Decline in vocations a huge challenge, says bishop
the SHARP decline in numbers of those studying for the priesthood has huge implications for the future shape of ministry, Bishop Denis Brennan told last week's annual Mass of Chrism in Saint Aidan's Cathedral.
He said one of the biggest challenges facing the Irish church at the moment is the shortage of candidates coming forward to priesthood and religious life. Past scandals, he said, had 'poisoned the well'.
The decline in those taking vocations, he said, impacts on the present by undermining and sapping morale.
'The effect of this should not be underestimated. I know farmers and business people, who when they realise that none of the family are interested in continuing on the farm or in the business scale back, and even sell up.
'They lose heart, they see no point in continuing when it becomes obvious that nobody is going to come after them. This realisation can take its toll in priesthood and religious life too,' said the bishop.
He said we keep reading articles entitled 'The Last Priests in Ireland' and 'Priests under Pressure' and we see communities that always had a resident priest now being served from a distance by hard-pressed, hard-working priests, who are often getting on in years.
'Much has been written and said about why priesthood and religious life have lost their attraction, about why they are not on the agenda for young people today, or indeed for their families.
'Priesthood and religious life need a context, a context of faith and practice, a context where they are understood, valued, and supported,' he said.
Bishop Brennan said it's a cliché now to talk about how Ireland has changed in recent years and commenting on the findings of the 2016 census that 10 per cent of people indicated they had no religion, he said it should come as no surprise that this cultural change should impact on the life of the church.
'The scandals have had an impact too, they have poisoned the well, but this cultural shift had begun before the scandals broke. They didn't cause it but they certainly didn't help, especially in the negative way they allowed priesthood and religious life to be portrayed,' he said.
Bishop Brennan said the cumulative effect of all this is that many church people are unsure about the future.
'In the face of this uncertainty we need to remember that we are not the first generation of Christians to be anxious about the future, to wonder what will happen to us, to the faith we cherish, and what we are called to do by God in the midst of our uncertainty.'
He said that in the Year of Consecrated Life the Pope has asked us to do three things:
• To look to the past with gratitude.
• To live in the present with enthusiasm.
• To embrace the future with hope.
'Looking to the past should not be in the words of the Holy Father "an exercise in archaeology" but an opportunity "to give thanks for a journey which for all its light and shadow, has been a time of grace, marked by the presence of the Spirit",' said the bishop.
Bishop Brennan said speaking of new things the Bishop's Conference is at the moment setting up a National Vocations Office in Maynooth.
Its mission will be;
• Build a culture in Ireland where vocations to the priesthood are talked about, prayed for, and encouraged.
• Promote the call to Diocesan priesthood.
• Animate and coordinate Diocesan Vocations initiatives.
It is envisaged that this office will work in cooperation with Vocations Ireland, the office which promotes vocations to the Religious Life.
'It has been said that the vocations crisis of those called is also a crisis of those calling. If no one calls, how can anyone respond?'