These days it’s not often one can see over 80 priests in one place but it happened this past week! And in Kerry!
Since before Covid19 Bishop Fintan Gavin had been planning to bring all the priests ministering in the diocese together but it wasn’t possible until now. So on Sunday evening last almost all the priests headed west across the county bounds to Killarney.
The going away part was so that all could concentrate on spending the time together and engage with the topic at hand without going in and out to attend to parish or chaplaincy calls.
At the closing Mass, Bishop Fintan expressed gratitude to the priests of religious communities and the retired priests who ministered at funerals and hospitals during the week.
The topic was “Stepping Stones to a new future” in the Diocese of Cork and Ross. Bishop Fintan invited two experienced facilitators of groups to guide the gathering. Maria Garvey from Belfast and Judith King from Bray put shape on the discussions.
Each day, priests prayed together, celebrated Mass together, ate meals together, and sat in various configurations to discuss questions and topics put before them.
They didn’t answer any big questions about changes to parishes because many of these need to be also considered by the wider people of the diocese. So they didn’t come home with a detailed road-map.
Among the priests are those ordained for the diocese, priests from Poland, from the religious orders, from India, from missionary societies. There are priests who were attending their first such gather and more who are very near their retirement. This gathering helped them to know one another better.
Together, they created a spirit which filled the room with hope and promise for the future of our faith community in Cork and Ross. Priests also spoke about the things that they want to define the kind of Church they stand for.
High on the list of these is a Church which welcomes and values everyone and invites everyone to have an active part in the life of the Church. The priests agreed that ministry in the Church will centre on parishioners, priests, deacons and religious sisters and brothers all being part of a vibrant community and working together.
The priests agreed some initial steps for the clergy to take on topics which only affect them and which will be teased out in follow-up meetings.
There are two challenges facing the diocese immediately. One challenge for the diocese now is that just because we’re in a pandemic doesn’t mean the diocese stands still — priests will still retire or become unwell, confirmations and other sacraments still need to be organised and unforeseen events will always cut across plans. The other is how to bring parishioners into a discussion with everyone about the future with the pandemic hovering around us.
The gathering agreed that this was the first part of a process that needs to continue. The biggest conundrums about the future can only be enlightened by the Holy Spirit. “Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.”