“THERE’S a saint on every street” —those were the words of Bishop John Buckley as he paid tribute to the vibrant community work in Cork.
Ahead of the busy Christmas period, Bishop Buckley heaped praise on the volunteers who make life easier for some of the most vulnerable in society.
“I think there is still a great community spirit in Cork, it is noted for it,” he said.
“I was down recently at the Carer of The Year awards and it is the most extraordinary giving by so many people in communities around the city.
“And many other organisations, from sporting organisations to nursing homes, they are all involved in helping people, and that is so important.
“Take SHARE, those young people who give up their free time to help older people. That is magnificent and I think modern society needs people like them, dedicated to helping others. They do it with great unselfishness and without accolades.
“I am convinced there is a saint on every street. They go about their work quietly and unobtrusively, helping people or praying for them.”
Bishop Buckley also said the role of the lay apostolate — those who are not ordained but contribute to their parishes and communities — is increasingly important as priest numbers decline.
“The presumed norm that there would be a priest in every parish is no longer possible,” he said. “I think it is sad, especially for those in hospital and at times of bereavement. What hospital can be without a priest when the doctor says there is no more that I can do?”
The diocese has a parish development office which works to involve more lay people in parish activities and a two-year course to train those who want to take on a greater role, as catechists.
These people will get involved in activities such as preparing families for baptisms and communions. “Some of them would be retired teachers or professional people who want to contribute,” Bishop Buckley said.
There are a mixture of men and women taking the course, and the bishop also pointed out many other roles women are fulfilling throughout the diocese. But when it comes to women priests, an issue often brought up as numbers decline, Bishop Buckley said Pope Francis has spoken:
“The pope has stated quite clearly that he hasn’t the authority from Christ to ordain women.”
Talking about the challenges facing society, Bishop Buckley highlighted the problem of suicide.
“I am very concerned about the number of suicides, even in recent months here in Cork,” he said.
“It is very sad. Our reaction should be one of compassion. We don’t know what goes through a person’s mind, they could be experiencing a very difficult mental problem, we should never judge. But neither should we romanticise or normalise suicide. I would encourage young people especially, if they have concerns to raise them with someone — be it teachers, parents or peers.
“There is a whole-school approach being introduced here in Cork. It involves teachers, chaplain, some parents and some young people themselves. They are all asked to observe and help young people and if they identify young people with a concern, to address it in some way, gently and sensitively.”
When it comes to the controversial topic of the church’s role in school, Bishop Buckley said the church was not interested in control.
“I think the challenge facing the church is how we can evolve a system where we can have influence without control,” he said.
Church numbers are down internationally but Bishop Buckley said both daily and weekly masses are still well attended in the city and he believes many Cork people still have a deep connection with the church.
“You will see huge attendance at church on Christmas Day,” he said.
“It just shows that deep down people have an affiliation with the church and it is so important to encourage that. “Pope Francis has said we must go out to the peripheries. People may not be regular churchgoers but there is a nostalgic attachment to the faith of their childhood.”
He said everyone will be warmly welcomed to the church over the Christmas as they celebrate the most important day in the religious calendar, and he welcomed those making the journey home to Cork: “Christmas is, above all, a family occasion”.