Author Archives: Diocese of Achonry

Sunday of The Word of God

On September 30, 2019, on the liturgical memorial of St. Jerome, Pope Francis announced that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time would be celebrated as the Sunday of the Word of God. This year it will fall on Sunday, January 24, 2021.  In the past Catholics were not encouraged to reflect upon the Word.  This was unfortunate as the Word is “something alive and active” (Heb. 4:12) and guides us along the road of discipleship.  Pope Francis through this initiative is being faithful to the call of the Second Vatican Council with its renewed appreciation of the importance of the Word of God.  The Council underlined the significance of the Liturgy of the Word saying that Christ “is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church” (Vat. II, Constitution the Liturgy, 7).

In “normal” times this Sunday would be an opportunity to highlight the Word and how it is proclaimed.  This can still be done through our various virtual platforms.  One very positive development made possible through social media is the number of Apps that are available to help people draw closer to the Word.  Many of these Apps have audio content and can be used at home for quiet reflection, while you are in the car, or out for your daily exercise.  As part of this year’s Sunday of the Word, we present some Apps below that might be helpful for those who wish to explore the Word a little further.  These are just a few examples, but there are many more available.  The good news is that most of them are free to download! – This Website/App presents the various books of the bible and has audio and visual effects that help to enter into the Word.  The dramatisation of the Word could be helpful for children too.

Bible-Catholic Study (Ignatius Press) – This App presents the daily readings and has helpful study notes to accompany them.

Laudate – This App has comprehensive reflections on the Word for each day.  It has a great deal of other content that could be helpful for Catholics, such as prayers, how to go to confession, etc.

Pray as you go – This App has reflections upon the Word each day and has an audio facility that invites you into a quiet reflective space for a few minutes each day.  It has various other features such as online retreats and the well known “Examen,” a method to help you review your day and discover where God was in your day.

Jesuit Prayer – Daily inspiration – this App gives a short reflection/thought on the Word, mostly the Gospel passage each day.

Universalis – This App has a full and comprehensive outline of the Word, the readings for each day throughout the year etc.  It also has the Prayer of the Church and other features worth exploring.


Bishops’ Conference statement:
“Welcoming vaccines for the Common Good”

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference welcomes the encouraging news that a number of vaccines for COVID-19 are at an advanced stage of preparation and are likely to be available for use in the near future.  The Catholic Church recognises that safe and effective vaccination is an essential aspect of the prevention of disease.  We are encouraging Catholics to support a programme of vaccination, not only for their own good, but for the protection of life and the health of those who are vulnerable and for the common good of humanity.

Questions have arisen that human foetal cell-lines, which have their origins in abortions carried out in the past, are used in the development and production of some of the vaccines for COVID-19.

If a more ethically acceptable alternative is not readily available to them, it is morally permissible for Catholics to accept a vaccine which involves the use of foetal cell-lines, especially if the potential risk to life or health is significant, as in the case of a pandemic.  Refusal to accept a vaccine could contribute to significant loss of life in the community and especially among those who are most vulnerable.  This reality must inform any judgement of conscience.

We reaffirm the consistent teaching of the Church that abortion is always gravely immoral.  The Church has always made a distinction, however, between formal (deliberate) involvement in an immoral act and material involvement, which may be incidental and remote.  The decision of those who decide to accept vaccines which have had some link with foetal cell-lines in the past does not imply any consent on their part to abortion.

We note that many of the vaccines currently being developed do not depend for their design or production on foetal cell lines.  Catholics should continue to advocate for the availability of ethically-developed vaccines.  In that way they bear witness that biomedical research should always be conducted in a manner which is consistent with respect for life and for human dignity.

Access to healthcare is a fundamental human right.  The Church, while respecting intellectual property rights, believes that essential medicines, including vaccines, should be made available on the basis of need rather than on the basis of capacity to pay.  This position is consistent with the TRIPS agreement of the WTO, which permits national governments to arrange for the manufacture of essential pharmaceuticals, for domestic use and for the use of poorer countries, even without the consent of patent owners.

Mother and Baby Homes Report

A Reflection by Bishop Paul Dempsey,
Achonry Diocese

14th January 2021.

I am conscious as I write these words that I have no idea, nor can I even imagine what it must have been like for a young girl in Ireland to have become pregnant outside of marriage just a few decades ago.  So many were abandoned by their families, their communities, their parishes, their priests, their Church, and the men who were responsible for their pregnancy.  The loneliness, the shame, the fear, the angst, the sheer terror is beyond my comprehension.  The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes Report goes to three thousand pages.  It would be impossible for me to cover all the issues it raises.  However, the general tenor that emerges within its pages is of a society that was cold and uncaring.  We could all too easily blame “society,” but as a member of the Church, and a leader in that Church, I face the difficult reality that it was a society which was deeply influenced by the Catholic Church.

In their apology, the Bon Secours Sisters, who ran the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, stated that they “did not live up to their Christianity.”  It seems that so many during that period of Irish life “did not live up to their Christianity,” even though we were a nation that prided ourselves on being a good Catholic country.  It seems that we may have been good Catholics, but we were not such good Christians.  The question has been asked: “How could this happen?”  How could we be so cold, so cruel to our daughters, our sisters, our friends, our neighbours?  One explanation was that the Church had a distorted view of sexuality that seemed obsessive.  Instead of seeing sexuality as a beautiful, sacred gift, created by a loving God, it was considered something secretive and taboo, something not to be talked about.  Anyone, who through human nature, was viewed to have made a mistake, was shunned.  Sins of a sexual nature seemed to be the only sins one could commit, there was little focus on other immoral issues such as domestic abuse or fraud.  There is no doubt, and it is truly shameful, that the Church during this time lost its focus, which should always be Christ.  When the Church fails to focus on Christ, all sorts of distorted practices emerge. It seems that one of those distorted practices was exercising an unhealthy power over people’s lives, especially in the most intimate areas of life.

Unfortunately, we cannot change the past, but we can learn from it.  This, perhaps, is where we can draw some hope.  The Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, stated that; “we should not lose sight of the more hopeful story that is told in the Commission’s report as well.  It tells the story of a country that has changed and progressed, that got better, kinder and more compassionate, more loving, less judgmental and less misogynistic as the years passed.”  I believe this is generally true, but in my own ministry over the years, I have come across many people who lament the direction our country has taken.  They feel it has become far more secular, with fewer numbers attending Mass and they believe there is an agenda to rid society of the influence of the Church.  In the light of the Mother and Baby Homes report and the numerous reports that preceded it, is it any wonder people would want to rid the country of the Church that is portrayed?  I believe there is a more hopeful message in there for the Church too.  The publication of so many painful reports has exposed us to the truth.  Jesus Christ tells us; “The truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32).  It is important to acknowledge that it was the “secular” world that has called the Church to account and made us face the truth.  Surely this is a good thing and God has to be at work in it?

In my experience the Church has become a more humble, more compassionate community today.  It no longer holds an unhealthy, powerful grasp on society.  The Church has its teaching, a teaching that is inspired and revealed by Christ, an ideal that followers of Christ aspire to but do not always attain.  It is a teaching that is proposed, not imposed.  It is also important to state that so many people in parishes, priests, sisters, members of parish pastoral councils, and numerous others reach out and serve the needs of so many in such generous ways in communities right across the country today.  Their work is critical to the lives of so many people and is to be commended.  Our position as Church was never to be at the centre of society in, as Pope Francis puts it, a “self-reverential” manner.  I believe this is a moment of fundamental call and challenge to those of us who hold the Church close to our hearts.  There are justifiable concerns and fears about the future, but we must remember that the Church is not dying, it is a model of Church that is dying.  The dying process is painful, but the potential for new life always gives hope.  This is Christ’s Church, not ours, he is in charge, “we are ministers, not messiahs” as St. Oscar Romero reminds us.   

It is hugely positive that the real-life stories, the experience, and the pain of so many has now been heard through this report.  The State has apologised, as have religious orders who were responsible.  I too, as a Church leader, wish to apologise to all those who were treated in such an undignified and demeaning manner.  However, as has been said many times, apologies can be easy, action is more challenging.  I hope and pray that those who wish to find their true identity that might bring the peace they are searching for, can be given the means to do so. 

As I conclude, there is one concern I wish to raise.  I heard several politicians making statements this week about our past and how the poor treatment of women and children must never happen again.  Related to this, over the past few years when I worked in parish, I was in regular contact with people in a Direct Provision Centre.  I saw how women and children and others, were cramped into tight living spaces, lacking basic human dignity.  I have been thinking about them these days.  As we have been told, we cannot change the past, but we can change the present.  I urge those in power, in the light of the Mother and Baby Homes Report, to focus on improving the living conditions of those in our Direct Provision Centres.  I would imagine this real action to improve the lives of mothers and children today, would be a fitting tribute to those who suffered in Mother and Baby Homes in the past.

+Paul Dempsey,

Bishop of Achonry.      

For those affected by these issues please

Christmas Homily

This is the text of Bishop Paul’s Christmas homily, preached in the Cathedral of The Annunciation and St Nathy, Ballaghaderreen.

Christmas is such a special time for us all!   Behind the busyness and the hustle and bustle, it often centres around the people in our lives.  Central to all this is our family.  Many of us will have memories of Christmases past.  My own memories as a child are of early morning Mass on Christmas morning, the excitement of Santa Claus, the turkey in the oven, the table set, the Christmas Tree, the plum pudding, the familiar films on the television like “Willie Wonka and his Chocolate Factory” and “The Sound of Music.”  But mainly it was about the fun of being together.  We will all have our own memories, some happy, some perhaps sad.

In mentioning family, we know that family comes in many different forms today.  We have the traditional family of parents and children, we have single parent families, families who have been bereaved, those who have experienced the pain of breakup, and families awaiting the excitement of the arrival of a new baby in the New Year.  Central to our celebration is of course the Holy Family.  As we reflect upon this family, I am conscious that they had to flee into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod.  They know what it is to be away from home in a strange land.  Today our country has many people who are far from home.  Christmas reminds us of our responsibilities to them and how important it is to make them feel welcome.

Another aspect to the Christmas story are those present but perhaps we don’t focus too much upon them.  One such group is the shepherds.  We are familiar with them and it more or less ends there.  I might suggest that perhaps they are the ones we could identify most with this year of all years.  There is a sense that they are huddled together in the dark, somewhat isolated on a hillside.  They take one hour at a time, not knowing what tomorrow will bring.  Not an easy place to be.  They are the ones who first receive the wonderful message of Christ’s birth, they need it, they are ready for it.  As people on the margins, they are open to this news, open to a new message, open to new possibilities…

What a powerful image that is for us this Christmas.  The last year has been a struggle.  The shepherds huddled together, we are not allowed to do this, however, as we’ve been told so many times; we’re together by keeping apart.  They are in the dark.  We have been there too, not knowing when this COVID situation will end.  We have had glimmers of hope, only to be landed back into lockdown.  It is tough.  The shepherds are isolated out in the fields.  So many this Christmas are literally isolated in bedrooms for fear of spread of the infection.  Yes, the shepherds have a lot to say to us, we have a lot in common with them, who could have imagined that!

But, and here is the good news, the hopeful news, it is in their isolation, in the darkness that the light comes, and their situation is transformed!  They move out of the darkness and journey towards the light, Christ.  Life for them will be changed forever in a positive way because of this encounter. What a great hope-filled message that is for us!  Yes, things are difficult, but more often than not in the scriptures it is in the moments of darkness that God speaks.  In the midst of a dark world, God becomes flesh and transforms the world with His light!

How is God speaking to us this Christmas?  Could he be saying life is fragile, appreciate the great gift it is?  Could he be saying, I have blessed you with family and friends, do not take them for granted, treasure them!  Could he be saying, your health is important, enjoy it and take care of it?  Could he be saying I have blessed you with the gift of the environment, the gift of a beautiful world, it is quite fragile, take responsibility for caring for it and do not take it for granted!

As we, like the shepherds on that hillside struggle with isolation, darkness, the unknown, may we like those shepherds be open to God’s message breaking through, sometimes in the most unexpected of moments!  It is a message that leads us to Christ, Christ who transforms our world and transforms how we look at it and experience it.

Paul Claudel said “Christ doesn’t explain our suffering, he shares it and fills it with his presence.”  May Christ’s presence fill our hearts, our struggles, our frustrations this Christmas and may that loving presence guide us forward into the hope of a New Year when we can see and experience our lives, our relationships, our world in a new way, transformed by His grace!  

God is with us

The contemporary celebration of Christmas is a mix of religious and cultural traditions and customs. While modern times have seen the feast take on commercial and secular tones, at its heart, it still remains for many the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ. Retelling the story of the first Christmas has the innate power to inspire moments of spiritual reflection and renewal along with the practice of charity and outreach to those who are in need. It has become an important time to gather as a family and indeed to gather as a Christian community. This year, the restrictions in place because of the Coronavirus mean that we may not be in a position to gather as usual for our religious services. This situation challenges us to find new ways of reflecting on our faith and praying in our homes. It is hoped that this guide, prepared by the Dioceses of Clonfert and Elphin, will assist you in doing just that.


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