Pastoral Update from Bishop Kevin – 7th May 2020
If you have ever climbed Croagh Patrick, you may – like me – have struggled a bit with some parts which are quite steep. But many people would say that coming down is much more difficult. The stones slide around beneath your feet and there are many places where a moment’s inattention could lead to a sprained ankle or worse. The journey downhill can’t be rushed. I think that is a good image for where we are with the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland. We are on the way down from the peak. We can see our destination ahead of us, but this is precisely the time when we all need to take care.
I know that many people in our Diocese are anxious to know when we can return to the public celebration of Mass and the Sacraments. The Bishops of the Western Province have had regular online meetings over the past two months, and this is a concern for all of us. The “roadmap” published by the Government last week indicates that it should be possible for places of worship to open on 20th July, with physical distancing measures. As you probably know, places of worship in this Diocese, in common with the other Dioceses of the Western Province, have actually remained open for personal prayer throughout the pandemic, but I believe the “roadmap” is referring to a return to gathering for public Mass.
Personally, I find it disappointing to think that smaller, physically distanced congregations would not be permitted to gather for Mass until 20th July. I honestly believe that it should be possible to begin sooner, but always giving priority to public health. Whenever it happens, it will require flexibility and generosity of spirit on the part of everybody.
For some weeks now, in consultation with a group of clergy and lay pastoral leaders in the Diocese, I have been working towards the development a strategic plan for a safe and gradual return to the normal pastoral life of the Diocese. Priests have already been asked to arrange with Parish Pastoral Councils to begin the local planning that will make this possible. This preparation is essential, and I can only authorise the return to public celebrations of Mass and the Sacraments in any parish when I have been assured that it has taken place.
After the 20th July and for the foreseeable future, we will probably have to spread our congregations over the weekdays as well as the Sundays with different sections of the parish community coming at different times, by arrangement. People may not be able to sit in their “usual seat”, because physical distance will have to be maintained. Those who wish to come for Holy Communion, will be asked to follow specific guidance as they approach and as they return to their seats. We will need people in every parish who are prepared to act as stewards and others who are willing to help with sanitising the Church after Mass. Keep in mind also, that there may be limits imposed by the fact that many of our priests as well as our parishioners are older and, therefore, more vulnerable to the effects of any virus. To put it simply, the reopening of pastoral life will require the commitment of the whole parish community or it will not happen.
The “roadmap” document tells us that “the framework is intended to be applied flexibly, so that it would be open to the NPHET, at any point in time, to recommend measures from later phases depending on the prevailing circumstances”. It is open to the Church, like other organisations, to explore what that flexibility might mean for pastoral life and to engage with Government and Public Health Authorities, to see what progress we can make towards an early return to sacramental life, consistent with the common good. Each Diocese will have something to contribute to that process but, for the sake of avoiding confusion or mixed messages, it is something that we will have to do together. This is not made any easier by the fact that we have two political jurisdictions on the island, or the fact that the impact of the virus has been significantly different in different parts of the country.
There are a few other things that I would like to say to you while I have the opportunity
Leaving Certificate 2020
I am conscious that the lack of clarity around the Leaving Certificate is a cause of anxiety for students. It is very difficult for young people to sustain the motivation to study when doubt is being cast on whether the exams will even take place. As Patron of three second level Colleges in the Diocese and with hundreds more young people around the Diocese preparing for Leaving Cert, I am asking that they should be given clarity without further delay.
Confirmation and First Holy Communion
In recent weeks I have sent our messages Video messages to children preparing for Confirmation and for First Holy Communion. I wanted to encourage them to keep up their preparation and their prayer and this is still my message.
Boys and Girls, your Confirmation and your First Holy Communion will come but it looks like it is going to take a bit longer than we hoped to get this virus under control. It would not be fair to make any promise about dates, because we should never makes promises that we can’t keep. But I can promise you that it will happen and that I will not forget about you.
If there can be no public Mass until July 20th and if schools are remaining closed until the beginning of September, I think we have to say that we can’t expect to celebrate Confirmation or First Holy Communion until at least the middle of September at the earliest. I know that is a big disappointment to you but I’m sure you understand that lots of people are having disappointments these days and lots of people are sick. So I am asking you to be patient and this is how you can play your part to keep everybody safe.
I’m sure you will all understand that, if it is difficult to manage COVID-19 in Ireland, it is even more difficult in countries where people don’t have proper housing, or hospitals or even fresh running water. Every year Trócaire asks your help during Lent to support those people. This year, of course, it wasn’t possible to return the Trócaire boxes through your school or your parish. But the need is just as great as it ever was. So I am appealing to you to count the money in your Trócaire box and maybe add a little extra to it if you can. Maybe the children in the family could help with this. Then make a donation online at www.trocaire.org, or send a cheque to “Trócaire” at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare.
I encourage you all to keep in touch with us online and to join us for Mass and for other pastoral and spiritual activities during these coming weeks. In that way, we nourish our own faith and we keep the flame of faith alive in our parishes and our Diocese.
Let Us Pray
Almighty and eternal God, our refuge in every danger,
to whom we turn in our distress;
in faith we pray
look with compassion on the afflicted,
grant eternal rest to the dead,
comfort to mourners, healing to the sick,
peace to the dying, strength to healthcare workers,
wisdom to our leaders
and the courage to reach out to all in love,
so that together we may give glory to your holy name.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Bishop Kevin Doran, 7th May 2020.