The Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly encompasses most of Tipperary and a number of parishes in Limerick. The Catholic population of the Diocese is 79,505. The incumbent since 2015 bishop is Bishop Kieran O’Reilly
The five seed groups within the Diocesan Pastoral Council were chosen in addition to people on the periphery of the faith community and those whose voices may not have been heard in the listening process: young adults, young parents, Men’s Shed, people from the LGBT+ community and people with additional needs.
Themes from Cashel and Emly’s synodal process:
Having listened to and reflected on the experiences of all the groups the themes which emerged are Outreach, Community, Acceptance, Incarnational Spirituality, Connecting Faith Celebrations with Life Experience and Leadership and Co-responsibility.
Four of these six themes are similar to four of the five Seeds of Hope in the recent Diocesan Pastoral Plan in Cashel and Emly.
People on the periphery were very open and willing to be part of a conversation about the meaning of community and faith/spirituality for them. This illustrates that each person desires these two elements within their life despite an obvious move away from formal church practices.
There is a chasm between the language of the Synodal documents and the language of the woman or man on the street. This language is a challenge for the practising faith community never mind people who feel excluded from or consider the Church irrelevant. Therefore, when we reach out to those on the margins, we need to use language that speaks to their reality. Christ in the Gospels uses the language of the people to invite them to recognise God in their midst.
It is important to recognise it takes time to reach out to people on the periphery and it may not happen within the time assigned to the synodal process within each diocese. We are requesting to be invited into people’s spaces and asking them to be open to conversing with us and allowing us the privilege of listening to their experiences. It may take time to set up meetings and one must accept people’s hesitancy and acknowledge that our process may not be their priority. In recognition of this we sent out an online questionnaire to support networks so that people had the freedom to engage or not.
In our experience, God is speaking to us through people whose voices have been ignored by the fact that they have walked away. They have not felt included. They have shown disinterest and apathy because we didn’t listen’
As a faith Community we are called to see all outreach to those on the margins as being part of the ministry of laity and priests. Our ministry is not limited to functions within church buildings but is engaging with the entire community, indeed the global community. Our ministry is to be concerned with the joys and sufferings of all people of every creed and none.
We are not concerned then with numbers or lack of numbers or the age of both our laity and priests inside the churches. Christ calls us to be a people who are looking outwards, who are concerned for the vulnerable of our society rather than the vulnerability of our institution.
Are we called to reflect on those beliefs which serve as a barrier to welcoming people into the Faith Community? Do these beliefs create obstacles to our being followers of Christ? Surely for many people today the Church is seen as not honouring them for who they are and the lives they are living. Are we then as a Faith Community preventing people from experiencing the love of God for them?
Many of the voices on the periphery speak of feeling excluded due to beliefs which the Church holds. The wish of young parents to engage in Catechesis so that they can pass on the faith to their children is a call to the Faith Community to encourage lay pastoral leaders in this work.
We have begun to listen to people and we must as a Faith Community continue to listen to all people and every generation. This leads to a more humble, inclusive and welcoming community. Our language too needs to be inclusive and the language of the everyday. We need to support people to experience the presence of God in their lives and speak in words that they understand. If we retain religious language which is specific only to liturgy, then it too becomes a method of exclusion.
Is the Holy Spirit calling us to ‘journey together’ with those of our own faith tradition and with all peoples in humility, openness and love? A synodal Church ‘is open to wisdom emerging from dialogue across difference. It is open to the contribution of young people from their particular perspectives.’ (DPC) The co-responsibility of laity and priests for the faith development of parish communities is a response to the new vision of leadership within the Church.
Concrete steps need to include the setting up of parish teams and inviting diverse people from across the parish community to share their gifts on this team. Ongoing faith and skills development need to be provided for lay pastoral leaders to work alongside the priests of the parishes and indeed to reach out to those on the periphery.
The full report from the Diocese of Cashel & Emly is available here.