Presenting the Limerick Diocesan Synthesis Report
Pentecost Sunday, June 5th, 2022
Two thousand years ago the Church began to “go forth” guided by the Spirit. It’s what we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday. On this Pentecost Sunday, 2022, I am pleased to recommend to the People of God in the Diocese of Limerick the Limerick Diocesan Synthesis Report. It reflects a recent “going forth” on the part of many across our Diocese. This Report is our contribution to the project launched by Pope Francis of a universal Synodal consultation on the theme “communion, participation and mission”.
Pope Francis has constantly called on Catholics to “go forth”, reaching out in mercy, listening and service. As he puts it “if the parish is to be a home to everyone in the neighbourhood, and not a kind of exclusive club, please, let’s keep the doors and windows open. Don’t limit yourself to those who come to church or think as you do”. By launching the Universal Synodal pathway, Pope Francis has provided us with a new opportunity to listen to one another and to others who may not think as we do.
In responding to Pope Francis’ invitation to engage in conversations, the Diocese of Limerick has, therefore, made an effort to listen not just to those of us who come to church regularly, but also to hear what our family members, work colleagues and neighbours who do not come to church have to say. Indeed, the Universal Synod’s Official Handbook for Listening and Discernment in Local Churches (the Vademecum) encouraged us to make ‘every effort to involve those who feel excluded or marginalised’, ‘including people who have left the practice of the faith’. (Vad. 1.5, 2.1)
I am grateful for the various ways in which people in our Diocese have gone out, met people, let them question us, letting their questions become our questions. In engaging in this dialogue perhaps, as Pope Francis indicated would happen, we might even have been taken aback by what we heard. Some of the voices might be more extreme but it has been important to give voice to those we do not regularly hear.
The Limerick Diocesan Synthesis Report now submitted to the Bishops Conference is part of the journey towards the 2023 universal Synod to be held in Rome. It is a snap shot in time of a variety of voices speaking to a range of themes. This is a first step. We are part of a universal Church whose voice we too have to hear and listen to. Clearly, much reflection, prayer and catechesis will also be needed as we progress in the spiritual “discernment” to understand what God wants of the Church in Ireland today. We will need to listen also to the voices of the river of Tradition that has come down to us through the generations.
We need particularly to pray for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit because the Synodal pathway is not a kind of diocesan parliament. Again, in Pope Francis’ words, “we are not holding a diocesan parliament, examining this or that question, but making a journey of listening to one another and to the Holy Spirit, discussing yes, but discussing with the Holy Spirit, which is a way of praying.”
One thing is clear. The Church does not stand still. The Spirit pushes us forward. Pope Francis comments on the expression sometimes heard: “We have always done it that way”. He calls this “poison for the life of the Church” and adds: “those who think this way, perhaps without even realizing it, make the mistake of not taking seriously the times in which we are living. The danger, in the end, is to apply old solutions to new problems. A patch of rough cloth that ends up creating a worse tear (cf. Mt 9:16). It is important that the synodal process be exactly this: a process of becoming, a process that involves the local Churches, in different phases and from the bottom up, in an exciting and engaging effort that can forge a style of communion and participation directed to mission”.
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We can be grateful for the first step taken in this Report that will be followed up by many other steps in the years to come.
+Brendan Leahy, Bishop of Limerick