Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, among the attendees at the prayer walk in Clonmacnoise which concluded the National Pre-Synodal Assembly on Saturday. Photo: John Mc Elroy

‘The Church has to be a place of welcome and belonging for all’ – Dr Nicola Brady

• National Pre-Synodal Assembly takes place in Athlone and Clonmacnoise

The Catholic Church held its National Pre-Synodal Assembly in Athlone, concluded with a prayer walk at the sixth century monastic site of Clonmacnoise on Sunday.

The assembly, and the accompanying prayer moment, form part of Ireland’s response to the Universal Synod convened by Pope Francis for 2021-2023, which also contributes to the work of the National Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland (2021-2026).

One hundred and sixty delegates from the 26 dioceses on the island of Ireland attended today’s assembly, and this included members of religious congregations; representatives from other Catholic groups and lay ecclesial associations; members of the clergy; and members of the Synodal Pathway Steering Committee and Task Group.

Delegates reflected on the findings and messages emerging from the local diocesan listening phase of the Universal Synod, and drew from the 40-plus submissions received from dioceses, religious congregations and other groups and organisations.

The reflections gathered in the assembly, building on the listening submissions received, will help shape the content of Ireland’s national synthesis to be submitted to the Vatican in August for the Universal Synod.

This work will be overseen by the national steering committee and the final report will be published and developed as a resource to continue the synodal dialogue into the future.

Today’s closing liturgy in Clonmacnoise provided a hope-filled moment of thanksgiving for the work completed so far, and prayer for healing and renewal in the Church.

During today’s assembly, the chair of the steering committee of the Synodal Pathway, Dr Nicola Brady, said: “Our pre-synodal Assembly represents an important moment in the life of the Church.

“There is a deep sense of gratitude for the widespread and heartfelt engagement with this process to date. Faith for many people in Ireland today, and the experience of being part of a worshipping community, are important and much valued parts of their lives.

“As a Church, we take great encouragement from the number of people who have taken part in this listening process so far, and we are deeply grateful to all those who gave generously of their time to make this possible.”

Bishop Brendan Leahy, deputy chair of the Steering Committee, said: “The Church approaches this synodal process with great humility, conscious that there is much work to be done to build relationships of trust within and beyond the Church.

“We are called, not only to listen respectfully to one another, but to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church as a whole. There was concern for those who do not yet feel included and a desire to think creatively as to how we might reach more people with the invitation to engage with the synodal process and with the local Church community more widely.

“While each diocese had its own particular experience of the Synodal Pathway, what we heard today were many common themes emerging across the country - north and south – such as: the continuing importance of faith in people’s lives; reflections on the sense of belonging; expressions of how abuse is part of the story of the Church; a call for much greater roles of women at all levels in the future of Church; attention to sexuality, relationships and LGBTQI+ concerns; references to topics such as education and catechesis, youth, family and co-responsible leadership, lay ministry, culture and the impact of Covid-19; as well as to faith formation, clergy and liturgy.

“It is clear from today’s gathering that there is a great responsibility on everyone to build on the listening that has taken place to date, with actions that will help the Church to be more pastorally sensitive, to be a place of welcome and belonging for all, and to better support people to live out and share their faith.

“In short, today has been an invitation to rediscover the presence of Jesus in our relationships in everyday life, starting in the family,” Bishop Leahy said.