Bishop John Buckley has convened a meeting of clergy and representatives of religious and parishioners in Cork and Ross diocese to discuss ways in which neighbouring parishes can work together, share resources and involve parishioners more.

The scarcity of priests is taking hold and we have no choice but to respond to it in practical ways.

Bishop John Buckley

In a letter to be read at all Masses in the diocese at the end of January 2008 (see below), Bishop Buckley acknowledges that the challenges presented by a declining number of priests give greater urgency to planning the future for the parishes. But the bishop emphasises that the mission of involving all the baptised in the Church is at the heart of the Church since its beginning.

The bishop has written to all clergy, parish sisters, the chairperson and secretary of each parish assembly and parish pastoral council and the chairperson of each parish finance committee inviting them to a specially convened diocesan meeting on Sunday March 9th at which this issues will be presented along with outline proposals. These will then be discussed during the following months at meetings throughout the diocese.

Click here for pdf of Pilgrim Steps – a diocesan pastoral plan for Cork & Ross published in 2005

Text of letter read at all Masses

The following letter was read at all Masses in Cork & Ross on the weekend of 26/27th January 2008.

I am writing to let you know about an important meeting being held in the diocese at the beginning of March. It will have outcomes which will change the way parishes plan for and meet the changing needs of our times.

Profound and rapid changes are taking place in society. In all areas of life today people are adapting to new situations and learning new skills.

The Church has always adapted to changing situations. The message of Christ continues to be powerful and relevant today as in the past. As far back as the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council encouraged us all to discern the most effective way of encouraging participation in the life of the Church. In the following years, appropriate structures began to be established at parish and diocesan level. Something similar had happened, too, in the early Church. St. Paul always thanked the people for their “partnership” with him in the work of the gospel and left behind a core group in each of the communities which he established.

At the beginning of this millennium, Pope John Paul II invited each local church to plan for its future needs. Our pastoral plan called Pilgrim Steps, which was launched in 2005, is our response to the Pope’s appeal and was the fruit of much thought, discussion and prayer in all areas of the diocese. Indeed, over 5,000 people attended these local meetings.

Since the publication of “Pilgrim Steps”, parishes have been engaged in setting up and consolidating their pastoral councils and assemblies. I thank all those involved in this work and I know that it will bear much fruit.

I now think it is necessary to move on to the next stage, as proposed in that document — the creation of pastoral areas. This is a process whereby neighbouring parishes plan and work together in a way that is truly co-operative. Parishes can no longer work effectively in isolation.

This model of co-operation and sharing of resources is based on our shared responsibility arising from our baptism. Moving towards it becomes all the more imperative as the number of priests decreases. The call of the Second Vatican Council for more lay involvement in the life of the Church had nothing to do with an impending shortage of priests, but clearly the lack of priests today and fewer vocations to the priesthood has given great urgency to this way forward. The scarcity of priests is taking hold and we have no choice but to respond to it in practical ways.

Last year, I established a working group to assist me in developing further the concept of pastoral areas and to make recommendations about establishing them in this diocese. We have met regularly since last June and we have looked at developments in other dioceses.

Solutions to many of the questions need to be found by all of us working together and sharing our gifts and talents. It is my hope that during this year we can make significant progress in developing pastoral areas in the diocese.

I have written to, and invited, clergy, religious and parish representatives to a meeting which will take place on Sunday March 9th, 2008 in Cork. At this meeting, we will outline and discuss the first steps involved in setting up pastoral areas in the diocese, in other words, in helping each parish to plan and work more closely with its neighbours. It is my aim to keep everyone informed of developments as we progress in this important work.

Finally, our work will not be easy. We must face this uncertain future with joy and hope — the joy that comes from following Christ. In his recent letter on Hope (Spe Salvi) Pope Benedict in his recent letter on Hope has quoted the prophet Jeremiah who wrote in troubled times for his people:

I am promising you a future full of hope.

Let us also continue to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, who is our hope.

With prayerful best wishes,
I remain
Yours sincerely in Christ,

+John Buckley,
Bishop of Cork and Ross.