The landscape of the Catholic Church in Ireland is changing with new challenges, the Archbishop of Tuam tells Reek Mass – Connacht Tribune – Galway City Tribune:


Galway Bay FM Newsroom – The landscape of the Catholic Church in Ireland is changing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

These were the words of Archbishop of Tuam Francis Duffy during his address at Sunday Mass in Reek held last night.

The Archbishop was delivering his homily in Westport to mark the official start of the 2022 Croagh Patrick pilgrimage.

Archbishop Duffy said there are no quick fixes or approaches as we reflect and consider our Church and spoke of the lack of priests currently in parishes across the country.

However, he added that people should not give up hope despite the dismal picture that has been painted by some.

The Archbishop reminded everyone that all present were there because of St Patrick and his faith which led him to spend 40 days and nights on the stench.

He added that the message preached by St Patrick was the same today as it was then and that it was a time for faith, faith in action and faith in reaching out using the prayer of St Patrick as he finished.

The 10am Mass this morning at the summit was celebrated under the name of Gaeilge by Bishop Fintan Monahan, Bishop of Killaloe who offers Mass for those who have died and been injured in road accidents and for their families.

The 11 a.m. mass was celebrated by Father Stephen Farragher, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Tuam.

Mass and confessions are held at the summit with several thousand people expected to make the pilgrimage throughout the day.

Some traditionally climb barefoot.

All are urged to prepare for a physically demanding challenge with changing weather conditions – and to respect the instructions of stewards, mountain rescue teams, the Order of Malta and Gardai.

Archbishop’s homily

We are here because of Saint Patrick. The origins of Reek Sunday lie with him, the apostle of the Irish; the man who played a central role in spreading the Christian faith on this island. He climbed the ‘Reek’ and fasted for forty days. It is reminiscent of Moses’ forty days on Mount Sinai, where he received the Ten Commandments from God. Pilgrims come here, retracing the footsteps of Saint Patrick, this weekend and throughout the year, for various reasons, each pilgrim knows his own. It was a journey of faith in Christ. Saint Patrick had a strong sense of God being with him all the time. This is reflected in Saint Patrick’s breastplate prayer “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ under me, Christ above me”.

Saint Patrick preached the Good News of Jesus Christ. That was his main mission and purpose: to lead people to believe in a loving and compassionate God. God whose son, Jesus of Nazareth, brought a message about the vitality of every human life for God in this life and the next.

The parable told by Jesus and recorded in today’s gospel, and familiar to Saint Patrick, says that no one knows what is around the corner. We cannot predict the future or when God will call us, and he will call us. Eventually and inevitably, the Lord will come for us, there is no escape; it is a sobering thought, but one that could not despair us. It is also an opportunity to think about God’s love for us as reflected in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This same message preached by Saint Patrick to our ancestors all those centuries ago.

Mountains, and one as majestic as this, inspire us to look for the big picture. Whether we are at the top or in the lowlands, this imposing piece of land and rock ushers in thoughts of perspective, things look different, a new vision of a changing landscape. The landscape of the Catholic Church in Ireland, as you know, has changed for some time and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The Catholic Church in Ireland has officially entered into a synodal process. I am convinced that this is the way to go and that it will be a fruitful new beginning. During my installation in Tuam, last January, I said that the Synodal Process is a path and not a track. Some people wondered if I had lowered expectations, I said I was being realistic. This is a new chapter for the Catholic Church in this country. It means learning by journeying together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It means being patient with each other and respectful of different viewpoints, being adventurous and willing to value the new, as well as the traditional, and that takes focus. This emphasis must be on Jesus Christ. If faith in Christ is not central to the synodal journey, then what we have is just a store of words.

There are no quick fixes or approaches as we reflect and consider our Church. Instead, we travel together on a path that will have many twists and turns and won’t always be easy. All developments, innovations and continuities must serve Jesus Christ. We can be confident in this because Christ promised the Holy Spirit would be with us and we continue to pray for His direction.

The context in which we are embarking on this path raises many expectations, but there is one certainty, and an essential key component. The only certainty is the continued and sustained decline in both the number of those who practice and the number of those who respond to the Lord’s call to priesthood and religious life. Each diocese has its own history of this reality. Each parish will be affected in terms of the number of clergy available and the number and frequency of Masses. All trends are dramatically down with no turning point in sight. I suggest you look at your priest, he may be the latest in a long line of resident pastors and may not be replaced. I advise you to look at your church, you may be lucky enough to have one or more Sunday mass, but for how long? I suggest you look at your fellow parishioners at Mass, who among your neighbors will continue to be the new leaders and continue the pastoral work in your parish, alongside a much smaller number of clergy? Who among them will lead prayer services and keep the faith alive and active through catechesis and other initiatives?

Some may think I have painted a somewhat gloomy picture, this is the current reality as I see it, and as I know many of you see it too. While we have to face it and work with it, we must not lose hope. We have the Lord with us and He will guide us through this time of transition and restructuring.

Should we give up? Certainly not, and we must not let the situation drift either. It’s a time of decline in some ways, but it’s a time of great hope. Opportunities are there to be seized.

Is it a good time to be a priest, or is it a good time to consider becoming a priest, to respond to this call? It’s the best of times to be a priest, to challenge – yes, with risks – yes, with God on our side – yes.

Is it time to shut up about the Good News of Jesus Christ and relegate it to the back pages? Absolutely not. It is a time for faith, faith in action, faith in openness. “I rise today, by a mighty force, the invocation of the Trinity, by the belief in the Trinity, by the confession of the Unity of the creator of creation”. Christ be with us, Christ is with us.


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