This weekend we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles. In an instant a group of frightened disciples were empowered to go out and proclaim God’s amazing dream for the world – the Good News of Jesus Christ!
When we read about Pentecost and the birth of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles, we find inspiration for where we are as a Church here in Ireland today. We know that we have come to a fork in the road. We can’t keep going the way we were, we have to head out on a new pathway.
In Down & Connor the Pathways to the Future project is charting the next steps on this journey. We have to be realistic – change is inevitable. There will be new ways of working in our parishes and communities. But this isn’t something to be afraid of. God still has a dream for our Church. He wants us to be filled with the Spirit and willing to go out and share the Gospel with others. He wants us to be generous, loving and inclusive, welcoming everyone into his family. And he wants us to be confident that each of us – lay women and men, clergy and religious – has a part to play in renewing our parishes, the diocese and building up the Kingdom of God.
Pastoral Letter from Most Rev Donal McKeown D.D.,
Click to download or print.
Pope Francis Appoints Bishop Donal McKeown as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Down and Connor – 21 January 2023
The Holy Father Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Donal McKeown, bishop of the Diocese
of Derry, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Down and Connor with immediate
effect, from today, Saturday 21 January 2023.
In response to the announcement of Bishop McKeown’s appointment, Archbishop Noel
“I warmly welcome the appointment this morning by Pope Francis of Bishop Donal
McKeown as Apostolic Administrator of Down and Connor, pending the appointment of a
new bishop to Down and Connor. Bishop McKeown brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this appointment having already served the people, priests and religious of Down and Connor as a priest (1977-
2001) and as Auxiliary Bishop (2001-2014). It was an honour to have worked closely with
Bishop Donal when I first arrived in this diocese in 2008. As an auxiliary, Bishop Donal
was strongly committed to the fields of education, youth ministry, the Living Church
project and I highly valued his insightful guidance and his advice. I know that he will bring
these same skills to his governance of the diocese, a responsibility he will carry alongside
remaining Bishop of the Diocese of Derry.
As I take leave from the Diocese, I entrust Bishop Donal to the warmth and care of those
whom I have had the privilege to know and serve over the last 14 years and I know they
will welcome him back as they embraced me upon my arrival.
I pray God’s blessing on Bishop Donal as he generously takes up this ministry and service
within the Diocese of Down and Connor.”
26th November 2022 – Pope Francis appoints Bishop Noel Treanor as Apostolic Nuncio to the European Union
See statement: Letter to Clergy and Parishioners
Statement by the Northern Catholic Bishops on the current economic crisis for the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul – Tuesday 27 September 2022
- “For the poorest in our society, this is an emergency, not a crisis. We call on everyone, from public representatives to parishioners in our parishes, to come together in a spirit of solidarity and active concern for those who are in need among us at this time.”
- “Despite political differences about the Protocol and a future border poll, the most urgent duty on our local MLAs, of all parties, is to prioritise concrete actions that will address the life-or-death situation many people and businesses face now, and in the months ahead.” – Northern Bishops
On this, the Feast Day of Saint Vincent de Paul, we, the Northern Catholic bishops, want to raise our voices in urgent concern about the challenges facing the most vulnerable in our society, as multiple economic pressures converge to create life threatening levels of deprivation and fear for individuals and businesses. For the poorest in our society, this is an emergency, not a crisis. We call on everyone, from public representatives to parishioners in our parishes, to come together in a spirit of solidarity and active concern for those who are in need among us at this time.
Every day seems to bring news of dramatic and unplanned increases in the cost of basic essentials such as food, fuel and heating. More and more low- and middle-income families, older people and vital businesses in our economy, are gripped with fear as they think about what lies ahead this autumn and winter. The recent Westminster budget has done little to lift this fear and the absence of an Executive at Stormont is unquestionably impeding the effort to respond to the depth and urgency of the situation. We therefore urge a combined effort from all those in Church, politics and society to help address this crisis now; to act justly, to promote the common good and to show solidarity with the many thousands of families who are enduring hardship and worry.
Politicians have a particular duty to ensure the basic needs of citizens are being met and to reassure those in need that serious, meaningful help is on its way. What has been offered to date, does not go far enough to meet that need. Indeed, the “fiscal plan” presented last week to the Westminster parliament represents an unjust distribution of resources which will benefit the richest but bring little comfort to those hardest hit and most at risk in these trying times. This highlights once more the need for working devolved politics in Northern Ireland that can deliver for the real needs of people here, especially lowest income families and many small and medium businesses, key employers on this part of the island, on the brink of collapse. Despite political differences about the Protocol and a future border poll, the most urgent duty on our local MLAs, of all parties, is to prioritise concrete actions that will address the life or death situation many people and businesses face now, and in the months ahead.
Of particular concern, is the fact that in Northern Ireland, one in four children are living in poverty – one of the highest levels of child poverty of any population in Europe. This is despite the fact that a Child Poverty Strategy has been promised for years now – most recently in the New Decade New Approach agreement – but has not yet been delivered, 25 years on since the Good Friday Agreement.
Recent research from our Marriage Care Service, ACCORD, also points to the intensifying pressure the financial crisis is having on families, with 81% of those surveyed reporting that worries concerning money are a primary point of family and relationship pressure. It is known that many families here already have less than £100 per month in disposable income. We also know that, in comparison with other parts of these islands, more people here are reliant on social security, more people are in fuel poverty, more people are in absolute poverty and we have some of the highest levels of working poor. This means that the impacts of this emergency will be felt most acutely here.
We accept that there is also much that we in the Churches can do to help. The amazing positive response at parish and community level during the Covid-19 pandemic shows what can be achieved when people work together. We commend and thank the many charitable organizations and partnerships that are already delivering help to people on the ground, as they have always done. A similar effort is now needed.
We therefore call on all of our parish communities to BE ALERT for those who are most impacted by the current emergency, recognizing that hardship is often hidden and that many people suffer in silence, being reluctant to go out and seek help. We invite our congregations, like St. Vincent de Paul and after the example of Jesus himself, to put the poorest and most vulnerable among us first, and to reflect in prayer on what more they can do to help ordinary families and those in need over coming weeks and months.
Food banks, Saint Vincent de Paul Conferences and other charitable outreaches urgently need new volunteers and more resources due to the unprecedented demand which is likely to get worse as winter approaches. Parish Pastoral Councils might consider extending their existing parish hall activities or providing warm spaces, hot meals, fuel vouchers or other helpful initiatives in response to this urgent situation.
Psalm 34 reminds us that “The Lord hears the cry of the poor”. At a personal level, let us all be open to hearing and responding to “the cry of the poor” in our midst – both at local and global level. And if we are fortunate enough to have sufficient resources to keep ourselves warm and nourished this winter, let us think of others who are struggling simply to survive. A time like this calls us to examine our own relationship with the material goods of this earth in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, friend of the poor. The Word of God challenges us today to give as generously as possible; to be especially conscious of any waste of food, energy, or other resources that we sometimes so easily take for granted; and, to join our voices with those who call for real change in government policy and priorities so that social injustice, inequality and poverty can be eliminated here, and everywhere.
To conclude, we encourage our Parish communities to reflect prayerfully on the “pact” signed in Assisi on Saturday last by Pope Francis together with young people from all over the world:
We, young economists, entrepreneurs, and changemakers, called here to Assisi from every part of the world, aware of the responsibility that rests on our generation, commit ourselves today, individually and all collectively to spending our lives so that the economy of today and tomorrow becomes an economy of the Gospel, and therefore:
an economy of peace and not of war;
an economy that opposes the proliferation of arms, especially the most destructive;
an economy that cares for creation and does not misuse it;
an economy at the service of the human person, the family and life, respectful of every woman, man, and child, the elderly, and especially those most frail and vulnerable;
an economy where care replaces rejection and indifference;
an economy that leaves no one behind, in order to build a society in which the stones rejected by the dominant mentality become cornerstones;
an economy that recognizes and protects secure and dignified work for everyone;
an economy where finance is a friend and ally of the real economy and of labour and not against them;
an economy that values and safeguards the cultures and traditions of peoples, all living things and the natural resources of the Earth;
an economy that fights poverty in all its forms, reduces inequality and knows how to say with Jesus and St Francis, “Blessed are the poor;”
an economy guided by an ethics of the human person and open to transcendence;
an economy that creates wealth for all, that engenders joy and not just riches, because happiness that is not shared is incomplete.
We believe in this economy.
It is not a utopia, because we are already building it. And some of us, on particularly bright mornings, have already glimpsed the beginning of the promised land.
Sharing the Good News – Issue 77 July 2022
Click: SHARING THE GOOD NEWS JULY 2022
An Easter Message
Bishop Noel Treanor
13 April 2022
The Message of Easter is the celebration of life over death, of hope over despair, of offers of assurance in situations of vulnerability. The scriptures attest to how the resurrected Christ awakened faith. They tell of how He awakened new hope and new understanding in the disciples and then entrusted them to be courageous messengers of this Easter hope. His risen presence gave them new purpose and a new identity.
From the moment of that first Easter morning, across the centuries, Christians have celebrated the Risen Christ and joyfully proclaimed a message of hope and new life.
This is our history, our mission and our legacy. The Risen Christ also calls us to be messengers of an Easter vision in our personal circumstances, in our time and in our world.
In the Jewish religious tradition, during the meal of Passover, the youngest child asks a series of questions as they try to make sense of this ritual meal. Remembering and recalling the events of the past and responding to these inquiries, the Jewish parent helps the child to understand the significance of this traditional celebration. This dialogue between generations therefore becomes an opportunity to share and to pass on faith and meaning.
Within our Christian homes this Easter, conversation between children and parents also presents opportunities to share and to pass on faith and hope.
We all need to hear the Easter message again. With each gift of newborn life, God imparts an opportunity to hear the message of Easter anew. Generations of young people are entrusted with taking up the mission and there are seedlings of growth sprouting anew in our parishes and Pastoral Communities. The synodal pathway started by Pope Francis presents such an opportunity for us all. It is an opportunity to give new vitality to our own involvement in our faith communities and so grow our understanding that we all shape the life and experience of the Church.
As in the past, there are indeed many challenges to face. The years of the pandemic have had an impact on our pastoral communities and faith practice and it is as if we are all emerging from the tomb into the light of a new dawn.
In our world, hatred and violence continues to live in the hearts of many. Death and Resurrection is a tangible reality in countries of crisis and conflict. The joyful message of Easter this year is obscured by scenes of death and destruction and the forced displacement of families from their homes in Ukraine and other war-stricken regions across the world. Yet many others are peacemakers who have arisen to offer support as these families arrive to our shores seeking safety.
May this Easter time be an opportunity for us all, with renewed vision and hope, to take up again Christ’s Mission to be messengers of life over death, of hope over despair, of offers of assurance in situations of vulnerability and as Easter people to act as peacemakers.
Obligation to attend Sunday/Holyday Mass
With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, it is encouraging to see a return to a fuller liturgical life in our parishes. Thankful that we can once again gather as communities of faith, the Irish Bishops have announced that attending Mass on Sunday and Holydays of Obligation will from Easter Sunday (17th April 2022) once again be deemed an essential expression of faith.
As always, those whose health is vulnerable or who are unwell will not be under any obligation to attend Mass.
Sharing the Good News – March 2022
Sharing the Good News – January 2022
Bishop Noel’s Christmas Message 2021
Sharing the Good News December 2021
Sharing the Good News – November 2021
Click here to view: Sharing the Good News November 2021
SYNOD: AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE
This weekend (9th/10th October 2021) Pope Francis opens the pathway for a Universal Synod that will take place in Rome in 2023. This Synod will be a gathering that takes place after all the local Churches have shared their contribution on the experience of journeying together in Communion, Participation and Mission.
In our Diocese, of Down and Connor, we will have a time of listening and sharing prayerfully through Advent. During this time there will be an opportunity for you to share your experience of what it is like to be a part of our Church today.
Bishop Treanor will launch our Diocesan Phase of this Universal Synod on Saturday 16th October at 5:30pm at the Vigil Mass in St Peter’s Cathedral. www.churchservices.tv/stpeterscathedral
A letter from Bishop Noel to parishioners in relation to the Diocesan Priests’ Welfare Fund.
Priests’ Welfare Fund Appeal Letter (Sept 2021)
Issue number 66 of Sharing the Good News, our monthly magazine for dioceses and parishes, has just been published.
The June 2021 issue features articles on this year’s Reek Pilgrimage on Croagh Patrick which will take place over four days each week in July; Bishop Denis Nulty’s welcome for Pope Francis’ message to Grandparents and the Elderly; Pope Francis’ appointment of Father Ger Nash as Bishop of Ferns; the Irish Church Music Association Summer School moving online this year; Bishop Michael Router highlighting the Towards Healing counselling service for survivors; Archbishop Dermot Farrell on responding to God’s call; and, the bishops expression of thanks for 550 submissions received for Synodal Pathway
Click Sharing the Good News Issue 66 June 2021 to view/download the current issue.
Sharing the Good News April 2021
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
PASTORAL MESSAGE FROM BISHOP NOEL TREANOR
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
Diocesan Guidance on Reopening of Churches for Private Prayer