Parish of the Travelling People EMBRACING INCLUSION Launch of the New Local Parish Hospitality Programme Initiative
Speaking Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
All Hallows College, Dublin, 25th September 2013
“Pope Francis has an amazing ability to find simple words to pose fundamental questions about the life of the Christian and of the Church. He uses a number of words which appear repeatedly in his talks and addresses. One of them is periferia – the outskirts, the frontiers. His vision is of a Church which is not closed in on itself but one which reaches out especially to the frontiers: not just to the geographical outskirts, but to all those in the Church and in society who find themselves on the fringes of society and who so often find themselves left out on the outside.
Reaching out cannot however remain just a polite or politically correct public relations exercise. Reaching out must foster changes in attitude and lead to inclusion. We all speak of inclusion but it is not a simple and easy process because it requires that we change. The great thing about today’s event is that it is the Travelling Community, which has witnessed and still witnesses exclusion, that takes the lead in challenging us to reflect on what inclusion means.
Pope Francis has noted that at times we feel that the failures in our efforts in the Church are due to the fact that many in today’s world are closed to God; they do not hear the call of Jesus; that when Jesus knocks on our doors we do not let him in. The Pope however counters that by adding: “we also fail at times when Jesus knocks from within and we do not let him out”. The Church must reach out and bring the tender embrace of Jesus to those on the frontiers of society. An inward looking, self-centred, narcissistic Church will never witness to the generosity and care of Jesus Christ.
Speaking to Bishops recently he said that “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, in our parish or diocesan institutions, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel! We have to go out as ones sent. It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome because they come, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people!” Inclusion is not something that can be achieved with passivity. It requires that we recognise our own closedness and go out from our own closedness.
These thoughts of Pope Francis are not just abstract reflections on the nature of the Church. They are concrete challenges to each of our parish communities. The Church is not a comfort zone for the like-minded. It is the family of Jesus Christ which gathers in the Eucharist and which is then sent out to ensure that the loving embrace of Jesus reaches all. Our new Local Parish Hospitality Programme is an important response that we can make to Pope Francis’ challenge. Our parishes must become inclusive. They must be open and welcoming. A parish which becomes exclusivist betrays its mission and betrays the very Eucharist which is at its heart.
Ireland is a changing society. We are in many ways less homogenous. We have welcomed people of various nationalities and backgrounds to our shores and thank God the majority of them feel welcomed. But we would be foolish to think that such welcome comes automatically. Welcome is not a veneer. Welcome is not simply acceptance. Welcoming is not simple saying you are welcome, but we determine all the terms. Welcoming is about embracing. It is a two way process in which we welcome the other as the other and embrace them as individuals with their differences and with the culture that is theirs.
The Parish of the Travelling People is a unique initiative of my predecessors as Archbishop of Dublin which has grown and has flourished since its foundation. I wish to express my appreciation to Father Derek Farrell, the current Parish Priest, and his great team for the work they do for travellers. They act in the spirit of Pope Francis in the way in which they reach out and challenge all of us to reach out to embrace and understand and sustain travellers and to foster their ability to become an integral part of the day to day life of the Church.
The Parish of the Travelling People has an important role, but that role must never be to separate. Travellers belong in the parish in which they live and this new initiative sets out to show us what inclusion means in a parish in the new Ireland. Inclusion is not just about the travelling people; it is about being a welcoming community for all. With this initiative the travelling community takes the lead in showing us a way forward.
One of the great things about this initiative is that it is very practical. It is not an initiative just with broad general outlines and vague ideas. It sets out concrete steps. It begins with the simple – things like ensuring that travellers can be active participants in the ordinary activities of the parish they live in: from reading the lessons to being members of parish pastoral councils and organizations.
In a recent interview Pope Francis spoke of change in the Church and the pace of change. He said that change can be slow and that what is most important is not change in structures, but change in attitudes. Changes in structures without changes in attitude will end up in a dead-end and eventually lead to frustration.
Pope Francis challenges us to become “the tender embrace of the Jesus” for all who are marginalised and on the fringes and on the frontiers of the society in which we live. He does not simply say, as a theological statement, that the Church is the tender embrace of Christ’s love. He challenges us to become that tender embrace.
There is something important in that word embrace. It is a word which cannot simply add-in to a strategic plan on paper or on a computer screen. Embracing is not just an idea: it is a process. It means going out and meeting, encountering, moving from the polite handshake to the warm grip in which people become truly friends.
This initiative now wishes to reach out more widely to every parish in the Archdiocese of Dublin. It sets out a road map and a verification process to see how its progresses. I am delighted to see how many parishes have taken up this invitation of the Travelling Community and I encourage all other parishes to follow suit. I am happy to endorse the recommendations of the first evaluation report and commend them to parishes.
I wish God’s blessing on all of you and on your work here today as this Archdiocese of Dublin travels onwards building on the theme of last year’s Eucharistic Congress, ensuring that our Communion with Christ blossoms into a new and deeper communion with one another.