Catholic Church must do more to support the family
THOUSANDS of Catholic faithful from all over Ireland converged on Knock in Co Mayo at the weekend for a National Eucharistic Congress.
Its focus was on supporting marriage and the family, a persistent theme of Pope Francis's papacy and one echoed at the World Meeting of Families he attended in Philadelphia as the Irish event took place.
A synod of bishops at the Vatican next month will further consider how the Catholic Church should meet the pastoral challenges faced by its members today, and in a homily on Saturday at Knock's Marian Shrine, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin said that the challenge facing it was "to find ways of remaining completely faithful to the Church's teaching on marriage and the family while at the same time reaching out in a compassionate and merciful way to those whose home and family situations are very different".
Archbishop Martin said the Ireland of the 21st century was far removed from the Ireland of 1980, when he was starting his studies for the priesthood.
"There has been a huge downturn in the numbers of Irish people who regularly practice their faith," he said.
"The number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life has declined steeply: 79 seminarians began their studies with me that year in Maynooth.
"The Church in Ireland and indeed throughout the world has endured a dark and scandalous period in her history with revelations of child abuse together with a shameful betrayal of trust.
"A wave of secularism has washed across Western Europe and, in its wake, many Irish people have drifted away from the sacraments; more families in Ireland are living their lives with little or no reference to God...
"Could we ever have imagined 35 years ago that so much change would happen so quickly, especially to the role and standing of the Church in the lives, homes, communities, and thinking of the Irish people?"
He suggested that a large part of the answer to meeting contemporary challenges was to nurture lay leadership.
"I would like to see the day when every parish or pastoral area has a trained lay catechist who could work alongside the parish priest, parish pastoral council and school religious education coordinators in ensuring that the triad of home, school and parish are re-imagined for the 21st century," he said.