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Bishop Fintan's Meeting with Pope Francis

Vatican-Radio-Ad-Limina-Photo On Friday last the Irish Bishops had a two hour meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican as part of their visit Ad Limina Apostolorum. Bishop Fintan has prepared an account of the mesting and some personal reflections on it which he has generously shared with us here on the website.

Meeting with Pope Francis, Friday, January 20th, 2016 – a Personal Reflection

Appreciation of Pope Francis

Thanks and appreciation were conveyed to the Holy Father for the big impact his ministry is having on the Church in Ireland and worldwide.  He was commended by the Irish bishops on behalf of the people of Ireland for his his outstanding work.  Specifically he was praised for his faith leadership and prayerfulness, the many simple and profound gestures he so often demonstrates, for the joy, humility and happiness that exudes from his unique style as pope.  In reply, Pope Francis emphasised prayer and following Jesus Christ being at the heart of what we do as Christians.   He asked us to continue to keep him in our prayers and he would do the same for us and the people of Ireland.

Throwing in the Ball!

Using the first of a number of sporting images – Pope Francis said he had just thrown in the ball, that he had no set agenda and wanted to hear and learn about the Irish Church and listen carefully to we had to say.  It was up to us he said to claim the ball and run with it for the duration of the meeting!  He insisted that we would speak in any order at all and that in our comments and points raised criticism would be welcome also!

Being “Goalkeepers” for the Treasure of the Faith

The situation of faith practice in Ireland was spoken about, the continuing loyalty and dedication of so many, despite all that has happened in recent years.   Serious concern was also expressed at the sharp decline of faith practice more obvious in urban areas, but now encroaching on rural areas.  Again returning to the sporting image, Pope Francis spoke of Church personnel as the guardians of the treasure of the faith as goalkeepers, protecting someting unique and special and of huge value by the example of being people of faith and how we live our lives.  Again he commended the efforts of evangelisation to the work of prayer and the providence of the Lord.

Vocations

The steep decline in religious vocations in Ireland and the Western World was a matter for concern and much effort and prayer is needed in this area along with authentic witness of the lives of good priests, religious, lay people along with encouragement by parents.  In relation to the appointment of bishops the Holy Father prayed that good priests all over the world would continue to have the courage to say yes to such a difficult and challenging ministry in the Church.

Women in the Church

The role of women in the Church is a much discussed and debated issue not only in Ireland but in worldwide.  This topic was brought up by a number of the bishops.  Pope Francis emphasised the importance of having women involved in the decision making processes at many levels in the Church.  He emphasied the scriptural and theological “Marian Profile” or feminine character or charism of the Church. He spoke of St. Paul’s vision and image of this and the development of this in the Church documents of the Second Vatican Council.  In relation to the suggestion that women should be ordained – the Holy Father made the simple point that while Our Lady was the most important person in the upper room at Pentecost her role did not extend to the celebration of the Eucharist.

Youth Ministry – “Apostolate of the Ear”

One of the biggest challenges in the Church today is trying to attract young people to practice the faith on a regular basis.  Young people have so many other distractions and competing ideologies and it is not easy to come up with new and effective ways of encouranging and engaging them.  The pope spoke about how so many young people in recent times have almost become enslaved in some forms of technologies and gave the example of familes being together and not really engaging with one another as persons because of their immersion in phone related media.

The Holy Father was commended for the way he has of appealing to young people by his various public gestures in getting through to young people, his obvious concern for the weak and vulnerable, for his balanced use of modern technology, social media and his joyful presence at public events, not least World Youth Day events.  Pope Francis emphasised the importance of listening carefully to young people.  He encouraged what he called “the apostolate of the ear” to contantly be available to listen and encourage young people and keep them on board in different aspects of faith practice. 

Education and Catechesis

After being briefed on the education situation in Ireland Pope Francis spoke about the importance of good religious education, solid catechesis and the centrality of passing on the message of the faith.  In response to the situation in Ireland where there is an increasing demand for divesting of patronage – the Holy Father encouraged Catholic schools to be places of genuine welcome and to continue to be known for that the great quality of education imbued with a concern for all through good educational ethos that cares for all.

Safeguarding of Children

The painful and crucial issue of the abuse of children in the care of the Church and the important work of the safeguarding structures of same have been to the forefront of the Irish Church for the last quarter of a century and the Holy Father was all too well aware of that.  He spoke of the terrible effects of the evil of abuse.  He spoke of the profound sadness he has felt in meeting victims and survivors of abuse and reiterated that there is no place in the Church for perpetrators of such crimes to minister or have anyone in their care.  He spoke of the efforts currently underway in this area at international level and commended the current efforts in that area in Ireland and the importance of ensuring that there would be no complacency for the future.  Pope Francis was briefed on the Harte report that came out the same morning.  He indicated his sorrow, sadness and prayerful support for the survivors and encouraged what was offered in the Irish Church response - cooperation with the recommendations of the report.

World meeting of families

In thanking the Holy Father for choosing Ireland as the venue for the World Meeting of Families he was formally invited to visit Our Lady’s Shrine at Knock and the North of Ireland, if he was coming to be part of that occasion.  In the brief few moments of greeting His Holiness individually, I invited him to visit Killaloe also!  Pope Francis did not comment on whether he would be in a posisiton to attend or not, but did speak at length about the importance of family as a baic unit in Society and Church.  He spoke about the crucial role that parents have in spending quality time with their children, despite the pressures of modern life and the essential role also that Grandparents have in passing on the faith.  One of the interesting questions he says he always asks parents along with having an interest in their faith lives – “do they set time aside each day to play with their children”.  He felt that an very important thing for parents to do in establishing a bond of genuine friendship and love with them.

Care of Clergy

The difficult circumstances of many clergy in Ireland was outlined to Pope Francis, the increasing work-load and pressure they are under with declining numbers of priests.  He expressed profound appreciation for the great work so many priests do and keeps them in the prayers daily.  He insisted that the relationship of a Bishop with his priests should be one of “closeness”.  It should be the closeness of a father to his son.  That closeness should be like the closeness we have at our meeting with the Holy Father, close.

Poverty, Homelessness, Refugees

The issue of homelessnes, poverty and caring for displaced people was mentioned as a result of the economic down-turn and the trouble in many areas of the world.  The Pope spoke of his concern for these important issues arising from the preferential option for the poor that Jesus so clearly teaches in the Scriptures.

Laudato Si – Care for the Environment

Care for the earth, a spirituality of an appreciation of God through the beauty of the world around us was spoken of and Pope Francis was thanked by some of the bishops as it is an attractive, interesting and relevant issue for many of the students preparing for Confirmation and done in conjuction with Green Flag initiatives in Primary Schools.

The Breastplate of St. Patrick

The Holy Father spoke briefly about his short time spent in Ireland a number of decades ago and finished our time together with the Breastplate of St. Patrick, to my profound delight as the episcopal motto I have chosen is “Críost liom, Críost romham”!

Overall impression of the meeting

Overall our meeting with Pope Francis was one of genuine openess, genuine respect and open dialogue.  He listened very attentively and offered comments and ideas and suggestions after points were raised.

The Importance of Gestures

Pope Francis is well known for his profound symbolic gestures!  At one point in the meeting the translator got a bit hoarse.  Immediately His Holiness sprang up and hurried off into an adjoining room and came back with a glass of water for his assistant, an impressive gesture of service.

Unhurried, unrushed meeting

At another point when the meeting had been in progress for over an hour it must have looked like we felt we should be departing.  Pope Francis assured us that he was in no hurry and that we were welcome to stay much longer that he was enjoying the meeting.  Again the quality of his attentiveness and quality listening was in evidence.

“Please pray for Me”!

Another impressive gesture, that I had already encountered at the new bishop’s course last September was the request of the Holy Father in asking us individually to pray for him!

Overall Impression

My overall impression and I feel that of many if not all colleagues present was that of a many very at home, happy, joyful and relaxed in his role.  Much of the meeting was characterised by good humour, plenty of laughter and genuince fatherly concern.  Long may Pope Francis continue to inspire us and lead and guide us in the ways of faith to be genuine disciples of the Lord.

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