I am delighted at this opportunity to share my experience of being part of the Church in Ireland and my hopes for this journey titled: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission. The Preparatory Document for the Synod states that a Synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, “journeys together”. How is this “journeying together” happening today in my local Church? The story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus form the basis for my reflection. The disciples did not recognize the Stranger as Jesus until He broke the bread and vanished from their sight. However, their trusting the Stranger that he was must have begun way back on the road when he first started to explain the Scriptures to them and they invited him to stay with them. Today, I believe that Jesus is still walking along beside us explaining the Scriptures to us, breaking bread with us and then vanishing from our sight. And we are still slow at trusting or rather slow about recognizing what’s happening.
Coming from Nigeria – a country that holds the Irish missionaries in high esteem – I arrived in Dublin with a longing to settle in a parish community and I really desired to be an active parishioner. While I received a ‘thousand times’ welcome, there seemed to be structures that hinder active participation and communion with the local community. I do not think these are the same in every parish but they could be simple restrictions that make it difficult for the stranger to be included. For example, in a bulletin a Church organisation appealed for volunteers to work with couples and their families. I indicated interest but was told that their list does not include nuns. In a Church with more than forty in attendance, a man serves at the altar, reads the first and second readings, prayer of the faithful and gives out communion. In this two-man show (priest and assistant), there is no space for others and so we sit, listen, receive communion and leave barely saying hello to one another. How can we break bread together and still remain strangers? In this area, what steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “journeying together”?
I am struck by the absence of young parents, adolescents in the Church community. I read from a parish bulletin that ‘the feature we have in common with many parishes throughout the country is a dramatic falloff in the number of young people attending the church, and an even small number participating in parish activities’. I have heard so much about Catholic education in Ireland and I have experienced first-hand the enthusiasm of Irish missionaries in Nigeria. I wonder what went wrong here? I have met with school chaplains who are doing great work but this is not reflected in the parish community. Furthermore, some parishes act as host to chaplaincies e.g. Croatian, French, African, … These are dynamic communities, made up largely of young couples with young families and they create space for faith and faith formation. Sadly, these communities have no real link with the ordinary people in the parish and this has made me wonder whether Christ has been ‘parcelled’ out. Is there no room for all in the Catholic Church?
Pope Francis tells us that the Synodal process ‘offers us an opportunity to reflect together, to listen to the questions and together search for answers regarding people on the margins in our parishes without hindrances …’. What can these Chaplaincies offer to the Church in Ireland? Why have we remained strangers in the same Church, same parish? Could it be because of fear of being transformed by the other? The challenge presented to us at this time is so great that we must root our response in prayer. Arise fellow pilgrims, let us listen, hear and engage with the Synodal process. Let us ask God to show us where we have erected walls of fear and convinced ourselves that they are not only necessary, but sacred. May God give us the courage to take these down. Let us light the candle and keep it burning even after the synod.
Josephine Enenmo, OLA,
Religious Sister of the Congregation of Our Lady of Apostles