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Lay ministry review gives cause for optimism that

Lay ministry review gives cause for optimism that “something new is emerging” – leader of programme Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon states

Gathering of Cashel & Emly, Kerry, Killaloe and Limerick Dioceses hears of success of lay programme

Monday 8 July 2024: Lay ministers are gaining confidence and self-assurance in their roles, which will be key to meeting the needs of the Catholic Church going forward, the leader of a cross-diocesan Programme of Formation for lay ministry has stated.

Over 80 people from the Cashel & Emly, Kerry, Killaloe and Limerick Dioceses, who have completed the course, plus guests from other dioceses, recently gathered to give feedback on their experience as lay ministers. Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon, who heads up the programme, said that it was evident at the review that something new is emerging in the void created by the fall-off in vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

The cross-diocesan programme is offered as a means of preparing lay people to take on roles of ministry and leadership in the life of the Church. Those who have completed the course have taken up voluntary roles across parishes and communities. These include leading public prayer, assisting with funeral liturgies, engaging in ecological concerns, music ministry, praying with the Bible and reaching out to those who may be distanced form the faith.

The programme includes a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry, which is accredited by Mary Immaculate College through the Irish Institute for Pastoral Studies. A new intake of participants will take place this autumn for the 30 month programme, which includes an initial period of discernment and reflection followed by two years of study on a Level 6, 30 Credit course. The programme is part-time and takes place over one weekend per month.

Speaking following the recent review, Fr Fitzgibbon said that lay ministers are also getting a deeper understanding of their own faith through their work.

“The gathering was all about reviewing the experience so far of the programme itself and their role as lay ministers and the outcome reaffirmed for us that we are on the right track but there is, of course, room for improvement and a good distance to travel,” said Fr Fitzgibbon, who is Director of the Institute for Pastoral Studies.

“Many of those present spoke about the increased level of confidence and self-assurance they gained from doing the programme and they now felt more relaxed about taking on ministry roles. They also referred to the impact the programme had on their own faith journey, that it is deepening their understanding of their own faith.”

The programme has seen participants develop skills in areas such as facilitation, listening, public speaking and leading liturgy.

“Ultimately, the beneficiaries of this are parishes and local communities where we simply no longer have clergy available to deliver what we could 20 years ago. However, what very much emerged from our gathering in Patrickswell was a sense of hope and optimism, that even though there is a dramatic decline in the number of vocations to priesthood and the religious life, something new is emerging and opening up.

“There are many lay people able and willing to be involved if they get the necessary formation and support. What this is saying to us that we need to run more programmes as others will undoubtedly follow these early adopters, not least given their positive experience.

“The ultimate motivation for those participating in the programme is their desire to contribute, to ensure that God’s word continues to be spoken and we are really encouraged not alone by the numbers that have come forward but also their commitment and, indeed, spirituality. So many people have so much to offer, and this is their time to give,” he added. 

A number of recommendations were made at the one-day event, including that the programme would include a greater emphasis on practical skills through placements which offer practical experience.

“It is really encouraging to see all of these people across the four dioceses come together to share their experience of doing the programme and also, the many activities they are now engaged in. This is a positive response to the many challenges faced by the Church in our dioceses and parishes – not least of which is the declining number of clergy and religious now available to carry on ministry and pastoral care.”

Those interested in participating in the next programme, are asked to contact Eamonn.Fitzgibbon@mic.ul.ie