Now faced with a crisis of ordained priestly manpower, every lay person in the diocese of Down and Connor is ‘called to collaborate alongside priests and deacons to build and renew the Church’, according to Bishop Donal McKeown, administrator of the diocese since January 2023.
In a dramatic pastoral letter for the feast of Pentecost 2023 the bishop gave a stark account of the challenges facing the diocese, which is no longer able to head each of its 86 parishes with at least one ordained priest and now needs to recruit lay people for basic ministries such as the conducting of funeral services and catechesis – instruction in the Christian faith.
With 86 parishes and 146 churches the diocese now has only 84 priests in active ministry. Only seven priests in the Diocese are aged under 40 years of age, and so, in just over 10 years the number of priests in active ministry will be almost half what it is today. By 2043 from now there will only be approximately 24 priests available for those 86 parishes.
“We urgently need to move from a Church where ministry and leadership was exercised primarily by priests and religious to one where all the baptised take up the call to minister and to lead.”
“As early as this summer, some parishes will be engaged in a pilot project of lay women and men helping families prepare for funerals and leading the prayers at gravesides or the crematorium. Very soon, it is also likely that in some parishes, the celebration of a Requiem Mass for every individual as part of the funeral rites may no longer be the norm.”
“Being called by name lies at the heart of our identity as baptised people. Baptism is not merely an entry point to other sacraments. It is making ourselves available to be used for God’s greater glory and for the salvation of the world. The acceptance of Baptism says that our first vocation is to become saints, dying to ourselves so that Christ’s new life can be born in us. Ministry is a calling for all of us.”
To read Bishop McKeown’s complete pastoral letter, click here.