The past few years have been a very challenging time for the Church in Ireland. Being faced with a challenge we can either respond positively, summing up our reserves, adopt new approaches and engage enthusiastically on the one hand or we can recoil from the challenge, walk away and retreat to the illusion of our safe and secure havens.
I believe that the Archdiocese of Tuam has responded magnificently to the challenge with the Diocesan Assembly. When the history of our diocese comes to be written in years to come, I believe that the Diocesan Assembly will be recognised as a very significant moment in the history of our diocese which has a very long and very exciting tradition. For 18 months prior to the holding of the Diocesan Assembly great preparation was done at local level in parishes and church areas with the schools and colleges. Prayer permeated all of those meetings and activities. When the Assembly was held 300 people came together in St. Jarlath’s College both on Saturday and again on Sunday 11th and 12th November 2006. That gathering underlined in a very powerful way the role and responsibility that every member of our faith community has through their baptism and it challenged each one of us to plan for the future.
The presence of young people on that occasion gave a tremendous boost to the Assembly and I believe it helped to lift the spirits of everyone who participated. I had been privileged some time prior to the Assembly to witness the energy, enthusiasm and dynamism of representatives of young people from our post-primary schools throughout the Archdiocese when they met in Knock for a day of music, song, prayer and reflection.
In our diocese we have about 122,000 Catholics, just over 100 priests in active ministry and I am not sure how many religious. There is a Council of Priests, elected by the priests with five nominations by myself. This group of 24 work with me to try and establish effective ways of presenting Christ’s gospel in today’s culture. There is a Council for the Laity made up of representatives from each parish in the diocese. I have found their ideas to be most welcome, very informative, interesting and most helpful in enabling us to understand the challenges facing parents, families and individuals in today’s world.
The Diocesan Assembly underlined the urgent need for the Church to engage with, learn from and support young people in meaningful ways. Over the past few months Fr. Tod Nolan, Chairperson of the 19 member group entrusted with implementing the findings of the Assembly, has met on a number of occasions with young people from our diocese. These meetings resulted in the formation of the Diocesan Youth Council.
Tonight it is my privilege as Archbishop to extend a very warm welcome to each one of you as members of the Diocesan Youth Council. From what I have said regarding the Council of Priests and the Council of the Laity it will be obvious to yourselves that there is need for a Diocesan Youth Council composed of young energetic adults, some of whom are parents. I would see this Council as being pivotal in providing the youth of our diocese with the opportunities which Fr. Tod mentioned in his article in the Tuam Herald, enabling our youth to experience a lively and vibrant Church in areas of liturgy, knowledge of the faith, social activity. Each one of you will have a very important role to play in all of that. I am convinced that youth has an extraordinary capacity to minister to youth in today’s world. In doing so I look forward very much to hearing what you have to say, to learning from your experience, and with your help to be able to make life meaningful and make Christ’s gospel relevant for the young people of our diocese.