Bishop Denis Nulty
The following was a recent Graduation address by Bishop Denis for Accord counsellors and facilitators
'Our graduation ceremony today is built on the shoulders of those who were pioneers in establishing Accord centres the length and breadth of this island. It is a record of service of which we can be immensely proud as we look forward to the celebration of the diamond jubilee of Accord across the island next year.
Accord’s first concern always must be to heal the wounded.
Domestic abuse, domestic violence, silent stonewalling are a much deeper pandemic that becomes all the more exacerbated in a pandemic lockdown.
The graduates of Accord will have to be at the heart of the Church’s synodal process which is underway in every diocese and throughout the world. You have the training, you have the skill-set, and you have the ear to hear what is being said and sometimes what is not being said.
During the first week of the liturgy of Advent, the prophet Isaiah gave us great images of hope. He suggested that suffering itself can be a school where God teaches us invaluable lessons. It can break through our pride and make us humble. Even bring us to our senses, giving us that greater perspective. Testing times can indeed become teaching moments.
The latest omicron variant of the pandemic has shifted gear once again into a greater level of restrictions and curtailment on personal freedoms. New public health instructions around mask wearing in schools from third class, and the return of restrictions around nightclubs, hospitality industry and indoor cultural, community, sport and entertainment gatherings have jolted all of us. Yet another reality-check from a pandemic that began as a tiny microbe in Wuhan. From a single viral particle that could not be seen by the naked eye our world, as we know it, has been brought to its knees. We are perhaps experiencing the most challenging of times since World War II. These are testing times indeed.
The first Accord established on this island was in Belfast in 1962. The Bishop at that time was Bishop Daniel Mageean, who died before the centre was actually opened. He was succeeded by Bishop William Philbin and the centre’s priest was Father Shaun McClafferty. Of interest to today’s graduates – Limerick opened in 1964; Newry opened in 1966; Waterford opened in 1967; Dublin in 1968; Carlow in 1969; Newbridge in 1972; Derry in 1973 and by 1984 there were 9 centres across Dublin. Of course they were originally Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (CMAC) centres, which all became Accord in 1995.
So, in 2022, we celebrate the diamond jubilee of Accord on this island. It is a record of service of which we can all be immensely proud. Our graduation today is built on the shoulders of those who were pioneers in establishing centres the length and breadth of this island. The centres that we work in, the team around us, these are only there because of the vision of those founders. Next year we will honour that vision that gave birth to what Philip Leonard refers to in the title of his book on the origins and growth of Accord: Like Ministering to Like.
Accord’s first concern always must be to heal the wounded, such as to provide the listening ear of the counsellor to help accompany the couple or individual on their journey to greater self-confidence and esteem. Our reading from Isaiah signed off today: “on the day the Lord dresses the wound of his people and heals the bruises”. Pope Francis regularly uses the image of the Church becoming a “field hospital”. This image resonates superbly with our ministry in Accord, namely: the calling of the counsellor to accompany; the call of the facilitator to deliver, and the call of the centre member to be present for and with one another.
I am conscious that today’s graduates are joining Accord at an exciting time. I was so proud of how our companies reinvented our service and outreach during the depths of this pandemic. As companies, but even more importantly as a pastoral agency of the Church, our clinicians, counsellors, facilitators, centre administrators demonstrated huge resilience. The ‘Covid-19 Couples and Relationship line’ was established overnight to respond to those who needed support in lockdown. Society must recognise that domestic abuse, domestic violence, and silent stonewalling, are a much deeper pandemic which becomes all the more exacerbated in a pandemic lockdown.
And of course the Virtual Interactive Marriage Preparation Programme, delivered on Zoom - and soon to be supported by an excellent video to better prepare the priest to meet the couple and to understand what the preparation programme entails - has been an outstanding success.
I know this as I participated in one of those Preparation Programmes, delivered by the Carlow Centre, earlier this year. I was so proud of the team of facilitators. Many couples have availed of these programmes and while the in-person courses are preferable, however, for the moment, these courses offer couples skills and supports to understand better the sacrament that they are entering.
The Universal Church has in recent months launched a synodal process which asks simple questions like:
- what is God saying to our parish, our diocese, our Church today?
- what do we value most about our Catholic Church?
- how can we become more inclusive?
- who do we need to speak to?
- how do we reach deeper into the ‘field hospital’?
To assist the process there will be a need for facilitators, animators, skilled listeners – I feel that you, the graduates of Accord and all who work in our respective companies – need to be at the heart of this process in all our dioceses.
Accord director Tony Shanahan recently reminded me how Chapter 6 of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia is actually a mirror of what Accord offers. I look forward, in the early part of the New Year, to offering a study day on this splendid exhortation and how it can speak to us in Accord today. I know that those who are graduating will have a ministry that isn’t just a positive effect on those you work with, but a ministry that offers you rich rewards of personal fulfilment. Many in our Accord companies remind me continuously how they get much more from the agency than they ever put into it. Volunteerism, or personal service for the good of others, is at the heart of our ethos, as envisioned by our founders 60 years ago. It is what brought me into CMAC/Accord in 1989.
So, as we enter our diamond jubilee year, let us endeavour to hold on to the vision that inspired the founding of Accord sixty years ago. May we all prepare well for a happy diamond jubilee!'