there; enthusiasm there; to do all of that.” 

Strong leadership will be required from local people in the West as their church continues to grapple with age-old questions in a very different world. 

Monica Morley will continue to be a leading light on that journey.

Synod felt 'sorrow' over church's treatment of women, says Bishop Flores

What does a bishop think sitting next to the pope? “My mother's scolding  'sit up straight!'” | Crux

The bishops taking part in Pope Francis' recent major Vatican summit on the future of the Catholic Church wanted to express "a certain amount of sorrow" over how women have been treated by the global faith institution, said one of the American prelates who took part in the gathering.

In an exclusive interview with National Catholic Reporter, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said the delegates at the Oct. 4-29 Synod of Bishops wanted to show recognition of "how the church has not, in her leadership or in the way it works ... appreciated the sacrifice and [that] in so many parts of the world [what] continues to make the church viable is the work of women."

Flores, who was one of 12 U.S. bishops taking part in the October assembly, said the synod wanted to consider how to make the church "a more perfect communion where we do work more cohesively in a mutual recognition of gifts."

One of the synod's hopes, he said, "is that we can model to the world, imperfect as we are, that there is a way to relate to each other that's not all about power and all about control."

Flores, who is also the lead coordinator of the U.S. bishops' national consultation process for the synod, spoke to NCR as part of "The Vatican Briefing" podcast. 

The bishop addressed the role of women in the church in response to a question about the synod's decision in its final document to postpone action on the possibility of ordaining women as deacons.

Flores said the members of the 2023 synod assembly considered their final text "an interim document."

"We need some time to kind of go more deeply into what's marked there," he said in an interview on Nov. 13, during the U.S. bishops' annual fall assembly in Baltimore. He said that in the time between now and an expected second synod assembly in October 2024, "we need to think more about this [text], but we need to kind of think about it together and also think about it in context of our local communities."

"I think there's some theological thinking that has to go on, at least initially, during this year, to kind of help us sort of frame the questions," he said.

Flores spoke for an episode of "The Vatican Briefing" podcast that also features a conversation between co-hosts Joshua McElwee and Christopher White about Francis' recent health issues, which led the pontiff to cancel his previously planned trip to Dubai for the U.N. Climate Change Conference

Is the pope’s crackdown on opponents the beginning of the endgame?

Catholic leaders condemn pope's endorsement of same-sex unions

As punishments go, it was harsh. 

This week, Pope Francis decided to strip one of his most vociferous opponents, the retired cardinal Raymond Burke, of his privileges, including financial benefits and a coveted rent-free Vatican apartment.

“If this is accurate, it is an atrocity that must be opposed,” tweeted Joseph Strickland, a Burke ally, fellow conservative and another leading critic of the pope. 

Strickland knows what it is like to be on the sharp end of papal displeasure: last month, he was forcibly removed as bishop of Tyler, in Texas, after a Vatican investigation into the governance of his diocese.

The pope cancelled his attendance at the UN climate conference in Dubai this week because he is having breathing difficulties caused by acute bronchitis, requiring treatment with antibiotics.

It is the latest in a string of health concerns, including intestinal surgery and a hospital stay with bronchitis earlier this year. Francis, who will be 87 this month, has been pope for more than 10 years, and has hinted he will retire if his health fails.

He is probably keen to secure his legacy against the machinations of those who seek to undermine his reforms and his vision for the global Roman Catholic church.

Burke, an American, is at the forefront of those efforts. He has openly challenged Francis and his reforms, joining other conservatives in issuing “dubia”, or formal questions, seeking clarification on issues such as divorced and remarried Catholics and same-sex unions.

This autumn, Burke publicly accused Francis of pursuing a political agenda. 

Speaking before an important synod of bishops which will consider, among other issues, a greater role for women in the church and opening up church governance, Burke said: “It’s unfortunately very clear that the invocation of the Holy Spirit by some has the aim of bringing forward an agenda that is more political and human than ecclesial and divine.”

He said it was his duty to speak out: “The sheep depend on the courage of pastors who must protect them from the poison of confusion, error and division.”

At a meeting of Vatican heads of offices last week, Francis said Burke was a source of disunity in the church, and was using his privileges as a retired cardinal against the church, the Associated Press reported.

Other Catholic conservatives have said Francis’s removal of Burke’s salary and apartment was vindictive and misjudged, and would shore up support for Burke.

Opposition to Pope Francis is not new. 

He has antagonised many at the Vatican with his denunciations of the concentration of power in the hands of the few and the privileges they have accorded themselves. 

Right from the start of his papacy he said the Catholic church must become “a church of the poor for the poor”, and has espoused issues such as inequality, migration and the climate crisis.

For 10 years, conservatives in the church have sought to undermine Francis, efforts that the pope has mostly borne with equanimity. 

But now, perhaps as the clock is ticking on his papacy, Francis appears to be more determined to tackle his opponents head on.

Austen Ivereigh, Francis’s biographer, wrote this week: “The question most Catholics have in response to the decision of Pope Francis to remove the Vatican privileges of Cardinal Raymond Burke will not be, ‘why did he do this?’ but ‘what on earth took him so long?’.

“The pope is an astonishingly patient man, and he loves to give people second chances. Anyone who has followed the activities, speeches, and shenanigans of the traditionalist American cardinal this past decade will have been amazed at how Burke has been allowed constantly to undermine the pope’s authority, setting himself against the papacy as a counter-magisterium, and building a lucrative career portraying himself as the true guardian of the tradition.”

When the time comes to choose a new pope, the gathering of cardinals from around the world, known as the conclave, will be highly charged as different factions seek to ensure their man is the frontrunner.

Francis has acted, in this regard, by creating 21 new cardinals in September, meaning almost three-quarters of the 137 cardinals eligible to vote in the conclave have been chosen by him.

For Burke, 75, the loss of his stipend and apartment will fuel his antagonism towards Francis. Although humiliating, Francis’s move will not impair Burke’s popularity in conservative Catholic circles, nor impact his lucrative speaking engagements and book deals. 

And, most significantly, he still holds his trump card: a vote in the conclave that chooses the next pope.

Peter McVerry Trust refiles 2022 Directors' report, financial statements

The Peter McVerry Trust has refiled its Directors' report and financial statements for last year.

The charity's original report, submitted in May, did not comply with the Companies Act 2014, because a Directors' Compliance Statement was omitted.

The updated report says adjustments to the financial statements were required, "to show a true and fair view of the financial position of the company in respect of the year ended 31st December 2022".

The previously published 2022 accounts showed a surplus of just under €4.5 million. The restated accounts show a surplus figure of just over €3.9m last year.

A surplus figure of €1.86m in 2021, has also been restated by the charity as €930,522 for that year.

The revised report has noted that the Peter McVerry Trust CLG receives its main funding from State agencies and that this is supplemented by donations and fundraising "to meet its operational costs of providing services to the relevant State agencies".

This statement was not included in the original 2022 report which says the restated financial results show that at the end of 2022 the McVerry Trust had assets of €187,162,287 (2021 - €133,022,439) and liabilities of €137,402,887 (2021 - €87,478,861).

The original directors' report submitted in May stated that the board had established a policy whereby unrestricted funds not committed or invested in tangible fixed assets held by the charity should be at least 13 weeks of the budgeted future annual expenditure.

In the revised report "circa €12m", has been included in the text to establish the quantity of the funds.

It also states that unrestricted reserves were €47.3m by year end.

The revised report which was signed by directors, Fr Peter McVerry and Deirdre-Ann Barr was approved by the Board of Directors of the Trust last Tuesday, 21 November.

The original report which was also signed by Fr McVerry and Ms Barr was submitted in May this year before it was removed online.

In July, the Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority was first notified about a number of financial and governance issues at the charity.

In September, inspectors were appointed to investigate the Peter McVerry Trust and this examination is ongoing. There are no specifics on the timeframe for completion according to the AHBRA.

In October, CEO Francis Doherty who had been appointed to the role in June, resigned after further information emerged.

The Charities Regulator also announced last month that it had begun an investigation into the Peter McVerry Trust in relation to governance and finance-related matters.