Saturday, July 22, 2023

“Our Baptism Calls us to Serve in New Ways” – Pastoral Letter from Bishop Larry Duffy


Pastoral Letter “Our Baptism Calls us to Serve in New Ways”

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

Peace be with you! (John 20:19)

As I greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus this weekend, I wish to bring to your attention some important, challenging and hope-filled news about how our Diocese of Clogher is preparing for its future mission in a changing environment.

On 6 June last, the clergy of the diocese, together with a number of lay people, met in Monaghan for a day-long review of where we are as a diocese and, more importantly, where we must head over the immediate future and into the next ten to twenty years. Considerable research was undertaken ahead of that meeting and it made for very sobering reflection. The truth is that we cannot continue to operate and provide pastoral ministry across our diocese in the same way as we do now or as we did in the past. We have to look at a whole new model. The figures given to us indicate that if we continue as we are, in less than 20 years there will be fewer than 10 priests covering the 85 churches across the whole diocese – from Bundoran on the Atlantic to Inniskeen and Killanny near Dundalk. At most, there will be just one priest ordained in the next 7 years. These facts alone will mean less Masses. But the other point that emerged from the June meeting was that we are far too dependent on our priests for not just pastoral care but for administration, property maintenance, planning and governance of parishes. Also, the impacts of the continuing pressures on the wellbeing of clergy cannot be ignored; in fact, that has to be a priority area for immediate attention.

We need to move from a model that is clergy-dependent and based almost solely on sacramental provision to one that is broader in terms of recognizing, utilizing and honouring the vocation and varied gifts of all the baptised and which will, over time, allow for really effective and meaningful co-responsibility in the Church’s mission. Our Baptism calls us to serve in new ways. That is our challenge, a challenge we all have to face, with the help of God. ‘There are various gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services but the same Lord’ (1 Cor 12: 4-5).

In all of this we should not allow negativity and doom to prevail. Christ is with us. As people filled with the Holy Spirit, we must all engage positively in the process that is unfolding. In that regard, I wish to speak about what is happening locally, nationally and universally to bring the Church unto a pathway towards a new vision, filled with hope.

As you know, we have been in dialogue as a diocese since before the pandemic in 2020. At Pentecost 2020, I wrote to you that this process would continue. Then, in October 2021, Pope Francis brought the whole Church into a Synod, inviting people to journey together, to listen to the Holy Spirit and discern how we can proclaim the Gospel effectively in order to bring people into encountering Christ in our time. This October and again in 2024, a Synod – with lay participation – will be convened in Rome to consider this. Here in Ireland, we too are embarking on a similar pathway, a process which will enable us to imagine and realise new possibilities for the future of the faith here as well as journeying with those people who carry wounds which were inflicted on them by Church representatives in the past. Very importantly, we are also in a Year of Vocation to the Diocesan Priesthood, where we are inviting men to ‘take a risk for Christ’ and consider the vocation to priestly life. We need priests! Without priests we cannot have the Eucharist or the Sacraments of Reconciliation or Anointing.

More locally, here in the Diocese of Clogher, I am establishing a diocesan group, which will consist primarily of lay people. This group will be tasked with responsibility for planning and guiding us into the future. It will involve continued listening to all of you at parish and pastoral area levels and the formulation of a vision – with a plan to begin realising that vision over the next year or two. I invite you to get involved with this. Let us walk together to make it possible to imagine new ministries at the service of a Church that listens and journeys with everyone through the Holy Spirit. In recent years, Pope Francis has introduced a number of new life-long public ministries – Lector, Acolyte and Catechist – which will be open to lay women and men, enabling them to take on leadership roles. And there is also the ordained ministry of the Permanent Deacon which was re-introduced by Vatican II.

In addition, the configuration of parish groupings will have to be considered in such a way as to provide effective pastoral outreach that respects new forms of ministry, the care and wellbeing of clergy and local circumstances. These challenges will involve letting go of some things that are familiar to us. We will be challenged to develop new ways of learning and celebrating our faith; new ways of gathering in our parishes for prayer in the absence of a priest, new ways of preparing for and celebrating funerals, new ways of assisting in parish administration and so on. Some parishes are already doing some of this and with great vitality. Others are already moving towards developing lay-led ministry in a number of areas, including aspects of the celebration of funerals, by asking some parishioners to take on roles in funeral ministry. Training, formation and ongoing support will be an absolute necessity for those taking on all of these new ministries and such a programme for funeral ministry in some parishes is commencing this autumn.

Let us discern, therefore, on how best we can all promote a different way of doing things; how we can better appreciate and value the specific gifts of all the baptised and the ordained within the one People of God – the Pobal Dé. We cannot afford to wait any longer!

Please take up this invitation to reflect on new ways of being parish and new roles that each of us can play. Do not be afraid! Jesus has told us that he is with us always, ‘yes, to the end of time’ (cf. Matthew 28:19-20). He is very much with us now, even though his voice is often drowned out by the busy noises of consumerism and materialism and the competing ideologies of today’s world. He is with us on our synodal journey to renew the mission of the Church. He loves us and walks with us as we discern our pathway so that the Church of the Diocese of Clogher may proclaim the Gospel anew in accordance with the mission entrusted to us by Christ.

Let us reflect on the words of St Paul,

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Romans 15:5-6)

May, Mary, Mother of the Church, St Macartan, St Davnet, St Tighernach, St Davog, St Fanchea and all the Saints pray for us.

Yours in Christ,

+ Larry Duffy

Bishop of Clogher

14 July 2023