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Time to Follow in St Patrick’s Footsteps


Greg Daly - published on 10/07/14

Dublin conference seeks to explain Pope Francis and encourage the renewal of the Irish Church

Pope Francis is destined to be seen as one of the Church’s great reformers, in the tradition of Pope Gregory VII, Francis of Assisi, and Pope John XXIII, according to Austen Ivereigh (pictured), author of the forthcoming book The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.

Speaking at Pope Francis and the Future of the Church in Ireland, a conference held in Dublin Saturday, Catholic Voices founder Ivereigh said that Pope Francis has “set in train a whirlwind of reforms that will shape a generation.” These reforms, said Ivereigh, “are reshaping the Church for mission, bringing the periphery in to shape the center, combatting all that tempts us to put out faith elsewhere than the Gospel, attracting the world to Christ through actions that embody God’s merciful love.”

The Irish Catholic newspaper had organized the conference because, as editor Michael Kelly told Aleteia, “We really felt that people had a real desire to get to the heart of what God is saying to the Church through the ministry of Pope Francis and what this might mean for Catholics in Ireland. There is also a very real fear that certain elements of the media are trying to put a particular spin on Pope Francis and, for some Catholics, there is a danger that the media portrays the Holy Father as a sign of division, which he most certainly is not.”

“We hope that the conference will help Irish Catholics understand where the Pope is coming from,” he continued, “and authentically understand the reform and renewal of the Church that he is talking about, particularly in the context of Ireland.”

The various talks over the course of the day and the vigorous discussion that followed will certainly have helped in this regard, with contributions from speakers as diverse as Abbot Mark-Patrick Hederman of Glenstal Abbey, the former Northern Irish police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan, theologian Father Tom Norris, Iona Institute director David Quinn, Eamonn Meehan of the Irish bishops’ relief and development agency Trócaire, and columnist Breda O’Brien.  

Proceedings were opened by the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, who read from a letter from Pope Francis, greeting and blessing all those present and expressing his hope that the day of reflection and debate would help stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of joyful and loving evangelization in Ireland.  Launching Blueprint for the Church, a guide to Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium by theologian Father Eamonn Conway and Irish Catholic journalist Cathal Barry, Archbishop Brown described the book as a useful resource for individuals and parishes. Father Conway said that he hoped the book would help Catholics in a world where being a missionary would be “the new normal.”

For those who might be perplexed as to how we can be such missionaries, Francis offers us important pointers, said Ivereigh.  Crucial to this, he says, is the notion that our evangelization must embody mercy. Pointing to Pope Francis’s famous likening of the Church to a battlefield hospital, he explained that the Pope believes evangelization should start not by preaching doctrine but by learning people’s needs and wounds and seeking to help. Allowing teaching to flow from mercy, aside from being profoundly Christian, is deeply effective, said Ivereigh, citing a Daily Mirror story by a journalist who had been affected by Pope Francis’s call for the elderly to be cared for rather than hidden away. “There’s no place for religion in my head,” Ivereigh quoted the journalist as saying, “but my heart has been won over by Pope Francis, a pious, virtuous, humble human being who aches for the whole of humanity.”

Ivereigh said it is crucial to understand Pope Francis’s love for and understanding of ordinary, faithful Catholics. Even in the 1970s, the then Father Bergoglio had urged Argentina’s Jesuits to go among the people rather than take refuge in abstractions. For Pope Francis, he said, the Magisterium may tell people how to think of Mary, for instance, but to learn how to love her it is necessary to listen to those he calls, harking back to the Second Vatican Council, “God’s holy faithful people.”

Convinced that the late Yves Congar OP is something of a lodestone for the Pope, Ivereigh explains how Congar believed every Church renewal consists of an increase in fidelity to her own calling and a return to the roots of the Church. True reform often comes from outsiders and requires new structures, and reforms from on high stand little chance of success without the participation of those below; all true reform is pastoral, and is about helping people to be holy.

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