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“This is a time for heroism and creativity”

By Sarah Mac Donald - 18 March, 2020

Bishop of Derry appeals for churches to remain open, priests to be highly visible in churches and communities, and that technology be used to reach the lonely, frightened and self-isolating.

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry has appealed to priests to “Be visible, be available when everything else is closed. Walk with people and not away from them.”

In his St Patrick’s Day message, Bishop McKeown recalled how priests and parishes did “phenomenal work” during the years of civil conflict in Northern Ireland “and are rightly remembered for that”.

In a time of trouble, people want to see ‘God is love’ in action, he said.

Acknowledging that these are difficult weeks and months as the country grapples with the Covid-19 crisis, on the national feast day, he prayed for God’s grace “to drive this evil from our shores”.

Describing it as a time for intense prayer and penance, he said the Church should recommit itself to “the Christ-centred heroism of St Patrick in the face of evil” as this would be the best tribute to St Patrick on his feast day.

Elsewhere in his homily, Dr McKeown said, “Ireland will be renewed when we discover a new way of being and not just a new way of buying” and he appealed to people to learn from the mistakes of the past.

The Bishop of Derry said the country’s patron saint’s message to us today is to take the best of what our culture has to offer – and build on that.

“Do not be afraid to challenge the market ideology which says that we are capable of being nothing more that self-indulgent consumers, living for today and incapable of thinking about tomorrow or our children’s tomorrow.”

St Patrick’s Day, he said, traditionally brings Irish fervour and enthusiasm around the world. “People don’t have to be 100% pure blooded Irish to feel the urge to take part. And the celebrations can take forms that have a greater or lesser connection with the message that St Patrick stood for.”

While in difficult times people need reasons to celebrate, to be together, and to generate hope, that option was not open to them this year.

Speaking generally about the situation in Ireland, Dr McKeown said there is a silent desperate yearning for something better than what is on offer, both North and South.

“There is much resentment at the level of public services, poverty, violence and a lack of direction. Political parties suggest new structures and they promise that they can deliver the necessary changes. But Patrick would say that he offered Good News and not just new structures that might look well on a drawing board or in an election slogan.”

“We read about him in his autobiography as coming to an Ireland that was dominated by a druidic religious system. He offered a different way of looking at people and the world. This new message challenged the orthodoxy of his time, even though such a criticism was rightly seen as a threat to the powerful of his day.”

Describing Patrick as a tough man, the Bishop of Derry said this tough spirituality was in stark contrast to the “globalisation of superficiality”.

“What happens on ‘Love Island’ gets more coverage than what happens to Syrian refugees on the Greek islands. Self-denial, self-control and self-sacrifice are seen as unreasonable. Lent at best is only about my waist and not about my way of life. But that superficiality has created such a hollowness behind the façade of glamour. And the current medical crisis is pointing us to recognise that echoing emptiness. The strength of a culture is seen, not when things are going well but when crisis strikes.”

He warned that in the face of a superficial culture, there is a temptation to dumb down the challenge of Jesus.

“It may seem simpler to domesticate the Gospel, with the mistaken view that this will make the Church more acceptable, less uncomfortable for this generation. It will not be easy for a society that has been promised bliss through 24/7 shopping and partying till you drop.”

“The tough man Patrick would not want to be portrayed a feckless fool. He invites us to offer the challenge of Christ to today. Only there is life to be found. He was laughed at because he was considered a fool for Christ’s sake. His descendants should be prepared for the same.”

Elsewhere, the bishop warned that there may be a temptation for parishes to see the current lack of public Masses in response to the Covid-19 crisis as “almost a chance for a holiday”.

“That would be a fatal betrayal of Christ, of Patrick and of God’s people. This is a time for heroism and creativity. Churches should remain open, priests highly visible in churches and communities, and every possible use should be made of technology to reach lonely, frightened and self-isolating.”

“Some may well criticise initiatives that we take. We will get some things wrong. But the distress of many is another voice of the Irish, saying ‘come and walk again among us.’ Clergy and parishes have to be visible walking among their people. Christ walked with those in need, whatever the personal cost. He faced evil in all its forms.”

Live streaming of Masses and Services from churches in Ireland and the UK can be found here: http://churchservices.tv

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