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‘Ireland and its Church have always been European’

By Sarah Mac Donald - 24 June, 2016

Bishop Donal McKeown (2)

The Church in Ireland is changing from a body that felt “safe and secure in its own perceived strength” to a “people on Exodus” Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry has said.

Welcoming 65 delegates from twenty countries attending the European Laity Forum Study Assembly, Bishop McKeown said “We are discovering the breath of the Spirit that invites us to be pilgrims and missionaries, not settlers and defenders of our castle, where we risked believing God has taken up permanent abode.”

The theme for this year’s Study Assembly is “Our lay vocation: being merciful to each other!”

Speakers include Professor Dr Andreas Lob-Hüdepohl, member of ZdK and from the Deutschen Ethikrat; Steven Vanackere, former Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs; Barbara Walsh Director of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation; and Sven Thomas Nordlöf, poet and psychologist, Saint Eugenia Catholic Church in Sweden.

Addressing the 65 delegates, the Bishop suggested that they might think of Ireland as being on the edge of Europe, with the next parish being in Boston or New York. But, he added, “Ireland and its Church have always been European.”

“The Gospel came to us from the mainland of Europe. We sent many missionaries there such as Kilian, Columbanus, Fergal and Coloman. They came to a Europe where none of our present countries existed. The English invasion of Ireland in the 16th century was motivated by a fear of Spain. In the 18th century, Irish priests were formed in many colleges in France, Belgium, Spain and Italy.”

The 19th century Church took the French and Italian Church as its model for renewal, the Bishop of Derry explained. He also noted that the 1916 uprising had strong encouragement from Germany.

He said Irish people are to be found in all the great European pilgrimage centres – Lourdes, Fatima, Rome, Medjugorje.

“The Irish Catholic Church has always been clear on its European identity and we welcome you as those whom we have known as brothers and sisters down through the centuries.”

Of the many opportunities and challenges for this continent Dr McKeown said on the positive side, there were “great traditions of faith, deeply rooted in our cultures, traditions and artistic heritage”.

A century ago, people stood on the cusp of a radical redrawing of the continent which saw the end of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires and the creation of many small states.

One hundred years later, the fear of the invasion and attack is inducing many to build new walls and not bridges, the Bishop highlighted.

“We may be facing a period of renewed nationalism, as well as strident regionalism within some current states,” he warned.

“Our task is not just to keep alive the flame of faith in our secular societies but to engage with those societies, offering hope and being a witness to a Church that, ‘by its relationship with Christ is a credible sign or sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind’ (Lumen Gentium 1).”

He added, “Our individual churches are not just concerned with saving souls but also with saving Europe from its worst self-destructive inclinations.”

“And you gather with us, motivated by a shared awareness of many of the new trends in Catholic theology.”

“You gather in ‘a spirituality of communion’ (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43), called to be ‘builders of tomorrow’s European society, establishing it on a firm spiritual foundation’ (Ecclesia in Europa, 41).”

“And you gather in a Church that is rediscovering an ecclesiology of collegiality and co-responsibility.”

He said Pope Francis is clear that the Church is not an absolute monarchical pyramid under the headship of the Pope, but rather a community of local churches each of which is the Body of Christ in their distinct environments – and together constitute the Universal Church.

“The challenge is always to balance somehow the need to maintain the unity of the whole church with equal regard for the distinctiveness of the local churches.”

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