Two Irish bishops have today reflected on the future of the Catholic Church in a more secular and pluralist society predicting a greater evangelical role for lay people and people of faith amidst new models of ministry and pastoral care.
Speaking this afternoon at the ordination of a priest in the Diocese of Down & Connor, Bishop Noel Treanor suggested that in the coming decades the face of the life of the Church would likley see much change with "the emergence of new models of ministry and pastoral care"
The Bishop went on: "Evidently one cannot foresee the developments these coming decades will bring. It is a fair guess that the future perception and understanding of the Christian community and of the Church will give greater emphasis to building communities of conscious faith, to mission and new forms of catechesis.
"It is probable that in a more secular and pluralist society we, Catholics and Christians, will realise more clearly that the Christian way of life is a freely chosen discipleship of Christ in ever renewed conversion to the living Word of God.
Meanwhile, in a homily at the Kilmore diocesan pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Knock, Bishop Leo O’Reilly said he believed the Church of today and the future would be "closer to being the kind of Church Jesus wants us to be - a humbler Church, but to still be a hospitable one."
Bishop O'Reilly said in the weeks since the result of the recent referendum he had been filled with a mixture of shock and sadness but had come to the realisation that a new reality existed in Ireland "where the Church is no longer the dominant voice in society".
The Bishop went on: "We understand now the words of Saint Pope John Paul II before he left Ireland in 1979 - that each new generation is a new continent to be won for Christ.
"Ireland is now mission territory. Pope Francis has told us that we must see everything we do through the lens of mission. From now on our focus must be on sowing the seed of the Gospel. It must be on mission rather than maintenance."
The Bishop of Kilmore went on to say the church of today must be less "imposing on people" and more "welcoming to all who wish to shelter in its shade."
He went on: "We are called to be a humbler Church today, but to still be a hospitable one. We must never forget that the Church is not for the perfect, but for sinners. Jesus said: ‘I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’.
Bishop O'Reilly said despite his sadness at the referendum result he looked forward to a future where the evangelical role of the laity would be much stronger.
"You are the new evangelists. You have been out sowing the seed of the Gospel of Life in homes and hearts the length and breadth of Ireland. The dream of the Second Vatican Council for the role of the laity in the Church is coming true.
"For the first time in my life we have had a nationwide mission of evangelisation led and carried out - not by bishops, priests or religious - but by lay people. A mission, not preached in churches, but rather in radio and TV studios, in hotels and homes, on doorsteps and streets. That is truly a quiet revolution.
The Bishop concluded: "The role of lay people in the Church has taken a decisive turn. You have gone out, two by two, as the first disciples did, to sow the seed of the Gospel.
- Dolan O'Hagan