There is a line of Scripture that says blessed are those who set out with confidence in their hearts on a holy journey (Ps 84:5). Being appointed Bishop of Limerick is certainly not something I foresaw as part of my life’s journey, but I am very grateful to Pope Benedict for opening up for me a new stage in life among the people and places of the historical and renowned diocese of Limerick. I am pleased to be a successor to Bishop Donal Murray whom I very warmly greet. I look forward very much to getting to know the people of this diocese.
Confidence comes certainly not from me. I am only too conscious of the contrast between who I am and the task ahead of me. But I recognise that the Church is first and foremost based on a promise that does not deceive: Jesus’ promise: “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28: 20). Not only is he with us, but he has sent his greatest gift, the Holy Spirit who is “father of the poor,” “giver of gifts”, and “light of our hearts”. The Holy Spirit is the One who “heals what is wounded,” “bends what is rigid”, “guides what is astray”.
I want to express heartfelt thanks to His Excellency, Archbishop Charles Brown, who has accompanied me gently but convincingly in the past week since he informed me of Pope Benedict’s decision. I thank him for honouring us with his presence among us here this morning. Many people have told me of the invaluable contribution Fr. Tony Mullins has made in the past three years. I’d like to add my thanks to theirs for his wonderful work. He has worked selflessly and tirelessly as administrator. I am most grateful to him for the warm welcome he has extended to me.
I can’t claim to have great links with Limerick. My parents who were teachers in Dublin came from the same parish of Ballyferriter in West Kerry and we often stopped in Limerick travelling to Kerry on our holidays. I spent a week once on a summer camp in the Salesian College, Pallaskenry. Any Limerick people I know have been kind to me so I guess that augurs well. My father actually taught in Athea for a year in the 1940s but his love for my mother brought him back to Dublin. I recognise I’ll probably have to improve my knowledge of Rugby, be more informed about hurling (I actually won a medal in hurling when I was young – but to be honest I was a sub on a team and got playing only for a few minutes!). With roots in Kerry, my football knowledge might be a little better... But I look forward to getting to know all about Limerick diocese, its people and culture. I am pleased to hear that next year, 2014, Limerick will be the national city of culture.
That the Church is going through a period of great transition is not new news and yet it is good news. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, the Holy Spirit invites us to look at things with new eyes: “Look, I am doing something new... it is beginning already” (Is 43: 19). Yes, we have been through a very dark moment but God is not absent. Jesus on the Cross cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46). In that moment, every suffering, every despair, every separation, every injustice became his. He is never far from us when we seem most abandoned.
God is indeed at work in our lives. In response to God’s action, we must do all we can to make sure that Church settings are always good places to be, where genuine mutual love is experienced – in this regard I am pleased to recognise the observation made in the recent Audit by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland that the diocese of Limerick has robust measures in place in the area of child safeguarding and protection.
The day a new bishop is announced in a diocese is an opportunity for the person concerned but perhaps also for the whole diocese to “begin again” in faith, hope and love. A few days ago, I attended the funeral of the father of a friend of mine. As we walked through the graveyard, we were noticing the headstones with people’s dates of death. Suddenly, I came across one that had “Brendan Leahy” written on it in bold letters and the deceased had died at 52 years of age – my own age! I did check I was still alive! But I also felt it was as if God wanted to remind me – we only have one life. It’s important to live it well. As long as my heart beats I have a chance to begin again to believe more, to hope more, to love more. It’s an invitation that comes to us all on this day – perhaps we can start again in our relationship with the Church and with one another as fellow sisters and brothers of the one People of God.
On this day, I want to join the diocese in prayer for one another, prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters of other denominations – in this regard I greet warmly Bishop Trevor Williams of the Church of Ireland, prayer for those we know who are suffering in any way, those in hospital, those looking for work, those with family difficulties; prayer for those afflicted by abuse in any way, mental health problems and fear of violence and crime.
I want to join the diocese in prayer for all who continue day by day in building up our civic community in all its expressions – from local politicians to the many engaged in voluntary associations and in schools, from those working in business and economics to those in factories, agriculture, the media and the arts, from those working in the Gardaí, prison services and army to those in industry, tourism and sport and many others.
An occasion such as this affords me the opportunity to offer a word of gratitude to our legislators for all their commitment to promoting the common good. Politics is a vocation and I am convinced most people enter politics with a vision and a desire to improve the world. I want to assure them of prayers at this delicate time for the protection of life, that they may be inspired to know how best to protect the lives of mothers and their unborn children.
I thank all of you who are here present today. Being together is important. I greet and thank the many very committed lay men and women, young and old, of this diocese, the exemplary men and women of religious congregations, orders and communities and especially the good priests. I look forward very much to working with you all. Our communion in Christ is what gives us strength.
In particular I greet people who feel they are hanging on in the Church by their finger tips and all who are struggling with their faith. I invite you not to give up. This is a Year of Faith. It can be a new start for us all.
I am mindful today of the two patron saints of the diocese, St. Ita, foster mother of the saints of Ireland, and St. Munchin, who are models of faith for us. They remind us that holiness is also possible for young people. I count on the contribution of young people in the diocese.
I entrust myself to Mary who, as a young person, co-operated powerfully with the Holy Spirit, along her life’s journey. And I pray in the words of a poem by the eighteenth century Limerick poet, Tadgh Gaelach Ó Súilleabháin
Gile mo chroí do chroíse, a Shlánaitheoir,
agus ciste mo chroí do chroíse a fháil i m' chomhair
ós follas gur líon do chroí dom' ghrása, a stóir,
i gcochall mo chroí do chroíse fág i gcomhad.