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Bishop Denis wrote to all the faithful in his diocese during the week with the release of a pastoral letter of encouragement and urging us not to lose heart in challenging times.

1. Few, if any, are isolated from its damaging effects

None of this will be easily, or indeed, soon forgotten. 

Virtually every aspect of life today has been upset by the coronavirus - from worship to learning, trade to recreation, travel to planning - all is adversely affected. 

Coronavirus has seriously stopped us in our tracks and it has unnerved us greatly. 

What in many instances heretofore, was natural, normal or second nature now comes with a health warning - forbidden, dangerous, restricted or suspended. 

With coronavirus, few, if any, are isolated from its damaging effects. 

2. It’s not a time to lose heart

An old adage, once often quoted about the Church itself, used to go - ‘as the world gets darker, the Church must become brighter.’ 

The sentiments that underpin this adage are the spirit we need today as citizens and as Christians. 

Now is not a time to lose heart. 

The toll to date has been far reaching. 

Even more worrying, there is - as of yet - no guaranteed or immediate solution. 

That said, we are not helpless. 

Let’s keep heart by doubling down and wearing the mask, practicing hand hygiene and keeping the required social distance. 

The simple pieces of advice are our best weapons to reduce the spread of the virus - avoid close contact, and avoid closed and crowded spaces. 

In saying this, let’s do more than what is simply right at present. 

Let us as church go the second mile. 

In resolving to recommit to these good and necessary practices of hygiene and safety, let’s dig deeper and draw on our Christian nature. 

Let’s share our hope of brighter days with others, especially those for whom this is a real struggle - the isolated, those for whom anxiety is a daily burden, the genuinely frightened, those who could do with a bit of cheering up, or motivating. 

In short - ‘Keep heart, Give heart, Be heart!’

3. A Mighty Effort. 

The sheer numbers of good people in our parishes, their desire to reopen our churches in as safe and as reassuring a manner as possible in the weeks leading up to 29 June -  their creativity and attention to detail - was truly a marvel, an example worthy of much emulation, and commendation.  

Right across our diocese, church communities - in churches and in chapels by land, by mountain and by sea - accepted wholeheartedly, the challenge to not only reopen, but to do so, with both regard for best practice, and with very obvious joy. 

Parish councils and local volunteers engaged in what can only be described as ‘a mighty effort’ of goodness and of generosity’; reopening with a broad smile and with a promise - ‘we’re doing all we can to make this as safe a place as possible, and you are very welcome back!’ 

I thank this inter-generational army of local volunteers, and I ask them to persevere, as we prepare once again, to reopen. 

‘Keep heart, Give heart, Be heart!’

Special tribute is also paid to those who act as good neighbours at this time, whether it be as a member of a local club or organisation, or simply as a good natured individual, mindful of another’s need, or the burdens of their added confinement. 

Lockdowns have a habit of coming quickly - but the learning and the outreach of our priests and people to parishioners - were and are, equally fast footed and adroit.

I thank our priests for their ongoing prayerful presence in parishes and I thank those who helped us, with much needed technology. The ‘online’ broadcast does help us stay connected and it also keeps us, very much, in touch. 

Legion also are the stories of connection with native parishioners now living abroad or ‘strangers browsing’ the net throughout the globe, people erstwhile unknown to us, who happen to be searching for meaning at this time, and who stroll upon us, providentially. 

One thing that has become abundantly clear in recent times, is the need to revisit and amend the continued existence of church closures for public worship, as implemented from level 3. 

Being the only place in Europe where church closure exists in this instance, is clearly sufficient reason to revisit the matter, to reassess its necessity and to re-examine its appropriateness, and to consider the positive benefits of its being lifted. 

Arguments from science, combined with evidence of the low incidence of infection in churches since their reopening on 29 June - together with respect for the requirements of religious freedom -  do mean that lockdown regulations at level 3 (and at the higher levels of 4 and 5), are in need of reconsideration. 

The continued retention of these lockdown regulations for churches requires clear, demonstrable and verifiable justification. 

As stated recently by the Catholic Bishops after their October meeting:

“The communal celebration of Mass and the Sacraments – even with restricted numbers – is at the very heart of what it means for us to be a Christian community.  These are not simply ‘gatherings’ of people, but profound expressions of who we are as a Church.  For parishes, and individual Catholics, the loss of these spiritual supports can be a source of great anxiety, and fear, and can have a detrimental impact on their overall health and well-being.”

4. Those Now in Difficulties

In recent weeks, I have been struck by the number of accounts - on local radio and in the local newspaper - of long standing businesses which are facing an uncertainty, that few would have thought imaginable, some short time ago. 

This uncertainty is also making its destructive way through many homes and smaller businesses now also - with overheads and fees still to be paid, weekly and annual payments looming, income down or disappeared, return to employment unsure - a future that is a worry to many. 

Solutions are not easily come by in this environment of reduced resources and additional borrowings. And pious platitudes will not pay bills. 

As disciples, we are called to a renewed leadership in this time of crisis - to give of what we have in abundance from within our store of faith - to resolutely be a light of hope, a herald of good news, a source of strength - to those whose nerves need steadying, and whose mental well-being is threatened. 

‘Keep heart, Give heart, Be heart!’

In particular, I would like to thank the members of the local branches of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. I thank them and the many other outreach organisations in the diocese who offer tangible support and advice, to those in difficulty. 

Particular concern must exist for those who live in situations of violence or abuse. Their plight is particularly distressing, as is the need for vigilance and attentiveness, to signs or signals of its existence. 

At the wider levels of local and national government, I would ask that policies continue to be shaped by patience and understanding, as many of our citizens face very severe and immediate financial, mental, domestic and existential challenges and some of the more vulnerable fall deeper into pre-existing difficulties, now accentuated by the pandemic. 

5. Solidarity

The story was told in the Irish media - early on in the pandemic - of a developmental worker in an area of our world, adversely affected by drought.

The ‘wash your hands frequently’ advice is met in many instances in the developing world, with a child’s confused response - ‘with what water?’

It’s a stark story. It’s also one that gives us much pause for thought. 

However grave our pandemic problems are, parts of the world are much worse. 

Less equipped to fight the virus, they are prey to the added misfortunes of famine, war and poverty. 

A glance at the figures of those afflicted by coronavirus in the developing world demonstrates to us not only the sheer number of those who are suffering, it also reminds us of how even less able they are to defend themselves, against the graver aspects of its threat.  

The annual Lenten Trócaire collection in the diocese has always been well supported as have various appeals for areas of the world in which some of our priests have ministered. 

The annual Trócaire box appeal financial returns from the Lenten campaign of 2020 will be less this year. The good news however is that returns are still arriving and online contributions - directly to Trócaire - are up. 

If you have not done so already, might I set you the challenge of returning the Trócaire box to your parish. The fate of so many lives hinges upon the return of those boxes. 

This year, this is more true than ever. 

6. The Dead

Annually the month of November is when the Church sets aside time to remember the dead. 

Prayers are offered throughout the month for those who have gone before us, and outreach to those who grieve, is planned and encouraged. 

This year, November comes to us in a climate of added grief. 

We especially remember those who have died as a result of coronavirus, and we think of their friends and their families. 

We remember also all those who have died in the past number of months and the restrictions that surrounded their funerals and prayer services.

Particularly poignant are those instances where relatives and friends did not get to say goodbye in person. In some instances, funerals could only be attended electronically. 

Grief is added to grief in these cases and many are slowly working through this pain as the evenings have darkened and the outside temperatures have fallen.  

It’s difficult to overstate the weight that some are feeling this November. Let us remember them all, as the year closes. 

7. We Remember Them

Not from our own tradition, but a litany that has a very powerful resonance when read aloud and responded to, in the Jewish Temple, is the following. 

It’s called We Remember Them. 

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,

we remember them.

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,

we remember them.

In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,

we remember them.

In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,

we remember them.

In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,

we remember them.

In the beginning of the year and when it ends

we remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength,

we remember them.

When we are lost and sick at heart,

we remember them.

When we have joys we yearn to share,

we remember them.

So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

This 1 November, I will lead a service of remembrance at the Cathedral in Enniscorthy at 3pm to remember the dead of the diocese and their grieving friends and families. 

I am also inviting each priest of the diocese to do so, in his own church, at this time. 

Let us set aside this time for prayer and reflection, let us remember those who have died and who grieve, and let us ask God our Father for the resilience and the courage required, as we journey through these trying days. 

Should you be able, I ask you to take the time (3pm on 1 November) and to join with us online.  

Not only will we pray for those who have gone before us, we will ask the Lord for an ever more sensitive heart for those in sadness this winter. 

This ‘Month of the Dead’, I invite you to take the time to hear the Lord reaffirm His love for you and for all. 

Ask God for the gift of His embrace for yourself, your loved one(s), and those particularly pained by recent bereavement and the harsh limitations the pandemic imposed and imposes. 

‘Keep heart, Give heart, Be heart!’

8. Gratitude

In conclusion, with you - the people of the diocese and indeed all people of kind disposition and of goodwill - I say a word of gratitude - gratitude to those front line workers who have stepped up and remain in service and in leadership; gratitude to practitioners of good example and pioneers of best practices; gratitude to good neighbours and those with a watchful eye for the more vulnerable - and gratitude to those many more long distance runners in our own family and friendship circles, who keep us gently moving forward, towards brighter days, and please God, towards a post Covid world, sooner rather than later. 

‘Keep heart, Be heart, Give heart!’

+ Denis Brennan

Bishop of Ferns


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