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Diocesan Gathering – Facing the changes and challenges together

On Monday 19th November the clergy, religious and lay people of the diocese gathered together in Mount St Anne’s to continue the discussion on Bishop Denis’ pastoral of May 2017 “Facing the Changes and Challenges Together”.

Fr Eamon Fitzgibbon facilitated the meeting, with inputs from Bishop Denis, Fr Micheal Murphy and Julie Kavanagh.

The slides from the night and the text of Bishop Denis’ addresses are below.

Diocesan Gathering – 19 November 2018

7.30pm – Words of Welcome from Bishop Denis

I’m delighted to welcome you to our Diocesan Gathering of Priests, Religious, Permanent Deacons & Lay People. We have had a number of these gatherings to date, last time we gathered was in September past at the Diocesan Planning & Resource Day for Secretaries and Parishes. At every gathering we are reflecting on the challenges and changes we all confront on a daily basis, with greater urgency as time passes. I often think we need a new language around this conversation, even the word conversation has a sense of fluidity to it, it lacks a sense of permanence.

I’m not going to give a chronology of events since I wrote the Pastoral Letter on 7 May 2017, that’s just over eighteen months ago. There have been several meetings – large plenary ones like tonight’s and smaller deanery and more local gatherings. I was delighted to meet the Tullow Deanery area in K&L South last May and the Kildare Deanery area in K&L North last June and I thank those who made those listening opportunities happen. I know that Julie will speak later about her more recent engagement with the larger deanery areas, as Michael will report on the questionnaire circulated by the Council of Priests.

Tonight’s meeting has been flagged for a long time and we’re delighted once again to have Fr. Eamonn Fitzgibbon of Limerick Diocese with us. Eamonn is walking this walk with many dioceses including his own at this time. There is no one more qualified and with a greater command of this current state of flux in the Irish church than Eamonn. We shouldn’t think “it’s only us, we’re on our own”. We certainly aren’t and we can learn from others and indeed share our learnings with them. If there was something I heard loud and clear in the two deanery meetings attended by priests and lay people – Tullow and Kildare – it is the need to train, to up-skill, to equip lay people so that you can confidently take on leadership roles at parish level.

It’s close to three months since Pope Francis walked amongst us. It’s amazing how quickly the visit has even passed from our memory. I imagine Pope John Paul II’s visit and the content of his talks lingered much longer. When we as Bishops were privileged to meet Pope Francis at the Convent of the Dominican Sisters in Cabra, just an hour before the plane headed back for Rome, he said to us: “I am most grateful for the support you give to your priests, whose hurt and discouragement in the face of recent scandals are often ignored or under-estimated. Be close to your priests. For you, as bishops, they are the closest of your neighbours”. I have no doubt that the priests are very much my closest collaborators and colleagues, we’re in this together and no one should fear or feel he’s on his own. I cannot thank the priests of the diocese enough, the priests working in your parishes for the huge commitment they have to ministry, to parish, to diocese. Priests are key to this process. Their participation is deeply appreciated.

Pope Francis continued with a quote from his more recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate: “‘God is eternal newness and he impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar, to the fringes and beyond’ (GS 135). With humility and trust in his grace, may you discern and set out new paths for these new times. Be courageous and creative”. It is time for us to set out those new paths for these new times. I see tonight as hugely significant in indicating and illuminating those new paths. I am so delighted you are here in such great numbers and ask Margaret now to lead us in prayer …

8.30pm: Input on Vision for the Future of the Diocese from Bishop Denis

I had two wonderful evenings celebrating Pope John Paul II awardees last week in ceremonies in Graiguecullen and in Nass. Daniel, a Papal Cross recipient spoke to me after the Graiguecullen evening, over the cup of tea. So much truth is said often during the refreshments than during the ceremony or ritual proper. Daniel’s concern was: “he was the only one of his age going to Mass in his church, what will happen to his parish in ten year’s time”, he asked? I ask, as many of us do, the same question often myself. Sadly, there is no easy silver bullet answer. I know Daniel probably wouldn’t have read my Pastoral Letter of May 2017, but he understands like all of us do, the urgency to face as a diocese the challenges and changes around us.

At that already mentioned gathering in the Dominican Convent in Cabra with Pope Francis, just three months ago, he asked us “what is the first duty of the bishop? I’m glad he didn’t stop there and start asking all around the room, he could get a great variety of answers! But he took us out of our misery and continued: “I say it to everyone: it is prayer”. The first verse of the psalm at last nights ‘Night Prayer’ consoled me hugely as we face these changes and challenges together:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
and abides in the shade of the Almighty
says to the Lord: “My refuge,
my stronghold, my God in whom I trust” (Ps. 90)

It leads me to ask the question what is God asking of me, asking of all of us in Kildare & Leighlin at this time, in the here and now, today, tonight in Mount St. Anne’s? We all know the aspirations around the theme of ‘Facing the Challenges & Challenges Together’; aspirations I teased out at earlier meetings. Some of the timelines were then ambitious and on the optimistic side of the scale! For instance, asking that there be a Parish Pastoral Council or Leadership Team with Priests and lay people in every parish by this autumn. We could have a long debate tonight on whether November is autumn or winter, it’s fair to see a lot of parishes still have some journey to go.

The book of Proverbs reminds us “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18). I remember the debate we had over a couple of early meetings on our Diocesan Commission for Liturgical Formation around formulating a vision statement; it wasn’t a waste of time, it has become a reference point out of which Margarita Bedding and before her Eileen Good operate with the group. Vision statements are best when they are short and snappy and say it without over labouring the point.

Tonight, is our eighth meeting as a diocese since that Pastoral Letter in May 2017, many of those meetings were for the priests only, in more recent times they were like tonight, larger assemblies of all God’s people. The eight do not include all the Council of Priests or Deanery meetings on this topic. There is a sense that at times the topic has moved from the hot ring on the cooker to the bottom oven, maybe even into the cold room. It’s hard for all of us to keep momentum going and even to track discussion points. In that respect I am announcing tonight the formation of a Diocesan Pastoral Council to drive this topic, to own this agenda, to help shape the journey ahead. The Diocesan Pastoral Council will comprise of three lay people and two priests from each of the deanery areas – K&L North, K&L South, K&L West. I will be inviting the local VF’s to bring together priests in the deanery during the coming six weeks to elect priests and nominate lay members of the new Diocesan Pastoral Council. The members must be people of faith who have competency, interest and skills to deal with the issues that tonight’s subject matter involves. My intention would be that the names will be submitted to me in early January with the intention of the first meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council on Tuesday 29th January in Bishops House.

Those who serve on it will be carefully chosen by their peers and supported completely by them. It is not a matter of letting them at it, it’s about a deliberate discernment to a preferred model of church in Kildare & Leighlin, rather than an un-reflected drift into some probable model, that’s probably made up as we stumble along. I intentionally have more lay people than priests serving on the new Diocesan Pastoral Council; the priests will have many vehicles for conversation, discussion and discernment, including the Council of Priests. Priests are key in this process. But I think something is needed, which keeps our discussion on track, where all are represented around the table. I will myself nominate people to represent Faith Development Services, the Religious and Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese. I will be appointing Msgr. John Byrne, my Vicar General to chair this Diocesan Pastoral Council.

It is an attempt to create a new culture in Kildare & Leighlin, where priests are allowed and permitted to ‘let go’ and laity encouraged and empowered to ‘take up’. It’s a move from spectator to player mode. I have no doubt the new Council will look at ecclesiology and our understanding as a Diocesan Pastoral Council of what church means in 2018, it will address the training of lay people and appropriate timescales to keep us all on track. Down and Connor Diocese have engaged in recent years a group from Scotland (the Kinharvie Institute in Glasgow) a training they offer called: ‘Facilitative and Discerning Leadership’ to lead their training of lay people. Through Julie Kavanagh they have generously offered four free places on their next training in January, I will be inviting three people to travel to Belfast in the middle of January to avail of that training experience with Julie. Following on their experience of the training it is my intention to invite the Kinharvie Institute to offer training in the diocese after Easter.

My hope and prayer is that out of the establishment of this Diocesan Pastoral Council that every parish will feel enabled to renew, reform, re-energize your own Parish Pastoral Council or lay leadership group – a group that are pastoral in it’s intent, planning for the pastoral needs of all within its territory. So, what is God asking of me in Kildare & Leighlin at this time – I think it is to be brave and courageous and allow the Spirit to move amongst us and shape our shared future together. I owe it to Daniel, that young John Paul II Award recipient who loves his church, his parish and his faith. And I owe to all of you, priests and people who deeply care about your parish, your church, our diocese, eighteen months since writing that Pastoral Letter that provoked this ongoing discussion. My prayer is that our next large event will be organized and run by our new Diocesan Pastoral Council. Many thanks.

Powerpoint slides – Diocesan Gathering Mount St Anne’s Monday 19th November