Pope Francis meets with Irish Bishops on Ad Limina
The Ad Limina pilgrimage of the Irish Bishops and Diocesan Administrators continued
in Rome this week following the highpoint audience with Pope Francis in the library
of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on Friday last. Monsignor Joseph McGuinness
and Bishop-emeritus Liam MacDaid took part in the audience at which the Pope dispensed
with the traditional practice of giving an allocution to the bishops. Instead, he
had an open discussion with them for over two hours.
The issues raised during the audience included the religious, cultural and social
questions facing Ireland today. The pope urged the prelates to constantly proclaim
the Gospel with joy and to enable people experience God’s mercy. At a press conference
afterwards, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said that Pope Francis used the
analogy of a goalkeeper on a team, urging the bishops to see themselves less as defenders
and more in the mode of ‘keeping the ball kicked out and in play’.
Among the many issues raised were the forthcoming World Meeting of Families in Dublin
in August 2018, the role of women in the Church today, threats to the dignity of
life, the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults and the report of the Historical
Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland which was launched that day, as well
as the political situation in Northern Ireland and the ongoing Brexit implications.
At the press conference afterwards it was noted that more than half of the bishops
present had not been on an Ad Limina visit before and that those who were concurred
that this one was very different in terms of format, style and tone.
Address by Archbishop Eamon Martin:
Addressing the Pope at the conclusion of the audience, the Archbishop of Armagh and
President of the Irish Episcopal Conference, Dr Eamon Martin said:
‘Holy Father, we bring you warm greetings of affection from the Catholic people of
Ireland and thank you for the powerful witness you are giving to the world - and
especially for your emphasis on mercy for those who are on the peripheries of Church
‘In Ireland in recent years, despite enormous economic turmoil and hardship, the
Irish people have remained generous in the works of mercy towards those who are often
overlooked in our fast-paced society - including the poorest and most defenceless.
In this regard the Bishops of Ireland continue to promote the dignity of the life
of the unborn, as well as that of the elderly, the sick and all who are vulnerable
at any stage of their existence.
‘So much has changed for Church and society in Ireland in the ten years since our
last 'ad limina' visit in 2006. Since then we have been making determined efforts
to safeguard children and vulnerable persons from abuse. I assure you that it remains
a priority of the Church in Ireland to acknowledge and learn from the past, and persevere
in our efforts to bring healing to all those affected by the sinful and criminal
acts of abuse.
‘Holy Father, your personal outreach to survivors of abuse is an inspiration for
us as we continue to travel the path of penitence, reparation, healing and renewal.
The publication this morning in Belfast of Sir Anthony Hart's Report into Historical
Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland reminds us that much work remains to be undertaken
in this regard.
‘We thank you for honouring Ireland with the privilege of hosting the Ninth World
Meeting of Families in Dublin, August 2018. We look back with joy to June 2012 when
the Fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress took place in Ireland, with the theme
‘Communion with Christ and with One Another’. That was a joyful and grace-filled
occasion for us.
‘Like the Eucharistic Congress, we see the World Meeting of Families as much more
than a 'once-off' event. We look to it, rather, as a graced opportunity, a process
by which we can celebrate and explore further the riches of the Church's 'Gospel
of the Family'. It shall be a catalyst for reflecting on the challenging pastoral
manifesto you have set out for the universal church in your post-synodal Apostolic
Exhortation 'Amoris Laetitia'.
‘We take this opportunity to repeat our invitation to you to visit us in August
2018 - we promise you, as we say in Ireland, 'céad míle fáilte' - one hundred thousand
‘The pastoral care of marriage and the family remains a priority for us. In spite
of various social changes and challenges, the ethic of family life remains strong
in Ireland. As pastors, we meet many different family situations and we admire the
high ideals which mothers and fathers have for their children. We also recognise
the critical importance of the family to handing on of the faith, to the life of
our parishes and as the fundamental building block for a safe and stable society.
‘We are therefore committed to ensuring that our Catholic centres of education assist
parents and families and are places of dialogue and encounter with the 'Joy of the
Gospel' of Jesus Christ. We continue to hold the view that the presence of Catholic
schools enhances, rather than undermines, true diversity and pluralism in the provision
‘During our 'ad limina' visit we have been reflecting on vocations and on the well-being
and ministry of our priests and religious. In today's culture many people struggle
to comprehend how anyone can be called to a life of service to God in these ways.
We are working on how to help foster a culture of vocation in Ireland, and on how
best our seminarians can be adequately formed for service as priests in contemporary
‘The well-being of our priests is dear to all of us bishops. We are aware that
declining numbers of priests, their increased workload and ever more challenging
pastoral situations has taken its toll on them. We thank God today for their resilience,
dedication and generosity, and for the kindness and support of the faithful. We
also thank God for the many shoots of new growth and renewal that are emerging in
parishes and dioceses all over the country, especially in catechesis, lay involvement
and pastoral outreach to the marginalised.
‘We are happy to have the ongoing fraternal support of the leaders of the other
Christian Churches in Ireland. This is particularly important for the nourishment
and protection of the ongoing peace process. Things are politically uncertain and
delicate these days in Northern Ireland where the Stormont government has collapsed
and following the United Kingdom’s referendum decision to leave the European Union.
Please pray for us, because we need everyone, including our Church, civic and political
leaders, to build bridges of friendship and reconciliation, rather than put up barriers
of division and recrimination.
‘You often remind us that the bonds of solidarity must also be extended to those
who arrive among us as refugees and asylum seekers. The Church is rightly concerned
about the thousands of men, women and children seeking refuge in Europe. We are
proud of the humanitarian efforts of Trócaire, the Catholic Church's overseas development
agency, and the merciful work of the Irish Naval Service which has helped to rescue
thousands of refugees from the waters of the Mediterranean.
‘Holy Father, we realise that the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland is likely
to be very unlike our past or even the present. We know that we need to find new
ways of ensuring that the voice of faith is heard, because many people in Ireland
yearn for a reason to hope. There is so much uncertainty around us - including homelessness,
economic hardship, violence on the streets, a lack of purpose in the lives of many
of our gifted young people, problems with mental health and the awful spectre of
‘The Joy of the Gospel needs to be heard today in Ireland, more than ever. It is
a message of hope and positivity about conversion and starting over, about forgiveness
and reconciliation, about the sacredness of all human life and the wonder of God’s
creation, about marriage, family and solidarity, about charity, truth and justice.
‘We ask for your prayers, Holy Father, that we can return from our 'ad limina' visit
emboldened by the Joy of the Gospel and more determined to make it known!’
Conclusion of the Ad-Limina:
Meetings with various departments of the Roman Curia continued into this week. Following
the conclusion of these, the bishops will spend a further two days at the Irish College
assessing the outcome and its impact for Ireland, and deliberating on practical plans
for the future, before returning to Ireland before the end of the week.