The April 2021 issue features articles on the launch of the initial submission passed of the Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland; the Church Leaders’ call for a unified political response to address violence and community tensions; Bishop Brennan’s call for the urgent resettlement of refugee children; Archbishop Michael Neary’s tribute to Father Enda McDonagh RIP; Pope Francis’ Message for Vocations Sunday 2021; Maynooth College reflects and Covid-19 and more.
The NI Executive have announced a change to the Health Protection Regulations
that relate to Weddings and Funerals.
With effect from Monday 12 April 2021, the number permitted to attend weddings and funerals is to be informed by a risk assessment for the venue; therefore, you may permit up to the maximum number as established in the risk assessment for your church to attend.
An up-to-date summary of all Executive regulations and guidance can be found at:
STATEMENT BY THE NORTHERN BISHOPS ANNOUNCING THAT PUBLIC WORHSIP MAY RESUME IN NORTHERN IRELAND FROM FRIDAY 26th MARCH
- Bishops in the North announce a cautious return to public worship for the faithful from Friday 26th March, in time for the celebration of Holy Week and Easter.
- Bishops emphasise the need for continued caution and a rigorous application of all mitigations and safeguards required to ensure the safest possible return to public worship in our Churches.
- Every person should consider carefully if returning to collective worship is the safe and appropriate step for them, at this time. Families are encouraged to join those celebrating the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus in Churches, from the ‘domestic church’ of their own living rooms, via live-streaming.
- Bishops, together with other Church leaders, encourage all on Easter Sunday to pray and reflect in a spirit of remembering, solidarity and hope in the context of the current pandemic.
Re-opening of Churches for public worship.
Following ongoing consultation between representatives of the Churches, the Executive Office and our public health authorities, and in light of the most recent review of lockdown provisions by the NI Executive yesterday, the Northern Catholic Bishops are pleased to announce that, where possible, there can be a cautious return to public worship for the faithful from Friday 26th March, in time for the celebration of Holy Week and Easter.
We note that other Christian Churches will be making a similar announcement, in keeping with key dates in their liturgical traditions around Easter.
The need for continued vigilance and caution.
In making this announcement, made possible through the collective and heroic effort of so many in our society in their response to the current pandemic, especially our health care workers, the Bishops emphasise the need for continued caution and a rigorous application of all mitigations and safeguards required to ensure the safest possible return to public worship in our Churches. They also stress that public worship should only begin again after a thorough risk assessment, in consultation with those Covid-19 Support Teams in our Parishes. This means that some Parishes may decide that, in their particular circumstances, it is not possible to return to public worship until a later date.
In emphasising the cautious nature of this return to public worship the Bishops remind the faithful that the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days remains suspended and that every person should consider carefully if returning to collective worship is the safe and appropriate step for them, at this time. We continue to strongly encourage participation, where possible, including in the ceremonies of Holy Week, by way of live-streaming.
While Baptismal liturgies, prayer gatherings and other acts of worship can take place publicly in our Churches in accordance with today’s announcement, subject to rigorous risk assessment and with all necessary mitigations in place, it is important to note that Weddings and Funerals will continue to be subject to the relevant state regulations in terms of the numbers that can attend.
Amendments to the Liturgies of Holy Week will be required.
This year the celebration of Holy Week and Easter will also require adjustments to certain aspects of the liturgy to take account of the need for safe social distancing, sanitising and other mitigations necessary in the context of the current pandemic. Guidelines for the Liturgies of Holy Week in a time of pandemic will be issued separately to parishes over coming days. We strongly encourage families to participate from the “domestic churches” of their living rooms and join with those who are gathering in their local churches in commemorating the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord this Easter.
Priests are asked to work closely with Parish Pastoral Councils and Covid19 Support Teams in making decisions at a local level on how best to celebrate Holy Week and Easter in a safe manner. We take this opportunity to extend our sincere gratitude to parish teams throughout the country – including caretakers, stewards and cleaners – who generously ensure that our churches are safe environments where people can confidently assemble for worship. Their task is not an easy one and we appeal to all the faithful to cooperate fully with them.
First Confessions, First Communions and Confirmations.
Given the ongoing uncertainty about the public health situation and the gradual lifting of restrictions, it will be necessary for every Parish and school to give careful consideration to how the sacraments of First Reconciliation, First Holy Communion and Confirmation can be celebrated in a safe and appropriate manner over the coming months. This includes ensuring that all the necessary catechetical preparations are made, rigorous risk assessments are undertaken and, where necessary, ceremonies are significantly reduced in scale.
The Good Friday collection for the Holy Land and other charitable initiatives.
Throughout the pandemic, our Parishes have provided a real life-line of hope and solidarity to many in our local communities, including some of the most vulnerable. The joyful message of Easter inspires us to continue to reach out to those in greatest need around us at this time. We therefore ask families and individuals to bring the light of hope to others this Easter by making a particular effort to support the charitable needs of their local parish and by highlighting in a particular way this year the traditional Good Friday collection expressing our solidarity with fellow Christians in the Holy Land. We also draw attention to the ongoing and ever-increasing demands on the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and Trócaire, who will welcome much needed contributions as they have been unable to raise funds in the normal way during the pandemic.
A time of mercy and healing.
We are also conscious that Holy Week and Easter are a time when, traditionally, many people ask for in a particular way God’s forgiveness and for healing of spirit. Although it may not be possible for all who wish to, to safely avail of the sacrament of Reconciliation, we strongly encourage all the faithful to confidently renew their trust in God’s mercy at this sacred time of the year through an Act of Perfect Contrition.
A time of solidarity and hope!
As we continue our journey through the season of Lent in preparation for Easter, we strongly encourage the faithful to bring the intentions of all those impacted by Covid19 to the Lord’s care in prayer and petition. We are particularly conscious of those whose livelihoods have been seriously threatened by the pandemic. We keep in mind people who are coping with bereavement, families that cannot be together, those in care homes who can only have limited visits from their loved ones. The Easter period will also be difficult for Irish emigrants and migrants living in Ireland, who are unable to travel home. We pray that the time will come very soon when loving connections between families and friends can be fully restored.
On Easter Sunday, we will join with Christians of all traditions in offering special prayers of intercession for those impacted by Covid-19 and provide moments for our entire society to reflect together, in a spirit of hope, on the challenges of the past year arising from the global pandemic. Until then, we continue to journey in the confident hope that the efforts of all those working hard to provide the circumstances in which all sectors of our society can re-open safely will soon bear fruit.
Statement by the Northern Catholic Bishops – 22nd January 2021 Re extension of the Covid-19 Shut-down by the Northern Ireland Executive to 5th March 2021.
Yesterday afternoon the Northern Ireland Executive took the unanimous decision to extend the current Covid-19 restrictions until Friday 5th March 2021. This decision was based on the strong recommendation of the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Advisor, as a result of the continued extremely high level of transmission of the Covid-19 virus throughout the community (which over these last four weeks had not reduced to the level that had been hoped for), along with the increasing numbers in hospital and intensive care.
In the light of this decision, and on the basis of the clear and unequivocal public health advice that people should continue to stay at home, the Northern Catholic Bishops have decided that, until 5 March (but subject to ongoing review in line with any change to the public health advice), the celebration of the Eucharist and other liturgies should continue to take place without the physical presence of the faithful. Marriage, funeral, baptismal liturgies and drive-in services may continue (subject to strict safety guidelines and regulations). Arrangements for recording and/or livestreaming and making individual visits for private prayer are also permissible in accordance with regulations. We encourage parishes, where possible, to continue to broadcast the celebration of Mass – and other devotions and prayer services – online and on other media, knowing that faith and prayer can be a tremendous support to individuals and society during these difficult times.
We once more make this decision reluctantly, conscious of the pain that not being able to gather for public worship causes for all the faithful, but in the hope that this period of sacrifice is inspired by the command of Jesus to love our neighbours and undertaken for the protection of life and health and for the Common Good.
We continue to ask for prayers for the sick, the bereaved and all those whose livelihoods have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. We keep especially in mind all health workers, carers, chaplains and other essential workers. We welcome the announcement that a similar position is being taken by the leaders of the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland and many other denominations and faith communities in response to the unequivocal message from public health authorities that as many people as possible stay at home at this time.
Most Rev Eamon Martin DD
Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All-Ireland
Apostolic Administrator of Dromore
Most Rev Noel Treanor DD
Bishop of Down and Connor
Most Rev Donal McKeown DD
Bishop of Derry
Most Rev Larry Duffy DD
Bishop of Clogher
Most Rev Michael Router DD
Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh
“The path of peace and reconciliation will require new acts of courage and prophetic witness to help us navigate the residual undercurrent of fear that continues to influence our society.” Bishop Noel Treanor
New Year’s Message 2021
World Day of Peace
Each year, Pope Francis publishes a Peace Message drawing attention to the project of reconciliation and justice at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching. In his 2021 Message entitled “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace”, Pope Francis encourages us all to re-calibrate our ‘compass of social principles’. Realigning our values to the values of the Gospel draws us closer to Christ and his people. Recognising the dignity of the human person and caring for the other is the beating heart of all Catholic Social Teaching.
2020 has been an extremely difficult year as we have faced together the Covid-19 crisis. This global pandemic has revealed how interconnected we and the entire human family are. The virus has indiscriminately affected persons across all territorial borders and all sectors of society. This health crisis has also aggravated already existent inequalities, poverty, migration, and economic adversity. Many have experienced hardship and suffering. We especially remember all those who have lost family members or loved ones.
The experience of the past year has made it clear, sometimes painfully, that the decisions and actions of individuals affect the lives of everyone. It is not possible to fully anticipate the legacy of this global pandemic upon society at large and upon families and individuals, businesses and charitable agencies closer to home.
On behalf of the local Church, I pay tribute to all the medical personnel, doctors and nurses, pharmacists, chaplains and all frontline workers who have sacrificed much to alleviate suffering and to save lives. While we are still in the midst of a global pandemic and need to remain ever vigilant to the contagious threat of the virus, the seedlings of hope are emerging with the roll out of vaccination programmes.
The resilience of the human spirit, grounded in our ability to adapt and respond to the changing circumstances of our time and supported by those who love us, provides the foundations to move forward with hope and a greater sense of security.
The year ahead 2021 in Northern Ireland will also be marked by tremendous uncertainty as we withdraw from the European Union and as we reflect upon the Centenary foundations of the Partition of Ireland. This context generates discussion and reflection on identity and identities, on cultural heritage and on the foundations and societal structures of Northern Ireland. We are all aware that the combination of such circumstances creates uncertainty. Fuelled by fear, this uncertainty can also amplify fault lines and create tension across communities.
For these reasons, more than ever, a culture of care as a pathway to peace is necessary. All of us, political leaders, educators, citizens and faith leaders should make a concerted effort to build upon the legacy of peace, achieved through sacrifice and constructive dialogue. The path of peace and reconciliation will require new acts of courage and prophetic witness to help us navigate the residual undercurrent of fear that continues to influence our society.
I extend my heartfelt blessing to all across the Diocese of Down and Connor and beyond and I pray that the coming year may build upon and nurture the foundations of peace and reconciliation.
Bishop of Down and Connor
KINDLING HOPE IN TIMES OF FEAR AND ANXIETY
Advent 2020 is upon us. For the coming year on Sundays we shall listen for the most part to extracts from St Mark’s gospel. On occasion we shall hear variations on Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid”! (Mk 6.50) in regard to events before and after the resurrection. Fear and its cousin, anxiety, have stalked all ages of humanity.
If COVID-19 has disrupted life worldwide, its impact has increased anxiety levels for many. In different ways, people feel fearful and anxious like the disciples in the storm-tossed boat with the wind blowing hard against them (Mk 6.48).
As we enter this Advent in lockdown, fear is in the air. There is the fear of becoming infected with COVID-19, or of infecting others. We are fearful for family and loved ones, for those who work in our Heath Service, Hospitals and Care Homes. Such fear is genuine.
Channelled creatively in response to the facts about our extraordinary situation, such fear can be transformed at least partially into personal choices and forms of public action which respond to the threat and open furrows of hope.
Beyond and below our fears, many also feel a deep-down anxiety about life and the future. Uncertainty, compounded by the pandemic, seems to hover around us and even within us. What will the future be like? Who is shaping our destinies as persons, communities, societies in this cyber age? What is the future of work for our children in this rapidly developing digital age and culture? What economic, political and societal impact will COVID and BREXIT unleash? Can the democratic system, political parties, systems of public governance, adapt and respond to the emerging culture? Have they the capacities to pursue their service of justice, human rights and peace in an ever more intertwined and interdependent world confronted with existential challenges for justice, the survival of life itself and for human identity and dignity? In the face of such concerns for the human condition, fear for the future, and the deeper malaise of anxiety, can cripple, if not paralyse, the ability to hope.
Evidently, easy, ready-made answers to these crucial issues do not exist. Yet, we also see efforts and so much public investment in trying to address global challenges, rectify failure, injustice and to promote the public good. In the face of such efforts it is of course easy and sometimes tempting to choose cynicism, to see ‘smoke and mirrors’, where such is not the case, and thus to demoralise unjustifiably rather than promote a healthy and constructive civic spirit.
Throughout history, in the face of momentous crises and moral failures, even and alas on the part of Christians, our faith communities have seen the light of hope in the lives of prophetic figures and martyrs. They have witnessed to hope through endurance, resilience inspired by their faith in Christ, the Son of God. In every generation such beacons of integrity and hope remind us that ‘God places his eye’ in our hearts (Sir 17.8).
That eye empowers us to rise to the hope that St Paul writes of in his letter to the Romans: ‘so then, now that we have been justified by faith, we are at peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ; it is through him, by faith, that we have been admitted into God’s favour in which we are living, and look forward exultantly to God’s glory. Not only that ; let us exult, too, in our hardships, understanding that hardship develops perseverance, and perseverance develops a tested character, something that gives us hope, and a hope which will not let us down, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us’ (Rom 5.1-6).
Over recent months many have put these words of faith into action in countless ways: those who have assisted the dying, those Hospital Chaplains who have prayed with the sick and dying, those who have launched, supplied and worked in Food Banks, those who have delivered food to housebound and vulnerable neighbours and friends, the sports clubs and their members who have organised outreaches of care.
As we enter the season of Advent, let’s take to ourselves the deep import of those words of St Paul so that hope may sprout and grow resilience, endurance and care for others in our hearts. The circle of the Advent wreath, evocative of the eternal, and bearing green foliage in anticipation of new life, invites us into a process of re-discovering the ever-rejuvenating dynamic of Christian faith. The dynamic of the new life of faith in Christ is presented to us in the Scriptures, celebrated in the Eucharist and the sacraments and lived out in our care and respect for others and creation.
This God-given hope unleashed in history in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a delicate blossom of surprising power. Of this hope Charles Péguy, a French poet, wrote lines we might also contemplate as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Saviour:
What surprises me, God says, is hope
And I can’t get over it
The fledgling hope who seems like nothing at all
This little girl hope
It is hope that is difficult
And the easy way – the tendency to despair
That’s the great temptation …
Hope loves what will be
In time and for eternity
In the future, so to say, of eternity itself …
The faith I love best, God says, is hope
May this season of Advent kindle that ‘little girl’, hope, in our hearts, so that we may see life with that eye placed in our hearts by God, Creator and Redeemer.
+ Noel Treanor
Bishop of Down and Connor
 Le porche du mystère de la deuxième vertu