Two weeks ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and today the liturgy jumps thirty years or so, to his Baptism in the River Jordan. Apart from the finding of Jesus in the Temple we don’t know anything else about what happened during those hidden thirty years. We can imagine that his life with Mary and Joseph and his extended family and those he encountered shaped him greatly. He was son of God, and also son of Mary, and brought up in a family and in a community. At the age of thirty Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan, standing in solidarity with all of us, and recognised as the Son of God.
On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we remember that Baptism marks us out as followers of Christ. During the rite of Baptism the celebrant calls the person to be baptised by name and says “… the Christian community welcomes you with great joy”. It is a key moment, a moment of welcome and of acceptance and of being at home in Christ’s family.
Baptism is a sacrament of recognition and of welcome, the doorway to the Christian life. On the morning of the 10 November last, I thanked Archbishop Michael for his very warm welcome to me and today I renew my thanks for the kindness and hospitality he has shown to me on so many occasions. I also said that morning that,“I follow in the footsteps of a true shepherd who has led this diocese with great wisdom, sensitivity, and faithfulness for 27 years as Archbishop”. The more I learn about Tuam and the more I know Archbishop Michael’s work, the more I appreciate the breadth and depth of his shepherding and leadership. The recent very positive review of safeguarding in the Archdiocese of Tuam commented, “The reviewers conclude that there is evidence of a robust safeguarding structure and practice in place under the active and compassionate leadership of Archbishop Neary”. I congratulate Archbishop Michael on this, and I thank him and those in every parish who are vigilant in safeguarding.
Today I assume my responsibilities as Archbishop of Tuam. I come here knowing very few and so I really look forward to getting to know the priests, religious and parishioners as I move around and meet a great variety of people.
One topic often raised with me is the decline in vocations. We know that over the decades, in the West of Ireland, many have answered the call to priesthood and religious life for service at home and abroad. You know them, they are your family members, friends and neighbours. The number answering that call has plummeted in recent decades. We have heard all the facts and figures. We just have to look around and see parishes where there were two or three priests there is now one and increasingly there are none, with parishes sharing a priest. This is not because of any diminishment of what people think of priests and their work. If anything, the value put on priests’ pastoral work, and liturgies, and the appreciation of their presence, is higher than ever.
Yet, the decline continues. Consequently, there are not enough priests to maintain the present parish arrangements. Structures have already been modified to meet the current needs and more changes will be necessary building on good developments that have already taken place and also to accommodate and facilitate very positive new developments that will arise.
Without a doubt the future of the Catholic Church depends, as always, on the parishioners, as well as the diminishing numbers of clergy and religious. It depends on your faith, your enthusiasm and on how the Holy Spirit moves through you. That is part of the baptism call of every person, not just clergy or religious, but of all the baptised.
It is timely, it is good and it is exciting that Pope Francis has moved the Church, worldwide, on to a synodal path, and done so with great enthusiasm and conviction. There have already been synods and synodal type practices for several years internationally and at home. Many dioceses continue to travel that road, it isn’t always easy, it can be challenging and it can be energising. The Holy Spirit is present and who knows where that combination of listening, walking together and prayer and discerning will lead? It presents a way being Church and of living out our baptism. It is not an instant solution. We have to remember it is a pathway not a runway. But, it is the way to go.
Archbishop Michael commented recently that “we have been in this diocese, already on a synodal pathway for many years”. That is true, and it is thanks to Archbishop Michael, his clergy and to you the parishioners, and all who engage so generously and actively in the various initiatives; and with more to come. That synodal way has been at parish level, that is where it has to start. It is a pathway, a journey accompanied by a great variety of people. We will continue, listening, discerning and planning as we walk together and with the Holy Spirit; I see no alternative.
We know well that there are other well-trodden pathways in this diocese. An area rich in promoting the practice of pilgrimage. I think of Knock, in particular, where Pope Francis came as a pilgrim. It is now recognised by the Universal Church as an International Eucharistic and Marian shrine. I acknowledge and congratulate the work of Archbishop Michael and Father Richard Gibbons, parish priest of Knock, in progressing that project and seeing it through to the formal announcement by the Holy Father last March on the Feast of Saint Joseph. I think also of holy mountain of Croagh Patrick, Máméan and Ballintubber Abbey. I look forward to engaging with you in this valuable dimension of the culture and spirit of the area.
Tá fhios againn go rí-mhaith go bhfuil na bealaí oilithrigh arna naomhú ag cosa fir agus mná na hÁrd-deoise seo. Tá traidisiún luachmhar ag an deoise maidir leis na lárionad oilithreachta agus ag cur fáilte roimh oilithrigh ó cheann ceann na tíre seo agus ó na tíortha thar lear.
Cuimhním ar Scrín Cnoc Mhuire ach go háiríthe, áit a dtáinig an Pápa Proinsias mar oilithreach trí bliana ó shin. Mar is eol daoibh, tugtar stadás mar Scrín Idirnáisiúnta go Cnoc Mhuire inniu.
Rinne an tÁrdeaspag Mícheál agus an tAthair Richard sár obair ar an iarratas sin. Stiúr, an bheirt acu an togra thábhachtach spioradálta seo go ceann scríbe. Rinne an Pápa Prionsias an stádas seo a fhogairt go hoifigiúil anuraidh. Déanaim comhghairdeas leo, agus gabhaim buíochas leo as ucht an fhabhar spioradálta luachmhar seo a bhaint amach go Cnoc Mhuire.
Cuimhním freisin ar Cruach Phádraig, Máméan, agus ar Mhainistir Baile an Tobair. Táim ag súil go mór le aithne níos fear a chuir ar na háitreacha seo agus ar thraidisúin luachmhar na hÁrd-deoise.
Of course there are the personal pathways that each one of us travel, sometimes very happy and joyful, sometimes relentless in sadness and anxiety and loss. These personal journeys are where we can encounter Jesus and be aware of his presence, often through others. The life of daily living, the routine, the happiness and sadness of it all, the quiet life that we all lead, just like Jesus and the thirty hidden years in Nazareth. Pope Francis commented on Jesus’ hidden years as being “… a fine message for us: it reveals the greatness of daily life, the importance in God’s eyes of every gesture and moment of life”. The ordinary life that is at the same time extraordinary, that is all of us, that is where Jesus can be at home with us and we at home with him.
Tragically for some people daily life was anything but happy or joyful. Judgement prevailed and set the scene for harshness, not homeliness. Human dignity was not there for the living or the dead or the bereaved. In November I stated “to move forward we must listen to all who have been hurt by their experience of Church”. When he came on pilgrimage to Knock in 2018, Pope Francis spoke of this too, and he said “this open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice”. Truth and justice are important and, in pursuit of both, I am willing to listen and to learn.
Today we have reduced considerably the number of guests at this Installation Ceremony because of current risks arising from the terrible journey we have all had due to the virus. Many people have suffered greatly during the last two years. Sadly, for some there has been death and bereavement, illness, loss of employment, risks and isolation. The experience of the lockdowns, the continuing threat and the restrictions have had a very negative impact on many people. We have also witnessed good neighbourliness, and those who continue with essential services and help keep us safe and keep life going as normally as possible.
Even though there are small numbers here today and there are many watching on the Cathedral’s livestream, and I warmly welcome you and I thank you for your prayers and for being with us. I wish to thank His Excellency, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the Holy Father’s representative in Ireland, for his encouragement over the last while. I thank my brother bishops and priests and religious and all who are with us in person or in spirit from the parishes of this diocese and further afield. Finally, I remember and thank my parents Frank and Mary Catherine Duffy of Port, my wider family and friends. And all those I worked with in Cavan and Leitrim and more recently in Ardagh and Clonmacnois.
When I was here on the 9 November I read a line from the Diocesan Assembly Prayer for Ardagh and Clonmacnois. I would like to use another. It begins with a quotation from Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have in mind for you. Plans for peace … reserving a future full of hope for you”. (Jer. 29:11)
Then it continues:
“Jesus, you are God’s word of hope and God’s spirit of promise for our time.
Jesus, you promise us your Holy Spirit to guide us always until the end of time”.
May the Holy Spirt guide, enlighten and give us great hope. Please pray for me and for my ministry. Amen.