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By Dr Sean O'Leary and Fr Chris Hayden

The Ferns Diocesan Pastoral Plan is available here for downloading. There follows a theological reflection that is the foundation and vision behind it.


OUR FUTURE CHURCH will be rooted in the Word of God, which is both ancient and ever-new. Our conversations about how God is presently calling us to live as his people help us to grow in clarity. We have been blessed to have many such conversations; they have been fruitful; they have helped us to listen out for what the Spirit is saying to the churches – to use a visionary phrase found repeatedly in the book of Revelation (e.g. Rev 2:7).

            It would be impossible to give a brief summary of all those rich conversations, but more important than a summary of what has been said is a synthesis of what is understood. In the words of Pope Francis, ‘Where your synthesis is, there lies your heart.’ For the Pope, there is a world of difference ‘between enlightening people with a synthesis and doing so with detached ideas.’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 143).

            The synthesis, the heart of the matter for us, as a Diocesan family stepping out into the future, is that as Church, we are not just another organization: we are Christ’s body (1Corinthians 12:27). And our purpose is not simply to be comfortable in each other’s company, but to reach out to others with the Good News of Jesus Christ. In fact, Pope St Paul VI wrote that the Church exists to do just this – to evangelize, to share the Good News (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14).

            Of course, we need structures, plans, working groups, meetings; we need to organize ourselves at the levels of diocese, pastoral area, and parish. But all of this organization is for a clear purpose, which is described in one of the key documents of the Second Vatican Council: ‘The social structure of the Church serves the Spirit of Christ who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.’ (Lumen Gentium, 8).

            As church, we are not a collection of unconnected individuals or a loose association of local communities. God reaches out to his people ‘not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness’ (Lumen Gentium, 9). Here we touch on the heart of the lay vocation, which is not simply to ‘help’ the clergy, but to bring the Gospel to bear on all aspects of life. This vocation is ‘to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them (the lay faithful) that she can become the salt of the earth.’ (Lumen Gentium, 33).

            It is our task, as Church, not just to focus on our communities, but to reach out to others. Participation, therefore, cannot be reduced to doing things within pre-existing communities and structures. Participation in the life of faith entails bringing that life into the world, our society, our culture, our places of work and leisure. This is a participation we do from the Church, and not just in the Church. As Pope Francis puts it, ‘the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be ecclesiastical organisation but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone.’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 31).

            We journey together to carry the light of Christ to others. This is our shared mission as Church and as communities of faith. This is the principle that governs all our activities, including the eight themes of ‘Our Future Church.’ And in all of this, we are mindful that we are building on a solid foundation of faith. As we move forward, we bear in mind the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘Look to the rock from which you were hewn’ (Isaiah 51:1).

            As Church, we are ‘a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 111). We do not have full clarity in advance, or a roadmap that shows us every junction and every turn of the pilgrim way; but we are confident that the Holy Spirit will guide us. We step out in trust, with the promise of that guidance resounding in our hearts: ‘Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it”.’ (Isaiah 30:21)

Next weekend, 16th and 17th March there will be a special collection to help train these lay volunteers. Envelopes will be available at all churches before the weekend. You can also donate online at   Your generosity will shape the future of parish life  for the future of our Church. Together, let's empower our community and ensure a vibrant and active parish environment. Thank You!


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