It has been 45 minutes since the announcement — we are relaxing with tea in an upper room on the second floor of Galway Cathedral and the new Bishop is sitting there, taking it all in, flanked by the men who announced him to the world. He looks like a man returning to his own house, and being introduced to his neighbours.
They say that an expert is just a local lad who went away, but this local lad has just returned to a place he knows well, to work with priests he knows well. And the happiness that abounds around the place is tangible. The practice of not appointing bishops to their native diocese has been discontinued by the new Papal Nuncio, and Galway is one of the first beneficiaries.
Here in this room, with the light filtering in through stained glass windows, sitting in front of a large photo of Pope Francis, he talks of the importance of hope, the wonder of human life, the great joy that comes from living life. Now, aged 71, though not looking at all of that vintage, he seems to have just absorbed the enormity of the task.
He tells me that while he was daunted when he first heard the news, now he is energised by it. It was the welcome he received, and that was just from a small sample of the population.
We have just come up from the Cathedral 11am Mass where unsuspecting Massgoers have been given front row seats for an announcement that is 16 months in the waiting. A class of pupils from the Mercy Primary School are also there, not knowing that they are to witness an historic moment.
A foot in every era
Bishop Kelly is a man with a foot in every era of recent history of the Galway diocese. A student across the road in NUI Galway, then ordained by Bishop Browne, a friend of Bishop Casey to the end, an influential parish priest in all corners of the diocese, a confidant to the administrator for the past year or so. He seems the ideal man for the job. On Monday, as Mass ended, as he walked to the altar alongside former Bishop Drennan, and administrator Michael Canon McLoughlin, Bishop Kelly savoured his last few minutes of relative anonymity.
There, the regular Monday morning Massgoers wondered what had the media there; why were they asked to sit around at one side of the altar, and who was the Polish priest who they had been told earlier was just a tourist.
In fact he was then revealed as Monsignor Piotr Tabawski, a secretariat to the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, who had the job of telling the congregation that after sixteen months, the Vatican had chosen Bishop Brendan Kelly to be the next Bishop of Galway.
The new man is humble and grateful.
“I am still somewhat in shock. Having settled happily in Achonry, I never expected to be asked to take on the shepherding of another diocese. However, the fact that it is my own native diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh, and Kilfenora makes it much easier to say yes to this appointment with which Pope Francis has chosen to honour me. I am very grateful to the Holy Father for his trust. And it is good to be coming home.
“Tá mé sásta freisin bheith ag freastal arís i ndeoise ina bhfuil paróistí bhreátha Gaeltachta. Ba mhór an bheannacht dom féin blianta a chaitheamh i measc muintir Chois Fharraige i bparóiste An Spidéil. Is maith bheith ar ais libh arís.
“It is now over 10 years since I was appointed by Pope Benedict as Bishop of Achonry. I have been very happy in Ballaghaderreen. I am deeply grateful first of all to the priests of the Achonry diocese. Their welcome to me from the beginning was entirely generous and warm. I believe we have worked together well. I want to thank them with all my heart for their constant support, kindness,and acceptance of all I asked of them. I will miss them, but I believe the bonds of friendship and fraternity will endure and continue to sustain me.
“From the start, the welcome and acceptance I experienced from the people of Achonry, including the religious, has been warm and generous, too. It has been a grace from God to serve them and I trust they will continue to carry me in prayer as I will them. There are those then who worked with me on a daily basis in Achonry. I owe them a special debt of gratitude. I thank them and will miss them.
World needs the Good News now
“Now as I stand here in this beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas, I am conscious of all that lies ahead. I look forward to working again with the priests of Galway diocese, colleagues since the day I was ordained up to the time I left here 10 years ago. Many of you have been good friends to me for years. And I am thinking today with deep gratitude to God of so many of them atá imithe ar shlí na fírinne, great mentors and friends.
He is aware of the enormous challenge of the job.
“I realise there is much work to be done. Somewhere all of us in the Church in Ireland need renewal in faith and in prayer at this time. Pope Francis is very clear. All of us who have been baptised are missionaries and all of us must be on a continuous journey of conversion. The world needs the Good News as much or more than at any other moment in history.
“We have all, priests and people, been solemnly commissioned at Baptism to carry that Good News to the people of our times, most particularly to those who are experiencing exclusion, isolation, and rejection, and who are in need of good shepherds. I invite you all to assume along with me a new determination to be those good shepherds and bearers of the Good News, priests and people together.
“I want to say a particular word of thanks here today to my friend Canon Michael McLoughlin, with whom I served happy years in Lisdoonvarna. Canon Michael has carried the burden of the administration of the diocese since Bishop Martin retired. I thank you, Michael, for the courage and faith with which you took on the task, the work you have done,and the kindness with which you have dealt with each situation and the people involved.
“I want to thank also Bishop Martin, my predecessor as bishop, for honouring the occasion with your presence, and I am so glad you are here today. Thank you for the years you gave shepherding all of us here in the diocese of Galway. Your prayers and scholarly love for God’s Word along with your wise counsel are still needed and I will be availing of them. We are glad that, in retirement, you have chosen to make your home among us and I personally look forward to your ongoing prayerful presence in the years ahead. And speaking to you as a Kilkenny man, I have to say that I am glad to be returning at a time when Liam McCarthy is making his home again very happily west of the Shannon in this great county!
“At the present time we are all looking forward to the World Meeting of Families in August in Dublin and particularly, please God, to a visit from Pope Francis. Pope Francis has set a very clear path for the Church in our time: He has placed the family at the heart of his programme from the start. The theme he has given for the World Meeting in Dublin is The Gospel of the Family, Joy for the World. We are all called to be and to build family domestically and at every level.
We are becoming a smaller, weaker, and poorer church
“It is nothing short of tragic that in a time of unprecedented prosperity for so many, too many families are finding that there is no house for them, no room for them in the Inn. Then there is Our Holy Father’s focus on young people who must always be our first priority in the Church of Jesus Christ. Along with family and young people, there is the critical mission in Ireland at this time that is evangelisation: discovering anew the wonder and gift that Jesus Christ is for ourselves and learning anew how to share this gift with others.
“We are becoming a smaller, weaker, and poorer church. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I look forward to working closely with the priests and people of our parishes and diocese, with colleagues and good friends in the other Christian communities represented in our city and beyond, and with all people of good will, men and women, both the young and those who have the wisdom of years, as we build together the Kingdom of God. We must work together in new ways and as never before so that we will be a church that is open and welcoming, humble and full of mercy, and cherishing human life at its most fragile and vulnerable, no matter what the price: in other words, a church that confidently takes our stand always with the one who was crucified and whose birth outside and in abject poverty we are preparing now to celebrate again at Christmas.
Finally, mo bhuíochas ó chroí daoibh ar fad as bheith anseo ar maidin. Please pray for me that I may give my life as Jesus did in service of you, his people.
Afterwards, I watched as he donned his cap and overcoat and walked across the bridge, a bishop among his people, a man with a great knowledge of and a great passion for Galway.
A man up for the challenge; a Gaeilgoir with a gra for the language that sets Galway apart.
A good choice.