The Diocese of Elphin did a synthesis of the comments made by approximately 1,000 people throughout the Diocese. Emphasis was placed on comments which form a thread running through the responses, but without losing sight of comments which reflect a minority view.
This is an edited for space version of the original synthesis staying as close as possible to the original wording.
We asked people if they experienced Christian Community as a place of listening to God’s word. The following captures the essence of what was shared.
Journeying together is about listening to the Spirit who speaks to us through Scripture and the voices of the people.
There was a felt need to hear, proclaim, and understand the Scriptures better.
The Word of God, though proclaimed, is not really heard, or integrated by people. There is some suggestion that the quality of proclamation is poor.
There is a need for a greater understanding and opportunities for people to go deeper into the Word, especially in the context of the Liturgical Year, making use of the Lectionary as a foundation to this exploration and learning. There is also a need to offer more extensive opportunities for people to engage with it outside the context of the Liturgy.
Dialogue/engagement with the Word of God is perceived as offering a way forward, inclusive of others.
The quality of homilies varies
Some commented on the Old Testament readings, which sometimes contain language and content that is difficult to understand or apply to contemporary society. There is a felt need that appropriate explanation and interpretation of these texts should be offered within the context of homilies.
The proclamation of the Word of God is seen as one of the key ways to participate in the Liturgy of the Church.
Many identified a conflict between the strong and generous engagement of women in the life of the Church and the way in which the Church seems not to value the contribution of women or listen to their voices.
Women are the heartbeat of the life of the Church on the ground.
Many women have conveyed that they are people of deep and abiding faith, and that they have a huge awareness of the contemporary challenges of faith.
A high proportion are experiencing frustration, hurt, and disappointment at the lack of opportunity to contribute their gifts and charisms.
Leadership structures in the Church do not adequately create opportunities for women to play an active role in terms of decision making and leadership.
Motherhood, its responsibilities, obligations and demands, often make it difficult for women to take on time consuming roles in the Church.
Diaconate Ordination for Women surfaced in some of the conversations around opportunities for Leadership.
Spirituality, Liturgy & Prayer
We asked people to tell us about their experience of Church/Parish/Faith.
Many people express the fact that they have had a positive sense of Church and parish.
For many the engagement with Church is primarily through liturgy. Many refer to:
i. Quality of homilies; ii. Music; iii. Boredom; iv. Length of Liturgy;
Lack of heat in the church. People refer to their participation in good liturgy as uplifting and nourishing.
The connection between Liturgy and life needs to be emphasised more, in particular, its power and grace that helps us to live life to the full.
In terms of liturgy the quality and presence or absence of participation determines the overall experience. Some expressed their frustration and disappointment at the lack of opportunities for participation in the liturgy.
Child and teenage friendly liturgies and spaces are needed.
A more secular World
“What helps or hinders you in speaking honestly and courageously in your parish or in society?”
Coming out of a society which was predominantly Christian, many said they now found themselves very isolated as Christians in an increasingly secular society.
It is clear that the vast majority of younger parents no longer regularly attend Mass.
Sacraments of Baptism, First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation.
Some participants communicated that they now find themselves living in very secularised families, work situations and communities hostile to conversation regarding faith expression.
Time, family and work, hinder participation in Church.
Young people and young families are experiencing time poverty and finding it difficult to prioritise faith.
There is little cultural support for a living faith.
Seventy percent of young people who participated in the listening process said that they don’t think that they have a role to play in the life of the Church or their parish community.
They acknowledged that the Church/Local Parish does some things very well including gathering people together and building community; celebrating nice Masses; funerals and consoling the bereaved; preaching about the love of God; helping people in need; welcoming and kind priests.
They said that the Church could do better at: listening to and involving them and recognising their talents, including/accepting people, among whom LGBT+ receive special mention; listening to and respecting women; making Mass more lively, interactive, and engaging; organising events specifically for them.
Many young people see the Church as being outdated/intolerant.
Teenagers and young adults have expressed the absence of their peers as one of the main hindrances to their participation in Church.
Busy lifestyle is seen by many as an obstacle to their participation in Church activities.
Transmission of the Faith
There was a consistent expression of concern at the failure of the present generation of Catholics to transmit the faith to the next generation.
Faith is seen by many as a gift that they received from their family.
Hurt and rejection
Many participants expressed feelings of hurt and rejection by the Church. They speak of a “rules dominated” Church where its reputation is more important than its people.
The misrepresentation of the Church by Irish media remains a source of hurt.
Being rejected from within the Church for being perceived as being “too Catholic”.
On being asked about their personal experience of Church/Parish/Faith, many people, including women, people who are divorced and remarried, young people and people who identify as LGBT+, expressed a deep sense of hurt at what they perceived as their exclusion.
The faith community needs to be more inclusive of people with disabilities, ensuring that spaces, language, and accessibility in all its forms, are better and conducive to full participation.
Absence of forums for people to speak and be heard
Participants in most of the in-person gatherings expressed their appreciation of having been invited to participate in this process and many of them commented that this was the first time that anyone had asked their views on Church or faith.
Many people, including members of Parish Pastoral Councils and Religious Sisters, expressed the view that there is no forum for being heard in the Church.”
Members of the Travelling Community were unanimous in saying that nobody ever asked them their views about Church before this Focus Group.
While it was acknowledged that there are Parish Pastoral Councils, some commented that they have no idea who is on the Parish Council, so there is no way for them to engage with it.
There was no specific question about priests or their ministry but, alongside the comments of priests themselves, many participants made it clear that their experience of Church was shaped by their experience of a priest or priests.
I. Strong commitment to social justice and charitable outreach;
II. The consolations, as distinct from the challenges, that flow from having a personal relationship with God;
III. Recognition of the need for new efforts to encourage youth participation and pastoral outreach to all on the margins of Church;
IV. The need for forums/small groups that will support discussion, growth in understanding, courage and confidence regarding the ongoing transmission of the faith in home, work and parish settings.
There is a perception on the part of many that positions of leadership e.g., PPCs are about helping the priest with his work.
Attention is drawn to the absence of a tier of leadership which would facilitate local evangelisation and pastoral initiatives.
Clergy morale is quite subdued.
Many priests, teachers (primary and secondary), persons trained in catechesis and lay leaders of apostolic groups etc., are mindful of their need for ongoing formation and spiritual nourishment.
Local and national Church structures are not adequate for current mission requirements.
Many expressed a sense of inadequacy to the task of leadership in their own faith communities. There was a perception that this is connected with lack of formation and fear of criticism by others.
There is a lack of clarity and definition regarding leadership roles and responsibilities.
What might the Holy Spirit be saying?
For many it was the first time they were involved in such a process, and as a result, the sense of hope, energy, goodwill, and positivity was palpable.
There is a deep longing that a new way of being Church can emerge and that the seeds of hope, captured, planted, and expressed so eloquently, by so many, would form the foundation for continued dialogue, conversations, and engagement.
The full report from the Diocese of Elphin is available here.