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COVID-19 volunteerism is a glimpse of what the future can be for church and community - Bishop Leahy

Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy has said that he has been greatly encouraged by the spirit of volunteerism shown throughout COVID-19 and that it can signal the future of ‘a church of everyone’.

Bishop Leahy thanks retiring priests
for generous ministry and responsibility

Speaking as he announced the annual clerical changes for the diocese, Bishop Leahy said that the combined issues of vocations fall-off and ageing priests is a huge challenge but that we are getting reassuring glimpses of the possibilities ahead for the church.
He said that this was very much evident from the early months of the coronavirus pandemic to today, with people now volunteering for activity who otherwise would not have had and he said a deep rooted spirituality and faith is at the core of it.
“A lot of trends come and go in life, but faith and spirituality are constant. They are embedded in the culture of our people, as we saw during the worst of the COVID-19 lockdown. People stepped forward throughout parishes who, in some cases, we would not see except perhaps for the major celebrations of the year. Yet now they are volunteering weekly for activity of all sorts, activity that is crucial right now in keeping our doors open in trying circumstances.
“It is very reassuring, particularly at this time, and is why I believe that the fall-off in vocations and retiring priests can create an opportunity for a renewed church for us all in Ireland.  It is an opportunity for people to take on more responsibility in their church locally. The Church is about community. It’s about the people.  So, what we need to do is convert the challenge posed by a lack of priests into an opportunity for greater lay involvement,” he said.
“There’s always a temptation to think someone else will help out. I would ask those who perhaps have time to do so, maybe recently retired people or stay-at-home dads or mums who might have time while their children are in school, to ask themselves if they might be able to give a hand in the day-to-day life of the parish.”
Bishop Leahy said that clerical changes are, unfortunately, a necessity at a time when we have a lot more priests retiring every year than we have vocations.   “We make these changes not because priests want to relocate, or I want to relocate priests. We have three parish priests retiring this year and no new priest coming in. So, we have to make these changes and I accept that they are not easy on priests and certainly not easy either on their parishes.”
He continued: “In terms of pastoral ministry, I would ask people to reflect on how they can increase the family dimension of church life. The Church is not just priests and nuns. During the lockdown we saw a great increase in families gathering to watch ceremonies streamed on-line and take part in other prayers. I invite families to be creative in stitching moments of prayer or moments of reflection into the weekly schedule. As we reflect on the clerical changes, each of us can think we have received a new appointment in building up our faith community in this time of Covid-19.”
Among the changes announced by Bishop Leahy was the appointment of Fr. Éamonn Fitzgibbon as Vicar General of the Diocese. He joins Canon Anthony Mullins, who has been the Vicar General for some years. Fr. Éamonn Fitzgibbon is well known in the Diocese as the Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Planning and, in particular, for his significant role in the Diocesan Synod.  He will, Bishop Leahy said, bring wisdom and energy, vision and learning, pastoral sensitivity and outreach to his role.
Bishop Leahy also congratulated former diocesan secretary Fr. Paul Finnerty on his appointment as Rector of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome on the recommendation of the Irish Bishops’ Conference. As Rector of the Irish College, he will carry out an important role in the College as it comes up to its four hundredth anniversary. The College currently welcomes students from all over the world, as well as many visitors from Ireland who make it part of their trip to Rome.  Fr. Paul brings many fine pastoral and administrative skills to his role, Bishop Leahy added.
Sr. Caitríona Kavanagh has been appointed OP Administrator of the Parish of St. Saviour’s in Limerick City. Sr. Mara Grace had been the Administrator but was recalled by her Congregation to take up the position of their Vocations’ Director. Sr. Caitríona hails from Wexford and is already known to the people of St. Saviour’s as she has been a member of the Dominican Sisters Community. 
The three priests retiring this year are Fr. Tom Crawford, Co-Parish Priest of Pastoral Unit 13 (Glin, Shanagolden/Robertstown/Foynes, Coolcappa/Kilcolman and Loughill/Ballyhahill), who will assist in Pastoral Unit 15 (Newcastle West, Monagea, Mahoonagh, Ardagh/Carrickerry); Fr. Oliver Plunkett, Co-Parish Priest of Pastoral Unit 2 (St. Joseph’s, St. Saviour’s and Our Lady of Lourdes) and Administrator of St. Joseph’s, who will be assisting in Pastoral Unit 2 and Pastoral Unit 4 (St. Munchin’s/St. Lelia’s, Corpus Christi and Parteen/Meelick); and Fr. Dan Lane, Co-Parish Priest of Pastoral Unit 10 (Ballingarry, Rathkeale, Knockaderry/Cloncagh), who will assist in the Pastoral Unit 14 (Abbeyfeale, Athea, Templeglantine, Tournafolla, Mountcollins).
Said Bishop Leahy: “I want to express my gratitude to them for many, many years of generous ministry and bearing the weight of parish responsibility so conscientiously. Many generations are indebted to them. I am pleased they will still be able to continue helping out in ministry. I wish all the priests who are changing well and I thank them for their willingness to change appointment at what is not the easiest of times to be moving.”
Bishop Leahy also said that at this time of year, we normally look forward to the pastoral programme for the year ahead, but this year will be different because of Covid-19. “While huge credit is due to parish teams that worked hard to make sure people know our churches are places where they can come safely to worship, we will now all need to keep up our vigilance around the public health guidelines.

“I make my own the strong advice given to those who come to church for any ceremony: wear masks, watch social distancing and, especially after ceremonies, avoid gathering in groups that don’t keep social distancing. Don’t be afraid to say it to one another – ‘let’s keep a little more distance’.”