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Irish bishop: Church must be unafraid to engage difficult questions

St. Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry (Attila Jandi / Shutterstock)

Faced with daunting cultural challenges, the Church must engage in difficult discussions rather than seeking quick answers, said Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry at one of the local opening Masses for the World Meeting of Families.

The bishop offered prayers “that this week will inspire dioceses, parishes and families to build community in the face of an epidemic of loneliness.”

“I pray that faith communities will be places of God’s hope in a frightened world,” he continued. “I pray that churches will promote a gracious way of having difficult conversations in a world where harsh words often seem to dominate.”

Held every three years at a different location, the World Meeting of Families focuses on marriage and family as the foundation of society and the Church. The theme for this year’s event is “The Gospel of family, joy for the world.” Some 37,000 people from across the globe are expected to attend the Masses, discussions and services held over the next few days, with even larger crowds anticipated for Pope Francis’ arrival at the end of the week.

Masses to launch the World Meeting of Families were held simultaneously in the 26 Dioceses of Ireland on Aug. 21. Bishop McKeown delivered the homily at the opening Mass in Derry, at St. Eugene’s Cathedral.

McKeown encouraged those attending the gathering this week to discuss major social questions, such as how to promote home environments where young people will thrive, offer healthy role models, defend the weakest in society, and develop a person-centered economy.

He said he hopes Pope Francis will ask these difficult questions when he arrives in Ireland for the final days of the World Meeting of Families.

“I hope he will ask awkward questions and speak the truth in love about how the Church needs to repent and equip itself if it is to be a credible witness of God’s mercy and love in 2018,” McKeown said.

“I hope he will encourage civil society to look beyond the gloss and the jingles if it is to cherish all the children of the country equally. I hope and pray that Church and state learn from the mistakes of the past but not be trapped by only looking backwards.”

The Derry bishop warned that the Church must remember its mission of service, in imitation of Christ.

“Power corrupts and nourishes arrogance,” he said, adding that “Tired, hollow mantras and self-righteous condemnations serve no-one. Young people are not inspired by angry adults.”

Authentic witness is what will reach people and draw them to Christ, the bishop said. And while the “call to sanctity and to self-sacrificing heroism, to chastity and faithfulness” may not always be welcomed by society, it is the Church’s duty to proclaim the truth as it “seeks to play a positive and prophetic role in civic society.”

In a world where so many families are broken by damaged relationships, illness, poverty, and violence, McKeown said, the World Meeting of Families is a chance for reflection.

“It is not a time for quick, smart answers but for thoughtful listening. It is a moment of divine grace where we can together seek the truth that alone can set us free.”