The Catholic Bishop-elect of Cork and Ross has pledged to reach out to people with a message of hope.
Against the backdrop of ageing priests and declining Mass attendance figures, Fr Fintan Gavin, 53, said he is looking forward to getting to know the diocese, to listening to people and approaching and embracing the various challenges in a “realistic and honest way”.
The chancellor of the Archdiocese of Dublin was speaking in Cork after his appointment as the new Bishop of Cork and Ross, by Pope Francis. The appointment was announced from the altar of the Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint Anne on the northside of the city by the apostolic nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo. It was announced simultaneously in the Vatican.
Fr Gavin, who succeeds Bishop John Buckley, 79, who was installed in February 1998 and who announced his retirement just over four years ago, will be ordained bishop within the next four months.
“I met the papal nuncio just two weeks ago,” said Bishop-elect Gavin.
I thought it was about other business and he began the conversation talking about other things and then he moved on to the question — he said Pope Francis would like me to take on new responsibilities and with that he said that he’d like me to be Bishop of Cork and Ross.
It was something that came as a huge surprise. It wasn’t part of my plan, but its part of God’s plan.
There are an estimated 75-80 priests in active ministry across the diocese’s 68 parishes— about half the number when Bishop Buckley was ordained. Bishop-elect Gavin said that poses challenges.
“But the Gospel is the same. We just have to find new ways of bringing that Gospel, bringing energy and enthusiasm, we have something really important to offer people and we’ll just have to find new ways of doing that,” he said.
Reaching out to young people, in particular, will be one of his priorities as the Church will have to find new ways of connecting to their experience, their reality, he added.
“They are the future of the Church and we have to find ways of dialoguing with them so that they feel part of the Church and they feel an important part of, and listened to by the Church,” he said.
The papal nuncio described Bishop Buckley as a “good man” and paid tribute to his “human touch”.
And he thanked people for their patience as his successor was chosen. “It’s not easy in these times to find a priest and also to correspond to the yearning of the Holy Father because he is the one who makes the appointment,” he said.
“He studies every detail and he wants it his own way. And the people of Cork are very good, they are demanding, they want the best — which is good — so we had to look for the best for them.”
Asked what qualities the Pope saw in Fr Gavin, the papal nuncio said: “You will live with him [Bishop-elect Gavin], you will challenge him, you will walk with him, you will love him and he will love you and then you will discover him much more than I do.”
Archbishop Eamon Martin, president of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, congratulated the bishop-elect whom he described as a “gentle, friendly pastor, and a hardworking priest and canon lawyer”.
Paul Colton, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, who also offered his congratulations, said he has worked with Bishop-elect Gavin in a number of pastoral contexts over the years.
“I look forward to working with the new Bishop in the years ahead and to supporting him in his induction to ‘all things Cork’,” he said.
He also paid tribute to Bishop Emeritus John Buckley.
“I have seen at first hand, in our work alongside one another over the past 20 years, his untiring work as Bishop, as well as the empathy and warmth of his pastoral work in our community,” he said.
“I have found it deeply enriching to work and pray with him, and to have his friendship.”
Speaking after the Mass, Bishop Buckley joked it is a great honour for a Dublin man to be promoted to the real capital. “We always think down here that there are only two categories of people in Ireland — Cork people and those who wish they were Cork people. You have now obtained your wish thanks to Pope Francis,” he said.
He spoke of the diocese’s contribution to the missions and said it and its priests face challenges.
“Cork and Ross is an extensive diocese, encom passing a large city, ever-growing suburbs, large towns, rural parishes, islands, educational establishments, prison, hospitals and, for 40-years, a faraway mission in Peru and Ecuador,” he said.
“The demands on the priests, therefore, have been varied and challenging.
“There was always a willing manpower to fulfil whatever duties were demanded to provide for the spiritual care of the people.
And in recent years, despite their increasing age profile and the constraints regarding personnel and the increasing population of their parishes, the priests have continued to provide for their parishioners a full parish service. Their only desire is to bring people closer to Christ and to serve the people as effectively as possible.