STATEMENT TO THE MEDIA OF BISHOP DONAL McKEOWN, ON HIS APPOINTMENT AS BISHOP OF DERRY
25 February 2014, St. Eugene’s Cathedral
Words of greeting to media by Bishop Donal McKeown, on his appointment as Bishop of Derry
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for coming here this morning. I know that you have many calls on your time. I thank you for the important role that you have played and continue to play in both Church and civic society. In communicating the news, and in helping to inform public opinion, you are a vital part of a healthy society, at local, national and international level.
Some 41 years ago, when I first went to Rome as a seminarian, my brothers and sisters gave me a poster. It consisted of a human figure – but only when you looked at it carefully, could you see that the figure was made up of a lot of people clinging onto one another. And the caption read: “None of us is as smart as all of us.” That is not just a piece of human wisdom but also a sound theological insight. We are all members of the Body of Christ, where all have an equal dignity.
Therefore, I stand here before you this morning as just one person – an individual with some experience and many frailties, but who is happy to become part of a team of the pilgrim people in the diocese of Derry. Leadership is important – but its only task is to ensure that people on the ground can be helped to blossom, develop and work together in the service of the common good. Leadership is a service, not an honour.
I believe that this is an exciting time to witness to, and speak the Gospel, into the Church and into civic life. As a society, we have to discern what sort of communities we want to build. We have wonderful new opportunities to travel, to learn and to exploit modern technology. But we all need to engage to seek agreement on what we consider true, or good or beautiful. If there are no shared values, no shared vision for what sort of future we want to build for our children, then it is difficult for a society to hold together and grow. As Viktor Frankl said, “we have to give people, not just the means by which to live but also a meaning for which to live.”
And that is where the role of the Church comes in. We do not seek to control or dominate public discourse. But, as in the case of Jesus, the Suffering Servant, we aim only to speak the language of healing where there has been hurt, to generate hope where the future seems bleak, to model solidarity where fragmentation threatens, to create beauty that can touch the soul. And the Churches, working together, can play an important service as critical friends of our political structures. Faith has a place in the public square and not just in the sacristy.
We see this in Pope Francis. The Holy Father has generated an enormous amount of goodwill and energy in the face of the challenges that we encounter. The Pope is modelling a new way of relating to people and of incarnating the values of the Gospel. Anyone whom he appoints to local diocesan leadership has to take on board that grace-filled way of being with people wherever they are on their journey in life. That is quite an undertaking!
The Church on this island is experiencing many difficulties. But the Scriptures are clear that a humbled contrite heart is much more open to God than a proud and powerful one. Pope Francis has been clear that the followers of Jesus have to be at the uncomfortable margins, outside our comfort zones rather than in the cosy centre. That is why our present situation is a time of grace rather than a reason for despair.
I look forward to working with people of faith and people of doubt within this wonderful and historic diocese, so that together we can generate hope for our young people. I feel energised by this challenge. I look forward to working with you as we remember the past and confidently face the future with Christ as our constant friend and guide.