By Katie Ascough - 13 June, 2020
Members of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference gathered this week for their Summer 2020 General Meeting by video call, instead of the usual location at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. This was the first plenary meeting of bishops hosted using this medium, and was employed in accordance with the public health restrictions in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The first main topics discussed at the General Meeting were the bishops’ gratitude to the people, clergy and religious of Ireland; the publication of the framework for parishes to assist reopening churches safely; and details on the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation in the context of Covid-19.
Bishops thanked the faithful for their prayers, sacrifice and perseverance during the public health restrictions which were announced in March. “This commitment has successfully served to protect life and health. However this has also been a time of great sadness in terms of death and illness, as well as uncertainty and anxiety with the sharpest rise in unemployment, severe social and travel restrictions and most shops, businesses, schools and colleges having to close. In addition, this has been a stressful time from the perspective of family relationships while the mental health of older people, and young adults, has been put under particular pressure,” the bishops say in their statement following the meeting.
“In general, the experience of lockdown for priests has been both innovative and difficult. The widespread use of webcam technology provided an opportunity for online ministry and evangelisation like never before, enabling many priests to keep the light of the Gospel shining during this dark period. But faith practice is also about community and the Covid-19 crisis has been tough on many priests at a personal level and especially for the many cocooning at this time,” the bishops continue.
During their meeting, the bishops published a Framework Document to assist parishes as they prepare for the celebration again of public worship in a measured and safe way. This consists of a checklist focusing on initial steps, the need to follow the most up-to-date public health advice at all times, and liturgical matters. The full statement can be found here.
The bishops also discussed how the Sacrament of Confirmation will be celebrated in the context of Covid-19, a topic of great interest to families and the multitude of young people across Ireland who were due to receive the sacrament over the past few weeks and months. “In accordance with current public guidelines, bishops expect that the Sacrament of Confirmation will begin to be celebrated from late summer onwards. In arranging the celebrations, public health guidelines will determine the number of candidates that can be confirmed at a time. Local arrangements will only take shape later in the late summer/early autumn. Bishops acknowledged with gratitude how children and their families have continued in their preparation for the sacrament during these difficult days for everybody,” the bishops state.