Do you remember Summer 2018? Ed Sheeran came to Ireland and played ‘Galway girl’ to hundreds of thousands of people (including me) in a series of concerts.
In Cork the English Market celebrated its 230th birthday.
Storm Emma hit Ireland in early 2018 and during the summer Storm Hector left many households without power.
In June 2018 ‘Newbridge or nowhere’ found some momentum in the GAA world.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married in May and they began a two-day visit to Dublin in July 2018.
And while the Summer 2018 was one of the hottest and driest in years, the sun never showed up on one particular Sunday in Phoenix Park. The sun was hidden behind the clouds and the rain came pouring down on many of us in the early hours of that famous Sunday on the August 26, 2018. It was the day Pope Francis celebrated the Eucharist in the Phoenix Park to celebrate the World Meeting of Families. Many prefer not to be reminded about it. However, something magical happened on the Sunday. A group of young people met Pope Francis in person after the Mass. They were the altar servers from different parishes in Ireland. They met Pope Francis because of their ministry and that was the beginning of a vision for altar servers in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Over the past 10 years as a parish pastoral worker for the Archdiocese of Dublin I have been spending a lot of time and energy preparing children and their families for the sacraments. I love journeying with those families and helping them to experience a welcoming and loving Church. I am under no illusion for some it is only a day, many are using the word “conveyor belt” to describe the reality. However, I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit and I minister to every family in the hope that this might be a new beginning for them to experience God in their lives. At the same time, I have to admit, as much as I love it and I try my best, it sometimes drives me mad. We spend a lot of time and energy reaching out to those astray that sometimes we overlook those that are here every Sunday or maybe twice a month. We all know those families that are there because they want to be there. Not because it is their child’s first Holy Communion, a welcoming Mass or part of the preparation, they are there because they believe that is where they are meant to be on a Sunday.
If a child decides to become an altar server at a young age they need the support of their family. Often the parents might be involved themselves in some kind of ministry. While you are reading this you probably have a family in your mind from your own parish.
The Mass with Pope Francis on August 26, 2018 was a wonderful experience for the altar servers, maybe once in a life time. That encouraged me to dream and create a vision for the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Maybe your parish has two or three altar servers, maybe there are 20 or 50. Either way, your parish is blessed because the ministry of altar servers is important because what would the liturgy look like without them?
In order to celebrate this ministry and to give it the recognition it deserves, I am delighted to be part of a committee that is going to celebrate the 4th Altar Servers Day for the Archdiocese of Dublin. The day is about giving something back to them. It is to tell them how wonderful their ministry is, that we value that they make an effort to be there. We try to connect those one or two altar servers from one parish to the group of 20 from another and most importantly we try to create a moment for them to encounter Christ. Those children, teenagers and indeed adults who are giving their commitment on a Sunday morning deserve to be seen and recognised.
There was nearly 40 years between the visits of St John Paul II and Pope Francis to Ireland. No doubt the Church has changed a lot between those two visits but I encourage you to dream big: Imagine a Pope visits Ireland in 30 years’ time and your daughter, son, niece, nephew, granddaughter or grandson is the one sitting next to the Pope as an altar server!