The Diocese of Ferns is represented by 100,679 Catholics and is overseen by Bishop Ger Nash – the incumbent since last year. The Diocese covers most of Wexford and parts of County Wicklow. The Diocese of Ferns along with other members of our Synodal planning group and the Diocesan Pastoral Council facilitated meetings with a number of people from different groups that included: school students; religious sisters and brothers; Traveller women; the Irish Country Women’s Association; the Gaelic Athletic Association; the Irish Farmers’ Association, Ethical Farmers’ Association, Ferns Diocesan Youth Service, Pilgrimage groups; People with disability; Healthcare workers; Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender persons; homeschoolers, Catholic young adults, Age Action volunteers; Men’s organisations; Prayer associations; the Catholic Family Network; Diocesan Adoration Committee, Youth groups; and members of the Polish community. In total, small group meetings were attended by approximately 460 people. Further consultations occurred with the assistance of a trained facilitator through a series of four Deanery meetings. Over 540 people attended Deanery meetings representing every parish in the Diocese. While Deanery meetings were open invitation, it should be noted that Survivors and Victims of clerical abuse in the Diocese have not been formally met with as a distinct group within the opening phase of the Synodal process at this time. The main topics of conversation that arose during the Diocese’s synodal gatherings were: The laity as people of God There was a sense that the laity must relearn to walk together as people of faith amidst a secularising and seemingly post-Christian climate. This sentiment also applied to recent experiences of Covid restrictions. People discussed the difficulties of adapting to a volatile world of increasing uncertainty in terms of disease, family breakdown, climate change, increasing poverty, food shortages, migration, loss of biodiversity, conflict, the misuse of technology, the availability of illegal drugs, mental health concerns, a growing lack of respect for life, a politics of division, diminishing moral values, the alienation of people from the Church, an indifferent and sometimes biased media and the decline of religious practice in society. A welcoming Church People also spoke passionately about the potential of community, inclusion, togetherness, connection and belonging within the Church as an antidote to the challenges faced by wider society. There was a broad sense that the Church needs to be a more welcoming space, particularly for young people, for families of all makeups, and for all people who have experienced exclusion. At the same time, people expressed the view that the great turnout for the Synodal meetings were a sign of hope and positivity for the future of the Church, while a few expressed suspicions or doubts about the Synod or felt that it was ‘too little, too late’. More support for young Catholics Young people experienced and expressed their Christian identity and values in a variety of ways, including sports, hobbies, education, clubs, music, nature, charity, social justice, fellowship and advocacy. Certain aspects of this ‘faith in action’ were also evident across the generations. Furthermore, it was felt that social media profiles did not do justice to the deeper lives of young people and that their positive contributions to society and community aspirations were ignored by the institutional Church. Some young people also stated that they would be ‘slagged off’ for attending Mass. The need for a wider range of forms of worship was also highlighted. There was also a sense that people worried about the faith being lost in wider society but equally there was a sense that the faith is not lost but it appears in different ways now. Social media was touted as something that could bridge the communication divide between the Church and youth culture as there was inevitable challenges for priests in ‘big towns’. Praise for priests and fellow religious There was a deep appreciation for the work of religious, clergy and laity who have helped keep the flame of faith alive particularly amidst the challenging climate of recent decades. People expressed solidarity with all those whose reputations and character were unjustly tarnished by abuse scandals within the Church. There was also a strong sense that ill-informed or harsh judgement is disabling for individuals and for communities. This was particularly evident in stories concerning the abuse of authority by clergy or religious. Love for the Sacraments A great many people showed great affection and love for the Sacraments. There were also reports of a deep sense of loss experienced during the absence of the Sacraments during Covid restrictions. Living the life of faith was also evident in the value given to processions, choirs, Celebratory events, prayer meetings, retreats, voluntary work, home visits, pilgrimages and intergenerational participation in parish gatherings. Faith was also nourished locally through Sacramental preparation and faith formation programmes. Being Catholic in an increasingly secular country In terms of healthcare and education, people expressed concern over its increasing secularisation and the decline of some Christian values and symbols. People expressed mixed opinions about the role of religion and sacramental preparation in schools with some wishing for closer ties between Parish and school while others wanted to see sacramental preparation and faith development moved from schools to families and Parish. It was clear that the role of the family in faith formation requires further exploration. There was also an understanding that the Church should not hold on to a historical authority that does not really exist in the present day in relation to schools and hospitals. There was a certain sense that the Church’s mission was hindered unnecessarily in today’s world by being seen to cling to an historical authority. There was a yearning for contemplative and/or discussion-mediated approaches to Catholicism that can help people navigate the complexities of life. People also spoke movingly about the sense of ‘peace’ attained in Church and an awareness of God’s presence through Adoration and other devotional forms of prayer.” Engaging homilies There was also the view that services (and at times sermons) could be too long and irrelevant for some, utilise challenging or archaic language and be unrelated to lived experience. Equally, there was the view that people could be overly judgemental in their attitudes towards priests, religious, fellow parishioners, Church leadership and/or secular society more generally. Combatting clericalism Concerns were raised over the autocratic and administrative nature of the Church along with the damaging effects of clericalism. Equally, concerns were raised about the perceived passivity of the Parish community or wider Church in today’s world. It was also suggested that we are all missionaries and need to get involved more in Parish life to support the mission of the faith community and inspire vocations. There were also suggestions that ordination could be open to women as deacons or priests. There was also the view that priests should have the option of marriage and that former clergy could have the option of returning to some form of ministry even if now married. What might the Holy Spirit be saying? An underlying feature of life today that emerged through the synodal conversations in the Diocese of Ferns is complexity. It is clear from the various submissions that this complexity brings great risks of societal and generational fragmentation. Yet, there is a unifying role to be played by faith communities alert to the tensions of complexity and lovingly open to co-operation with each other and the wider world. Within the Diocesan community, there is commitment shown to utilising existing talents and developing further skills in the Synodal processes of companionship, listening, speaking out, celebrating, dialogue, discerning, participating and ministering. There was a clear desire expressed to help the local Church to grow in communion, participation and mission regardless of differences in personal history, life experience, opinions, concerns or hopes. There was also a strong sense of listening to each other with interest, respect and compassion. The Diocese noted that for in order for the Church to resonate with everyone at a universal level, it must first: dialogue at a parish and neighbourhood level; enhance various approaches to faith formation & development opportunities for clergy and for lay women and men; improve communication processes; improve specific use of technology for evangelisation and faith formation; further develop alternative forms of active, devotional and/or contemplative prayer services within Deaneries and Parishes; and widely develop of a suite of approaches to co-operative ministry and decision-making within Parishes, Clusters, Deaneries and the Diocese. The full report from the Diocese of Ferns is available here.