By Sarah Mac Donald - 09 September, 2020
"We need to convert the challenge posed by a lack of priests into an opportunity for greater lay involvement.”
Bishop Brendan Leahy has hailed the “spirit of volunteerism” displayed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and said it could signal the future of the Church in which there is greater involvement by the laity.
Announcing this year’s clerical changes for the Diocese of Limerick, Bishop Leahy acknowledged that the combined issues of the vocations fall-off and an ageing priesthood was “a huge challenge” but he added that “we are getting reassuring glimpses of the possibilities ahead for the Church”.
He said this was very much evident from the early months of the coronavirus pandemic up to today, where people had stepped forward and volunteered to help out in their local parishes, people who would not have done this in the past.
“People stepped forward throughout parishes who, in some cases, we would not see except perhaps for the major celebrations of the year. Yet now they are volunteering weekly for activity of all sorts, activity that is crucial right now in keeping our doors open in trying circumstances.”
Describing this development as “very reassuring” he said it was why he believed that the fall-off in vocations and retiring priests could create an opportunity for a renewed church in Ireland.
“It is an opportunity for people to take on more responsibility in their church locally. The Church is about community. It’s about the people. So, what we need to do is convert the challenge posed by a lack of priests into an opportunity for greater lay involvement,” he said.
“There’s always a temptation to think someone else will help out. I would ask those who have time to do so, maybe recently retired people or stay-at-home dads or mums who might have time while their children are in school, to ask themselves if they might be able to give a hand in the day-to-day life of the parish.”
This year’s clerical changes, he said were a necessity because there were a lot more priests retiring every year than vocations. “We have three parish priests retiring this year and no new priest coming in. So, we have to make these changes and I accept that they are not easy on priests and certainly not easy either on their parishes.”
The Bishop of Limerick also appealed to people to reflect on how they can increase the family dimension of church life.
“The Church is not just priests and nuns,” he stated.
Referring to the increase in families who gathered to watch ceremonies streamed online and take part in other prayers during Lockdown, Dr Leahy invited families to be creative in stitching moments of prayer or moments of reflection into the weekly schedule.
Among the changes announced by Bishop Leahy was the appointment of Fr Éamonn Fitzgibbon as Vicar General of the Diocese. He joins Canon Anthony Mullins, who has been the Vicar General for some years.
Fr Fitzgibbon is well known in the Diocese of Limerick as the Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Planning and, in particular, for his significant role in the Diocesan Synod.
In relation to the increased number of Covid-19 cases in Limerick, Bishop Leahy paid tribute to parish teams who have worked hard “to make sure people know our churches are places where they can come safely to worship”.
But he stressed that all need to keep up their vigilance around the public health guidelines.
“I make my own the strong advice given to those who come to church for any ceremony: wear masks, watch social distancing and, especially after ceremonies, avoid gathering in groups that don’t keep social distancing. Don’t be afraid to say it to one another – ‘let’s keep a little more distance’.”