Reopening and Dedication Ceremony
Most Rev. Gerard Clifford
I have an abiding memory of coming here to St. Patrick’s Church, Dungannon over the years for ceremonies and seeing the worn door step at the main entrance to the Church. The door step was worn down by the footsteps of time. Over generations that step was worn down by the feet of parishioners and visitors as they came to Mass day after day, year after year, generation after generation. That step was the footprint of time and faith of this community. Today we celebrate all of that as we rededicate the Church here after the magnificent work of restoration and renewal. Today this renewed Church brings back memories of the commitment of previous generations and of this generation. It also calls us to reflect on our own continued commitment to our faith.
The readings we just listened to make a striking analogy between the building of the Church and the building of the faith in the community. St. Peter reminds us that Jesus Christ is the keystone, the reason and foundation of our faith. In his time Christ’s message and call to faith was listened to by some. It was also ignored by others. Peter calls the people to faith. He says “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”. It is a message that has a particular relevance for us on a day like today.
The restoration of this Church is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on renewal of faith in our own lives. For two years now the architects, the builders, the contractors have worked hard to ensure that the Church is restored to its original beauty and integrity so that this building is a worthy place for the worship of this community. We watched as the scaffolding was erected, the inch by inch restoration, the pile driving to ensure stability, the renewal of the sanctuary area and the attention to every detail of redecoration. It has all been a magnificent work. Today as parishioners and as a community we are proud to see this wonderful achievement. Today we rejoice in all of that. I congratulate Dean Curry, the priests of the parish and you the parishioners together with the architects, contractors and all associated with this wonderful achievement. We now have a splendid Church, a building fitting for the worship of this community.
That is the first step. The second step is even more challenging. It is the call to renewal of faith, to put Christ at the centre of our lives – to be builders of his kingdom of justice, love and peace. In today’s world it is not an easy call.
There was a time when it was relatively easy to be a committed Catholic. It was part of the air that we breathed. Our following of Jesus Christ was supported by family and community. In recent times those supports are not as obvious. Today I believe that we are Christian by personal commitment. In some ways we have to swim against the tide of aggressive secularism, of materialism and of lethargy. A recent report by Fr. Micheal McGreil based on the findings of a national survey on attitudes to religion in Ireland tells us that today’s generation is not so much opposed to the practise of the faith but is more indifferent than previous generations towards religion. The survey shows that there is a relatively strong level of support and commitment to the faith by the majority of people. That is a consoling message. However we cannot and should not be complacent about those findings.
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans said;
“They will not believe in him if they have not heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher and they will never have a preacher unless one is sent”
The call of our day is to be part of a whole new evangelisation involving all of the people of God.
For some years now the Archdiocese has been engaged in addressing this new situation. Something that began as a modest attempt to address the issues of our day at the annual assembly of our priests has grown into an elaborate tapestry where priests, religious and laity together have begun to take on their own particular role in the spreading of the Kingdom of God. The core message is a simple one. It is to answer that call expressed in the Our Father – the call to making our contribution in building God’s kingdom of justice, love and peace.
The process involved has led us down unexpected ways. We have been heartened by the response of many and we continue to support and listen to those who find it all somewhat difficult to understand. The process has involved considerable consultation with priests, religious and laity. An extensive consultation involving face to face meetings with over one thousand lay people took place with the focus on addressing the needs of our diocese. The result was the setting up of working groups covering key topics like what it means to be a Catholic in the twenty-first century, formation in prayer, building up support for family, addressing the needs of young people, liturgical renewal, outreach to the marginalised, ecumenism and the life of the priest. Today those groups continue to meet and address the needs of our time. You may have heard of some of this work. You may well be involved in that work yourself. My hope is that slowly but surely more and more people will be involved in what is going on.
Through all these discussions we began to identify critical areas for the Church of our time, not least the whole question of the need to look at parish structures and see how all of us can contribute to renewal. We saw the need to involve lay people more in the mission of the Church and to give a real voice to all in the support of family life, addressing the needs of youth in our time and particularly addressing the pastoral needs where lay people may be involved in parish councils, in catechesis for young people at parish level and in administration at inter–parish level.
In 2008 we began yet another consultation to look at parish structures and identify in greater detail the needs of our time. The consultation has been long and detailed. Every priest in the diocese and every religious priest in parish work in the diocese has been invited to join this programme for renewal. There has been consultation with parishioners in every parish and with young people in our post-primary schools and the feed-back has been very positive. The way forward we believe is through the formation of parish pastoral areas. Eighteen areas have been identified every one will have a priest as Vicar Forane to direct the programme of renewal in the pastoral area. To allay any fears about parishes losing their own identity the guarantee is given that every parish will retain its own independence and its financial integrity. The reason for new pastoral areas is precisely for more effective pastoral outreach and the rationalisation of pastoral work. In time the rationalisation of Masses and the duplication of church services will be addressed.
Hopefully 2009 will go down in the history of our diocese as the year that gave direction to a new pastoral approach opening up new opportunities for lay people, religious and priests working together to be part of a comprehensive approach towards renewal of faith.
The tableau carved into the front of the altar represents Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. The story is familiar to all of us. Jesus said to his disciples “I have given you a model to follow so that as I have done you should also do”. He called us to a way of life centred on the Eucharist but he also called us to live as he lived, to love as he loved and to care as he did. That I believe is the call of our day – to build a community centred on the Eucharist and to live our lives as he did. This involves us in addressing the issues facing people in their everyday life, to support them in their need and to encourage them in their quest for answers to their searching.
Hopefully our programme at diocesan level will help us to do all of that. As part of this approach people will be offered opportunities for their own personal formation. That is already under way through the various courses organised in the diocese under the aegis of the Diocesan Pastoral Centre in Dundalk. Already courses under the title “Soil for the Seed” are being held in Cookstown, Dundalk and Drogheda. This year we are going one step further and have got accreditation to develop and enhance these courses under the aegis of the Mater Dei Institute in the Archdiocese of Dublin. This will mean that slowly but surely we will build up a resource of trained lay people to certificate level. These in time will hopefully spearhead the work of renewal in the diocese.
These are exciting times. I believe we live in difficult times but I believe we have people willing and able to accept the challenges presented. I began with the image of this Church here renewed, restored and majestically completed. The work of personal renewal continues. In the Gospel reading we were told that Jesus stood up in the Synagogue and read from the Prophet Isaiah;
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me
He has anointed me
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor
To proclaim liberty to captives
To the blind new sight
To set the downtrodden free
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour”
Then he said; “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”. The text is indeed fulfilled when we commit ourselves again to renewal of faith. It is the charter for renewal of faith in our time. With God’s help and the help of this community I pray that we may answer that call to renewal generously.