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Renewal in Irish church must be rooted in parish

By Sarah Mac Donald - 11 September, 2014

Bishop Denis Nulty opens second annual Alpha conference in Maynooth.

Bishop-Denis-NultyMK-_bannerRenewal in the Irish church must be rooted at ground level and not imposed from top-down Bishop Denis Nulty has said.

In his address to open the second national conference organised by Alpha Ireland on the theme ‘Rebuilt’, the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin said renewal must be homegrown, “a renewal that springs from a strong foundation in all our parishes.”

He paid tribute to Alpha Ireland for bringing Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran to Ireland to address the conference and the issues it was focused on.

Fr Michael and lay minister Tom represent “all that is positive about collaboration in the parish team model of 2014” Bishop Nulty said.

He also referred to their book ‘The Story of a Catholic Parish: Rebuilt – awakening the faithful; reaching the lost; making church matter’, which he read a while back.

“Any of us engaged in parish life have at times asked questions like why we do what we do, when so many seem to disengage so easily and so readily. All of us who are immersed in the story of parish can empathise with the struggles, the strains, the stresses evident in the Church of the Nativity in Baltimore in the States,” he said.

Elsewhere in his address in Maynooth, Bishop Nulty paid tribute to and applauded the multitude of volunteers “who keep the parish spirit alive in every corner of this land”.

He said sometimes we get confused and caught up in the conundrum of volunteer and paid – but he underlined that both are deeply valued; “both are highly professional and both speak to the heart of the story of parish in 2014.”

The Bishop commented, “Let us never suggest that our volunteers are not exceptionally professional in their approach and their work.”

He acknowledged that while many talk today about the new evangelisation, while more speak about the renewal of the Irish Church, it is all in the context of a more critical climate and many shifting sands.

He also noted that when horrendous tragedy or turmoil hits a community, the media gravitates towards the local parish, the local priest, the local lay minister.

“I think of the consoling presence of Fr Tom Naughton, the curate in Charleville in Co Cork around the O’Driscoll family in recent days; over in the United States, I think of the family of the freelance war correspondent James Foley. His parents John and Diane paid great tribute to the support and prayers of their local parish as they came to terms with the horrific death of James at the hands of terrorists.”

“There is no doubting how comforting and consoling faith is at a time of death, when even those disengaged from parish life still want a church funeral with all the rituals attached,” he said.

The Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin underlined that the Church is about more than tragedy or death, “it’s about living, where faith is nourished, expressed and shared; we need to address the living bit!”

“We need to move from a consumer model to one of active participation, while still taking on some of the standards more akin to the consumer world and applying best practices or ‘Q’ marks to our parishes and team workers.”

“Renewal means engaging in conversation about all that is good and there is so much to be encouraged and affirmed in all our parishes. And that’s what a conference like this is about.”

Recalling a poster for September’s Dominican Distance Learning programme that caught his eye he said it urged people ‘Don’t just go to Church: Be the Church’ and he suggested that was challenge for all.

Bishop Nulty reminded delegates that the conference would offer tools for the rebuilding parishes presenting an Irish Case Study, in other words showing that this can work and does work in an Irish context and finally together planning for the rebuilding.

But he reminded them, “There is an even more important issue which is not on the programme flyer. What happens when we return to our own parishes? Can we implement something of what we have heard, learned or experienced. If we can, this Conference may be the most important one we have attended. My prayer and hope as I declare the Conference open, is that it will indeed live up to all our expectations.”

The Rebuilt Conference continues in Maynooth on 11 September 2014.  Please see www.alpha.ie

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