On Sunday, May 30th the community was honored to be able to attend a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Cathedral of St. Aidan in Enniscorthy. The Mass was in honor of Bishop Denis Brennan, the Bishop of our diocese, who is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his priestly ordination. We have had the privilege of meeting with Bishop Denis a few times this year, most importantly when he blessed our house and commissioned us in our ministry back in October. Bishop Denis is a very humble worker in the vineyard and since taking the reins of the diocese in 2006 he has worked tirelessly for the people of Ferns by reaching out to youth, strengthening the spiritual life of the clergy, and by demanding a zero tolerance policy in implementing new Child Safety regulations throughout the diocese.
The Mass was a very well attended event, with nearly every priest of the diocese concelebrating and representatives from each parish and religious community. When we arrived we found seats near the front of the church and thus had a great view for the entire service. The priests of the diocese were all vested in the “diocesan” vestments, a matching chasuble that they were all given during the Millennial year. (I was also excited to see a deacon, the first I have encountered here in Ireland. He is a member of a missionary order who have pastoral charge for the Bunclody/Kilmyshall parish and will be ordained a priest next year.) The Cathedral choir and the local “Pike Choir” provided the music for the celebration and they busted out some well known hymns such as “All Are Welcome” and “How Great Thou Art” which we sung along with quite loudly. We were intrigued by one of the communion hymns, a version of the Our Father set to “Auld Lang Syne”. Our own Fr. Dennis Lennon was asked to give the homily at the Mass and he did a splendid job of using the readings to tie in with Bishop Denis’ own role as chief shepherd of the Diocese and also his role as a priest which he has now lived faithfully for 40 years. Bishop Denis and Fr. Dennis were together in the Diocesan Mission House for quite a few years and so there were plenty of stories used to illustrate these points.
Two things that struck me from the homily were the Bishop’s motto, and a quote from his episcopal ordination four years ago. The Bishop’s motto is “Rejoice and Be Glad”, taken from Psalm 118, and it struck me because when that motto was chosen in 2006 the Church in Wexford was already feeling the effects of the abuse scandals which now engulf the whole of Europe. What reason would there have been for the people of the diocese to rejoice or be glad? Yet that is exactly what their new Bishop wanted to impress upon them as he entered this new position, no matter what we are going through we must continue to rejoice and be glad because we know that in the end Christ triumphs over death and evil does not win. Secondly, during the Bishop’s ordination Mass four years ago he said, “I have only one ambition today, to walk with you, the people, religious and priests of the diocese in your joys and your sorrows. Sometimes I may be able to help you, sometimes I may need you to help me.” In our short time working with the Bishop, both in setting up this program and in the first year of its existence, we have seen this acted out many times. The Bishop is a man who welcomes and encourages dialogue between priests, parishioners, and himself, because he knows that he cannot do this job on his own. The quote came up multiple times during the Mass and the Bishop rededicated himself to that pledge, asking the people of the diocese to continue to work with him for th betterment of the people of Ferns.
Following Mass we were able to catch up with various people from throughout the diocese who we have met and worked with this year. It was great to be able to see people and say goodbye as we prepare to head back to the States in a just over two weeks. We also headed over to the Riverside Hotel to enjoy a reception for the Bishop where we were able to see him again and give him our best wishes on his anniversary. Bishop Denis has been such a welcoming and supportive presence these last ten months and we as a community are blessed to have such an open Bishop who will invite a group of American twenty-somethings into his diocese and give them the full backing of his office. We truly could not do this without his support and so we wish him a very happy 40th Anniversary and ad multos annos!