This time one year ago I was busily working on my input for the World Meeting of Families Pastoral Congress in the RDS. I had to be ready in good time because my input had to be sent off to Rome in advance of the Congress just to make sure that I wasn’t saying anything I shouldn’t be! I was also involved in a TV programme for BBC Gaeilge in Belfast where we were discussing the upcoming visit of Pope Francis. I was asked if I thought that the amount of money being spent was worth it. My reply was that it would all depend on the legacy the visit would create.
Now, almost a year on, I am concerned about that legacy. What impact has Pope Francis’ visit had on the Church in Ireland? What have we learned? How have we reflected on all he had to say? In some ways I think that some of the deeply negative stories that swirled around in the media left us all feeling battered and bruised. But to allow ourselves to be robbed of the richness would be wrong.
I loved the Pastoral Congress. There was the most wonderful atmosphere, with people there from all over the world, young, old, clergy, married, single, religious and lots of children! The Mass in the Phoenix Park was admittedly rather underwhelming but the concert the previous evening in Croke Park was one of the most energising and inspiring events I have ever been at. It wasn’t simply a fabulous concert – it was an experience of being part of a universal Church. Our son and one of our daughters were there with us and still talk about it.
And I think that is what we need, to feel that we belong to a universal Church. Pope Francis represents that Universal Church very clearly for me. It is not just that he commits himself to a punishing schedule of travel but also in the way he speaks and writes. When we know ourselves to be part of the universal Church it challenges us to have a bigger perspective. It is easy to get stuck in just our own small parish with our own small ways of doing things. Sometimes that can be deeply frustrating.
A friend of mine in England has really been struggling lately with her experience of Church, how women and families and laypeople are treated. Her son says, “If this was a political party you would just leave!” What he doesn’t understand is the ‘more’. That the Church is more than this one small parish or even one diocese and that we need to tap into a much wider vision of what it means to be people of faith.
So how can we do that? Well one thing would be to listen to what Pope Francis says. He has that wider vision because he has a responsibility to the Church throughout the whole world. Moreover, he knows how to listen, to hear the wisdom of people whose lives are far from the Vatican City. The upcoming Amazonian Synod of Bishops in October will provide us all with food for thought if we take time to listen. It may be happening far away but it matters to us. We cannot allow our faith to just be reduced to our practice in our own very small corner of the world. We need to be more.
So, whether it is reading the Columban Far East magazine or dipping into the Trócaire website or following Pope Francis on Twitter we need to nurture that wider vision and sense of belonging to a universal Church. Perhaps if we do that, we can rediscover and re-energise the legacy of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland and the wonderful World Meeting of Families.