It is indicative of the work of the Holy Spirit that a suite of themes can now be identified, and individual responses can, consequently, be grouped together, as follows.
The hierarchical structure of the church was listed in many of the responses. While there is a glowing admiration for Pope Francis and his style of leadership, wherein he is seen as non- judgemental and willing to listen, there is also a concern that the voices of the faithful are not being heard.
One of the essential components of our Christian life is the regular attendance at Mass and receiving Holy Communion. Aware of the decreasing number of priests, the importance of having a regular Mass celebrated in each parish was mentioned in most responses. (If we have no priests, we have no Eucharist. If we have no Eucharist, we have no Church!). Many still see the attendance at Mass as a community responding to the call to prayer.
Mass attendance, at a distance, will rob the faithful of this life-sustaining sacrament.
For historical reasons, one of the stark challenges facing the Church in Ireland for many years has been the disconnect between Church, home and school. Despite various efforts over the years, little has changed and the preferred option continues to be to allow our schools be the main providers of religious education. Of course, this is an easy way out – and it worked in the past! But, as mentioned earlier, society was a lot simpler, but in reality, how well did it work? Perhaps a whole generation of young adults has been educated but has no real sense of what a commitment to their Catholic faith means. Some of the replies reflect this in stating, “If we always do what we always did, we will always get what we
Clergy and Religious:
With an increasing decrease in vocations and a lesser number of priests, the burden of parish work is falling to too few. Many of the responses show the pride that parishioners and communities have in their parish and, especially, in their priests, highlighting their dedication to their work, most especially during and post-Covid. They refer to their constant availability to the people, especially their pastoral care in times of bereavement and in celebrating the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
Discuss and debate a married priesthood openly. A concern at the training currently being provided to seminarians. The role of women needs to be recognised. The giftedness of women is neither recognised or appreciated. Yet, they are the backbone of the church at present. Allow the ordination of women deacons and begin a debate on the ordination of women to full priesthood.
The importance of a proper religious education in our primary and second level schools was referenced in many responses.
Another common thread running through the responses is the need for our Church to be a welcoming community, to reach out to all baptised members. These include those who are not regular church-goers, those who have lapsed, members of the LGBT community, etc. The need to reach out to those alienated from Church life needs to be addressed.
One of the most frequent comments made among churchgoers today is that “we didn’t see too many young people at Mass today”. This is very clear in the Synodal Pathway responses. What have we done wrong? Where can we go from here? The absence of young people at Mass and at other liturgies is a cause for concern for many, but it is also clear that these young people have not abandoned their faith. We see this in their willingness to participate in JP II Awards, and, later, when they decide to marry, and when they bring their child for Baptism. Yet, without the structure, routine and support of liturgy, they will fall by the wayside.
Just as there were comments on the role of young people, there were similar comments that the same old familiar faces are the only ones involved in our church today. Celebrate life’s milestones for this age group.
The urgent need for an active Parish Pastoral Council to be set up in each parish is clear from the responses. Indeed, it is suggested that the role of the PPC needs to be defined /redefined, especially in the light of dwindling number of priests and many priests now covering two or more parishes.
Care of the Earth
One of the highlights of Pope Francis’s ministry as Pope so far has been his encyclical Laudato ‘Si. While this document was mentioned specifically in many of the responses, reference was made throughout for the need for all of us to care for the earth.
Under this heading is included the local branch of the Legion of Mary, etc. and the work that membership entails. This is mentioned in some of the responses, probably where there is already a branch. Other items mentioned in this category include the call to bring back regular Benediction and the Rosary.
Conclusion: Looking to the Future
In summarising the comments received from such a varied group, as referenced above, we ask ourselves, “What is God asking of the Church in Ireland at this time?” and “How is the Holy Spirit guiding us to be a church more responsive to the needs of our rural and urban communities across the country?”
The engagement of so many people in the process has been encouraging and shows signs of great hope for the future.