12 MARCH 2001

Your Eminence, Your Excellency, My Brother Bishops and Reverend Fathers in Jesus Christ,
At this, our first meeting of 2001, we give God thanks for many new things: the new Irish Cardinal; a new Nuncio, sent by the Holy Father to represent the Catholic Church in Ireland and from the Holy See to the Irish Government; a new system of organisation for those who work in the various Commissions and Agencies of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

All of us gathered here this evening are engaged in work which extends to many areas of Church life in Ireland today. The activities of all of us are, in one way or another, aimed at contributing to the promotion and strengthening and handing on of the faith in this country. So, this evening we give thanks to God for that faith.

The work of all of us is linked, in one way or another, with the wonderful works of God among His people. Our activities are linked especially by the work of Christ in saving humankind and in giving glory to God. Yesterday, down in Tuam, we buried Archbishop Joseph Cunnane. His motto was: Aedificare Familiam Dei, ‘To Build Up the Family of God’. Each one of us is, or ought to be, concerned with building up the Family of God.

In every Mass the Church celebrates and remembers the deeds by which Christ carried out the work of saving the world. Not alone that but through the liturgy of the Mass, Christ continues the work of saving us from sin and death. Christ gives the dignity of a royal priesthood to the people he has made his own. To that people His Father gives gifts of grace for every time and season as He guides the Church in the marvellous ways of His providence. From the beginning the Church has been marked by a great diversity of gifts and a great richness of grace. That diversity comes from the variety of God’s gifts. It also comes from the variety of all those people who receive the gifts.

This evening we thank God for all those gifts and all those people, especially those working in the Commissions and Agencies. There are different gifts, offices, conditions and ways of life. We ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us meet the challenge of a new situation.

St. Paul urges us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace so that the richness and diversity of God’s people may not be a threat to its unity. The Church knows that it has been entrusted to the pastoral care of Peter and of his successors. The Church in Ireland appreciates and welcomes that care. That care is exercised in a variety of ways. One of those ways is the practice by which the Holy Father appoints Apostolic Nuncios to represent him in various parts of the world. This evening we welcome Archbishop Lazzarotto, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland. He comes as the representative of Pope John Paul II, a man who has a special place in the hearts and affections of Irish Catholics.

Pope John Paul II once had an Irish Secretary, Bishop John Magee. Bishop Magee was not only his Secretary but later his Master of Ceremonies. The Holy Father came to Ireland. He not only came to Ireland, he came to this College and to several dioceses. The notable thing was that he came very early in his Pontificate, immediately after visiting his native Poland, and the much- persecuted Mexico. The Holy Father did so because he wanted to pay tribute to the heroics of the Irish people, to the Catholic faith despite the centuries of opposition and persecution.

So, Archbishop Lazzarotto, we welcome you with great joy. We ask God’s blessing on you and on our work. You come as the representative of the successor of Peter, to whom the Lord entrusted the task of confirming faith of his brethren. That was never an easy task. It is not an easy task today but it is a noble task. We know that the Holy Father is the centre and bond of unity in the Pilgrim Church on earth. Through him and in union with him, we remain in communion with the universal church. We appreciate that we have been entrusted to his pastoral care. We rely on that pastoral care to ensure that we share in a communion of holy things, which Christ, out of love, gives to his holy people, for the building up of his kingdom on earth.

I believe that our new Apostolic Nuncio is excellently prepared to carry out his new role. He comes with considerable knowledge of conditions in Ireland and has followed the knowledge acquired over the years from Irish colleagues, and from his work in six native states. His last posting was in Iraq and Jordan, troubled areas in a troubled Middle East. Here in Ireland we hope and pray that we are at present moving out of a period of troubles into a more peaceful phase of our history. Nevertheless we believe that the experience of the new Nuncio will be invaluable, especially his appreciation of the effects of violence on the lives of people and on their faith.

Finally, our new Nuncio comes from the diocese of Padua, a diocese renowned as the centre of learning, as a centre of art and above all, as a centre of holiness.

Your Excellency, you come to visit us in a week in which we prepare to celebrate the Feast of our national apostle. In his Confession, Patrick reveals his tremendously strong faith in the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Patrick never ceased to confess his sinfulness and his unworthiness for the task which the Lord had called him. He put his trust totally in God. In the midst of his many difficulties he, Patrick, united himself to Christ, especially in his suffering and death.

As we strive to carry on the work of Patrick, this evening’s First Reading gives us inspiration. It is from the Book of Daniel and is one of the loveliest penitential prayers of the Old Testament. The speaker addresses God in the name of the entire people. He confesses the sinful characters who are so forgetful of their Creator and so reluctant to listen to the voice of the prophets. He recalls the great majesty of God. It was prayers like these that hastened the times and nourished the spirituality of the people of St Patrick.

‘Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate. Be merciful as your Father in Heaven is merciful’ the Gospel tells us this evening. ‘Do not judge or condemn but instead grant pardon. Give not only pardon, give a full measure’. Those words remind us that the moral behaviour of the follower of Christ is inevitably an imitation of God’s behaviour. The emphasis is on the total generosity of our giving. In return we are promised not just an equivalent measure as reward but a super abundant measure. In the celebration of the Eucharist the Christian is united in the charity of Christ. That charity is a perfect imitation of the Father. We are not on our own – we rely on that charity always for in you, Our Lord, we put our trust, we shall not be put to shame.