The scheduled Winter 2010 General Meeting of the Irish Bishops' Conference was postponed last week due to bad weather. In its place a special one day meeting was held today in Maynooth. Bishops issued the following statement on the economic situation in Ireland:
As we meet today we are conscious that the recent dramatic events in our national economy have given rise to exceptional levels of fear, anger and disillusionment. Demands for assistance with basic things like food, fuel and clothing from organisations such as Saint Vincent de Paul are up as much as 35% from this time last year. In Northern Ireland, the number presenting as homeless has almost doubled in the past six years, while in the Republic it has doubled in the past sixteen years.
Organisations working with the homeless are expressing concern about their ability to respond to the level of need. The spectre of high levels of unemployment confronts our nation once again, with its demoralising impact on individuals and communities and the upheaval of emigration facing many Irish families. Large numbers of people have also become weighed down by unexpected levels of debt, the fear of losing their home, the prospect of losing their job, the dread of their business failing or the impact of cuts to their pay, pension or benefits. In many homes across the country the outward appearance of wealth and comfort masks exceptional levels of anxiety and material
Faced with these challenges it would be easy to descend into a culture of negativity, defeatism and despair. While important questions have to be asked about how this situation has arisen, a preoccupation with blame and recrimination alone would be futile and distract from the urgent task of building a more just, sustainable and prosperous future. We believe the inevitable pain of the current situation should be shared justly, with a special concern for the most vulnerable and least well off.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, St Paul appeals: "Encourage one another and build one another up...For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:11,13). As Christian leaders, we echo this call to the Irish people today. As we prepare for the coming of 'God-with-us', in the celebration of Christmas, we pray for a spirit of national solidarity and hope. We pray for a renewal of confidence in our ability to work together for the good of all and to address the adverse circumstances that confront our nation at this time. The people of Ireland have always shown resilience when faced with situations of great challenge in the past. We believe in our ability as a nation to address the challenges that confront us now. We also recognise that in an interdependent global economy, addressing our present economic difficulties involves responsible cooperation with European as well as other international governments and institutions. This engagement is part of a wider solidarity in which we participate, both as contributors and recipients, in the development of the global common good. Our current financial circumstances do not remove our responsibility as a nation to provide assistance to others. We express the hope that Ireland will maintain its renowned and respected commitment to international development aid.
One of the strongest grounds for hope is that Ireland is blessed with people of extraordinary generosity, good neighbourliness and social concern. Knowing that someone cares, that someone is willing to listen and help can mean as much to a person or family in financial distress as the help they receive with material needs. There is no substitute for good neighbourliness and human friendship. We take this opportunity to appeal for a new mobilisation of good neighbourliness and practical care for others in our local communities, of people giving generously of their time and talents as well as their money and goods to tackle poverty and social exclusion. We ask people to become involved in the many Parish organisations, such as their local Society of St. Vincent de Paul, that provide vital support to those enduring hardship as part of the Christian mission of a Parish community. Mindful of the practice of the early Church of the sharing of goods so that no-one was in need (Acts 2:44), we ask individuals and parishes to reflect on how they can contribute to a practical 'communion of goods' at this time, sharing with others not only money but also food, clothing and other material goods they are not using or have to spare.
The elderly are among the most vulnerable in any community. Spending time with the elderly and ensuring that they are safe, warm and receiving sufficient food and other necessities is also a vital expression of our Christian neighbourliness and solidarity.
Our relationship with God and with each other gives us strength for the future. Prayer and solidarity are an essential part of hope. In Advent we pray for the coming of one 'who will reign as true king and be wise, practising honesty and integrity in the land' (Jer. 23:5). On 2nd January 2011, the first Sunday of the New Year, the Gospel of St John will proclaim that the 'light has come into the world, the true light that gives light to everyone', a light which the darkness has not overcome. We ask Parishes across the country, North and South, to dedicate this first Sunday of the New Year to prayer for the needs of our whole island at this time. We ask them to pray for politicians, civil servants, economists and those who order our commercial, economic and financial life that they will receive the wisdom and courage to build our economic future on the principles of justice, solidarity and the common good with a particular concern for the vulnerable and the poor. Christian leaders will be coming together to plan additional days of prayer across the island in the months ahead. We encourage the political community itself and all Irish citizens to rally the human, social, intellectual and spiritual resources of our country in a united effort to build our financial economy and ensure it achieves its human and social ends.
In responding constructively to the present crisis we have an opportunity to build an economy in which profit and growth are at the service of people, an economy which brings benefit to all our citizens, especially the children of our nation, the elderly and the most vulnerable. As Ireland prepares to host the Fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress in 2012, let us acknowledge our urgent need for 'Communion with Christ and with one another', the theme of the Congress. It is in such communion and solidarity that there is real cause for hope.
Source: Irish Catholic Media Office