Speaking Notes of Bishop Fintan Monhan for Joint Gathering of VF’s and Moderators with Killaloe and Limerick Dioceses, the Inn at Dromoland, Monday, 9th of September, 2019
- It’s appropriate that we are gathering, a year on from a major change in our diocesan structures and in our way of working as priests. (I acknowledge that Limerick have adopted a similar model, differing only perhaps on title of the role – Moderator or VF).
- The model that we have adopted is the most effective one we can devise to meet the challenges that are emerging for us now, and which will accelerate into the future. Many other dioceses in Ireland and in many countries around Europe have taken on board such a model or system.
- The old model of Diocesan Church which was appropriate when we had twice as many priests under 75 as we do now and in which people were more engaged with church is no longer adequate.
- The question has often been posed by manywhoare thinking seriouslyon this issue of necessary change – is the whole territorial structure of parish even relevant any more? Should we be organising ourselves around interested groups: education, catechesis, youth, elderly, the sick, liturgy, spirituality etc… That’s not a topic for today, but no doubt will become a big question in the future and it may be good to be thinking ahead on those lines…
- We shouldn’t underestimate the scale of the change we are making. It has many challenges and will inevitably come up against considerable resistance from many sectors, but that is understandable. In Killaloe having reflected initially on the change last Autumn at diocesan inservice, having met the VF’s the priests individually and at parish occasions – I sense that some are delighted with the change and some are really struggling with it. For some, maybe as high as 50% there’s a sense of bereavement and sadness that the old way of doing things is now gone. For others they are delighted with the new approach, are happy with the new adventure and are embracing it with energy and enthusiasm.
These are what I consider to be the essential aspects of this change:
- We are setting out to change our way of being in ministry as priests, moving to a more collegial, more synodal, more collaborative model through Team Ministry.
- We are committing ourselves to a facilitative style of leadershipwhere decisions are made collectively as priests. As VFS/Moderators, you have a particular role in gathering your colleagues to reflect and plan and make decisions together as a Teamresponsible for particular Pastoral Areas.
- We have also committed to working collaboratively with lay people in our parishes and Pastoral Areas. Our Pastoral Plan of 2013, Builders of Hope, noted the consensus among priests and people in our diocese that this must be the way forward. It acknowledged “widespread agreement among priests and people that a collaborative model of Church, based on partnership between priests and people is the desired way forward.” It is more important than ever that we create structures of participation, where we involve lay people in reflecting, planning and decision-making about our present reality and about the future.
Why are we doing this?
We have said that the old model is not sustainable. But we are not doing this just for the sake of self-preservation. Obviously much of our work will of necessity still involve maintenance of buildings and systems and this will continue to take much time and energy, but along with that there is much more…!!!
Our Purposeis to, if possible, even stronger of necessity, help us to move from a model of Church based on maintenance to one based on Mission.
In the words of Pope Francis: we mustn’t be inward-focussed and self-referential. In Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel he said: ‘I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures, can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.’
Only by thinking, reflecting and engaging together will we be able to make that shift.
- The vicar/moderator- you – are a key person in making this new vision and approach to ministry a reality on the ground. In some ways it’s akin to middle management and in practically all walks of life – this seems to be the preferred way to go, rather than relying totally on whoever is in charge. One of the most significant roles you have as a leader to hold the vision for the priests and people in your pastoral area. You must be convinced yourself and become a champion for this way of working. Otherwise you have no possibility of bringing others on board.
- We recognise that your role is demanding. We can’t assume that it comes easily to us. For the most part, we have been trained in a different model.
- The purpose of today along with being with you, encouraging you, thanking you is also consultative. We want to hear from you about how best we can support you. What skills and competencies are needed to help you to work this model effectively?
During this short time together we will get a chance to say how we feel about this new way of working.
What is working well?
What is not working well?
How do we make it work?
How and what do we need to make is successful.
Thank you for being here.
Thank you for your great efforts in your important role as VF or moderator.
As with anything we do – we place rely not just on our own efforts. As we know unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. God is with us… on this important and exciting venture.
On the feast of the Curé of Ars, John Marie Vianney on the 4th of August this year to mark the 160th anniversary of the death of the Curé Pope Francis wrote a beautifully encouraging letter to us priests all over the world. I’ll finish with a few of his most encouraging comments:
- Dear brother priests, I thank you for your fidelity to the commitments you have made.
- Thank you for the joy with which you have offered your lives, revealing a heart that over the years has refused to become closed and bitter, but has grown daily in love for God and his people.
- Thank you for working to strengthen the bonds of fraternity and friendship with your brother priests and your bishop, providing one another with support and encouragement, caring for those who are ill, seeking out those who keep apart, visiting the elderly and drawing from their wisdom, sharing with one another and learning to laugh and cry together
- Thank you for your witness of persistence and patient endurance in pastoral ministry.
- Thank you for celebrating the Eucharist each day and for being merciful shepherds in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, neither rigorous nor lax, but deeply concerned for your people and accompanying them on their journey of conversion to the new life that the Lord bestows on us all.
- Thank you for the times when, with great emotion, you embraced sinners, healed wounds, warmed hearts and showed the tenderness and compassion of the Good Samaritan.
- Finally, let us give thanks for the holiness of the faithful People of God, whom we are called to shepherd and through whom the Lord also shepherds and cares for us.
- Dear brothers, once more, “I do not cease to give thanks for you” (Eph 1:16), for your commitment and your ministry. For I am confident that “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf.1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new”.
- May we allow our gratitude to awaken praise and renewed enthusiasm for our ministry of anointing our brothers and sisters with hope. May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.