Monthly Archives: August 2013

‘Catholicism’ Series helps Deepen Irish Faith

By Susan Gately – 26 August, 2013

Tributes paid to Fr Robert Barron for bringing new light
to fundamentals of Catholicism.


Fr Barron’s series has been televised on stations such as EWTN but what is proving even more effective in faith formation are the courses based around the DVDs.

The course which ties in with the series is based around scripture, the catechism of the Catholic Church and the writings of the Church’s spiritual masters. It has received rave reviews all over the world.

Last year, the first part of  Fr Barron’s presentations ran in many Irish parishes, including Newbridge in Kildare, where the second year of the course continues this autumn.

In Prosperous in Co Kildare,  Máire O’Byrne, author and graduate in theology, will lead another course, which is being held at the Focolare Centre, Curryhills House.

“I think Robert Barron’s course is essential for anyone who wants to know what it means to be a Catholic in today’s world,” Ms O’Byrne, an author and graduate in theology, told

“Fr Barron brings new light to the fundamentals of our Catholic faith in a way that is both educational and captivating,” she added.

Mary McDonagh from Templeogue is part way through the series. “I’m definitely getting something out of it,” she told

“I see a richness in Catholicism that I didn’t see before and this is so needed at a time like this when people often are so against it.  I feel it in a different way, and of course when you feel something inside, then it is easier to pass it on.”

Mary said she found the study element of the course challenging, but added that “people can take the study at their own level”.

540Veritas supplies the DVD box set and supporting course material.  A spokesperson told that it is “very popular indeed”.

The box set includes five DVDs, each containing two episodes which run 50-60 minutes. Many parishes divide each episode over two classes.

Filmed in 50 locations across 15 countries, the DVDs reveal the truths of the Catholic faith in a visually breath-taking and compelling way, with original, high-definition cinematography. “The DVDs make a great impact,” according to Mary McDonagh.

Accompanying the DVD is a companion study lesson with commentary, questions for understanding and also questions for application to each participant’s own life.

If participants want to go deeper, there is a companion book: CATHOLICISM: Journey to the Heart of the Faith, based on a more detailed rendering of the scripts from the DVD series.

Immigration Alert on Italian and Spanish coasts


2013-08-27 L’Osservatore Romano

Rome, 26.

Today in Italy two small boats  carrying collectively 210 refugees were rescued in the Channel of Sicily by the Coast guard, which in these days has been working to save  hundreds. The group was heading for Lampedusa. Also in Italy, yesterday a boat of 99 refugees from Eritrea, including 29 women and four children, was rescued  off the coast of Italy. The boat sent out an alarm for help in the early afternoon. Also, more than 120 illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa were yesterday off the coast of Spain. Among them  26 were on a boat not far from Tenerife in the Canary Islands, a placed crowded with tourists.

Pope Francis renews call for peace in Syria


2013-08-25 Vatican Radio

With great suffering and concern I continue to follow the situation in Syria. The increase in violence in a war between brothers, with the proliferation of massacres and atrocities, that we all have been able to see in the terrible images of these days, leads me once again raise my voice that the clatter of arms may cease. It is not confrontation that offers hope to resolve problems, but rather the ability to meet and dialogue.
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to express my closeness in prayer and solidarity with all the victims of this conflict, with all those who suffer, especially children, and I invite you to keep alive the hope of peace. I appeal to the international community to be more sensitive to this tragic situation and make every effort to help the beloved Syrian nation find a solution to a war that sows destruction and death.
All together let us pray. . . All together let us pray to Our Lady, Queen of Peace: Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!
Everyone: Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Nurturing a future of faith


Director of youth ministry for Down and Connor,
Pauline Dowd spoke with Martin O’Brien


She was charged with re-launching and refashioning  Down and Connor’s youth mission to meet the ever  pressing needs of those in post primary education of one kind or another in the diocese’s 87 parishes stretching from Portstewart in Co. Derry on the north  coast to the fishing port of Kilkeel in  south Down.

Speaking to Pauline in the youth commission’s spacious if still under-used building in the grounds of St Mary’s chapel in central Belfast (one challenge is to fully utilise the premises which includes a large oratory) one senses purpose and a steely determination to achieve results.

“Our goal is to achieve a cycle of care across our dioceses where every young person from whatever background, has the opportunity to have fun and be helped to develop their faith and build up the kingdom of God.”

Those opportunities reside especially in the diocese’s 12 youth centres, soon to be 13 with the official opening expected next month of a long awaited state of the art centre in St Malachy’s parish in the Markets area of Belfast.

She speaks with passion and with admiration for “our youth workers who are doing lifesaving work with youngsters right at the edge” with problems such as addiction and depression.

The past year has been dominated by efforts to put those youth centres on a sound footing of compliance. There is a continuing immense joint effort between the Youth Commission and the Diocesan Safeguarding Office to roll out a training programme across all the youth centres aimed at securing the implementation of all the new policies to protect children and young people.

Perhaps just as laborious but also of critical importance has been the task of updating and re-writing the constitutions of the youth centres. These, Pauline says hadn’t been touched for maybe 20 years and included framing rules on the recruitment of members to a management committee. This is considered necessary to protect the independence and operational integrity of such influential community bodies from any person or group who may wish to dominate them for their own ends.

Pauline is currently evaluating data from an audit she launched early on of youth provision in every parish in the diocese and will be particularly interested to see the part faith ministry plays in this. It is a fair bet that any slackness in this area will be addressed.

She stresses  she is part of a very talented team and seems touched by the level of support she has received from a range of people including Jim Tracey in safeguarding, the youth centre chairpersons for their co-operation with the constitutions, her assistant  Claire Smylie, the Youth Commission’s chairperson Aine Lockhart  and the priests she deals with.  She mentions in particular “the wonderful support” of Baroness Nuala O’Loan and Bishop Donal McKeown.

Two pivotal projects in the armoury of the Down and Connor youth ministry are the GIFT 1 to 4   (Growing in Faith Together) initiative and the Blessed John Paul II Awards.

She is anxious to ensure that both are as inclusive as possible appealing to young people with a wide variety of abilities and backgrounds ranging from families where the faith is strong through to where it is weak or non-existent.

Through SPRED a particular effort is made to include those with special needs.

Pauline describes GIFT as “a faith programme with fun” run in parishes by a co-ordinator assisted by a team of volunteers. GIFT 1 is for Year 8 children in their first year in secondary school and begins with prayer and  the child being prompted to remember their confirmation and what it means before proceeding through a number of games including balloon volley ball and a bean bag game that creatively shed light on Christian values.

“Some of those volunteers will be the parents of Year 8 children who may not be practising their faith but the hope would be that by using the language of faith again they may be drawn back to it.”

The GIFT programme which is being re-written and re-designed by Pauline and her team culminates in a parish Mass. The liturgy is intended to be as “young person friendly” as possible and the hope once again is that such a beautiful Mass may prompt parents who have lapsed to have a re-think.

Around 350 young people in Down and Connor enrol  for the John Paul II awards each year and the Youth Commission pulled off a coup in April when Irish  Olympic boxing medallist Michael Conlan from Belfast presented the medals and received an honorary John Paul II award for being a role model. Michael is a staunch friend of the commission and regularly provides signed promotional material for fundraising.

The John Paul II awards which are likely to become even more popular when the late Pope become as saint are meant to underline the  link between faith and good works. They are awarded to 16-to-18 year olds who have completed a programme of service to their parish which might include being ministers of the Word or Eucharistic ministers as well as a programme of social awareness which might include volunteering for St Vincent de Paul or SPRED.

Pauline says: “A key objective is to bring the young person into contact with the priest. “

She adds: “The idea is to have a cyclical effect. The hope is that, for example, the John Paul II winners will proceed to go on to do pilgrimages and deliver the GIFT programmes themselves.”

The youth ministry will obviously have a major role in the pastoral plan to be unveiled at the diocesan congress next month.

Pauline, brought up on the Falls one of five children of Rose and John Smyth owes her faith to her “wonderful selfless parents”. She reveals with pride her father now in his 70s “delivers 500 issues of each edition of the Sacred Heart Messenger door to door” in the city.

She is married to Brendan, a teacher in Lagan College and a member of the youth commission board.

Pauline Dowd is a woman who means business. She communicates a vision for a youth ministry rooted in a context of care, safety and opportunity where faith and fun go hand in hand. A clear strategy for strengthening the faith of some and recovering and discovering the faith of others is being laid out here.

She admits  notwithstanding the great support the Youth Commission receives across the board in Down and Connor the Church locally is not particularly good at communicating the message about all the good work of young people who go on pilgrimages and  works of charity  and that people in the pews “often wonder what the Youth Commission is doing.”

Good news stories she says include, for example, the 26 young people led by Fr Raymond McCullough just returned from Ethiopia where they spent nearly three weeks building houses for Habitat for Humanity and the 23 young people they brought to Scotland for the “mini-Rio” at Stirling University.

It is still relatively early days and Pauline had to hit the ground running. While only time will tell the ultimate effectiveness of this particular diocesan youth ministry in a vitally important part of the country  those  yearning  for a recovery in the fortunes of the Church sense there is  afoot in Down and Connor  at any rate something  that will   “…bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16).

High Profile Cardinal hopeful for Irish Church


Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan
is hopeful for the future of the Church in Ireland


Cardinal Dolan greets parishioners outside St Mary's Church in Drogheda. Photo: Fran Caffrey /

Cardinal Dolan greets parishioners outside St Mary’s Church in Drogheda. Photo: Fran Caffrey /


“You have been through worse before, you’ll get through it. Be not afraid, have hope,” he said.

Cardinal Dolan said one sign of hope for the future of the Church in Ireland was the recent consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Knock with 15,000 people in attendance. He also said the depth of prayer here in Ireland was “phenomenal”.

The New York based prelate was in Ireland to inaugurate the new mission of a group of US religious sisters in Drogheda, Co. Louth.

The four Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal left their home in the Bronx earlier this month to set up a new convent in the Louth town at the request of Cardinal Dolan.

According to the cardinal, “the sisters have made a tremendous impact in the Bronx and in Harlem”. “They are women of joy, enthusiasm and prayer,” he said.

“Their presence, their prayer, their outreach to the poor children, their service to the hungry and the homeless and their catechesis have been phenomenally affective.

“I can’t tell you what an impact they make on the streets of New York. And they have already started to do it here in Drogheda,” he said.

Cardinal Rai: Christians Always Pay the Highest Price in Mideast Conflicts

2013-08-23 Vatican Radio

“Speaking in an interview with Vatican Radio,  Cardinal Rai says the situation in the Middle East is becoming more and more critical as each day passes. He said whenever a conflict breaks out in the Middle East, whenever chaos ensues,  Muslim groups  attack the minority Christian community, as if they were always the scapegoat.
The Lebanese Patriarch said all Christians are asking for is security and stability and spoke of how throughout the Arab world Christians respect the institutions,  the authorities and the constitution.  Thanks to the presence of us Christians  and our daily life in all these Arab countries, he said,  we have created a certain moderation  in the Muslim world.   Speaking about the tensions between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and the Christian community in Egypt, Cardinal Rai said it was a known fact that once in power, the Muslim Brotherhood were seeking  to introduce Shariah law.  Certainly, he said, the Christians are against this and want a reformed and democratic Egypt, an Egypt that knows how to respect human rights.
When asked how he sees the future, Cardinal Rai spoke of his belief that there is a plan to destroy the Arab world for political and economic interests.  There’s also, he added, a plan to exacerbate as much as possible the inter-confessional conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.  The Maronite Patriarch said he had already written to the Pope  to express his concern about this issue on two occasions.”

Checking faith development ‘to-do lists’


Bernadette Sweetman explores using
Share the Good News as a catechetical resource.




A pilgrim with a rosary wrapped around her hand prays during the World Youth Day closing Mass on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro July 28. Photo: CNS

A journey is always easier with a map. But a journey that is open to growth and learning must be open to by-passes and detours. In Share the Good News: The National Directory for Catechesis (SGN, 36), we have four guideposts – themes that underpin the task of evangelisation:

  • Proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel message (kerygma/ martyria);
  • Building up a caring Church community based on Gospel values (koinonia);
  • Celebrating faith in worship, prayer and through liturgical participation – in communion with God, in Jesus Christ, and with one another (leitourgia);
  • Service to neighbour, particularly the most poor and most vulnerable, the work of justice (diakonia).


These guideposts are open to our God-given creativity. No matter the context: personal, small group; parish; diocese or more, we can all ask ourselves how are we faring at actualising each theme? We can ask ourselves how are we witnesses to the Gospel? How do our lives speak of Gospel values? We can examine our understanding of community and how we express that sense of kinship. We can look to how we can be more giving to those in need.

Sometimes we can all benefit from plain speaking, as Pope Francis said – where do we start? In what could be a to-do list, following the General Directory for Catechesis, SGN promotes their fulfilment within the framework of six fundamental tasks of catechesis:

  • Promoting knowledge of the faith;
  • Liturgical education;
  • Moral Formation – motivating us to service of God and neighbour;
  • Teaching to Prayer;
  • Educating for Community Life;
  • Missionary initiation.
  • Structures

Supporting these tasks, the four themes have traditionally informed the structures of Catholic catechisms, and they can also be signposts along the way for our everyday lives: providing us direction for our daily decisions and activities. In Catholic catechisms, we are offered the following complimentary structure:

  • The Profession of Faith (the Creed);
  • The Celebration of Christian Mystery (the Sacraments);
  • Life in Christ (the Beatitudes and Commandments);
  • Prayer in the Christian Life (the Lord’s Prayer).

This serves as a way of explaining the reasons for the structure of our catechisms, yet we, must always be aware of this danger – our faith is not confined to purely doctrinal. Our faith, as Pope Francis says “is the new light born of an encounter with the true God, a light which touches us at the core of our being and engages our minds, wills and emotions, opening us to relationships lived in communion.” (Lumen Fidei, 40)


Our ‘faith development to-do lists’ are important. They give us a clear plan to follow and to work towards. We must always remember the reality, as urged by Pope Francis at WYD 2013:

“Dear young people, please, don’t be observers of life, but get involved. Jesus did not remain an observer, but he immersed himself. Don’t be observers, but immerse yourself in the reality of life, as Jesus did.”

Dyslexia should not be an educational barrier


Julianne Clarke examines the supports available
for children with dyslexia
In Ireland 2-3 children in every classroom are likely to have some type of dyslexia - how well are they being supported?

Research shows the earlier the intervention with a child who is dyslexic the better the outcome.

So, how well are we supporting these children with dyslexia in the early years of education?

Learning support primary teacher, Mary Whelan says 10 years ago children with dyslexia were eligible for resource hours on a one-to-one basis. This meant they were high on a priority list to be assessed by an Educational Psychologist from the National Educational Psychological Services (N.E.P.S).

She says that today every school is looking for more resources, “so therefore if you got a child who has a speech and language difficulty or behavioural difficulty or is somewhere on the spectrum then they are going to get pushed to the top of the list because you are going to get resource hours for them which is going to mean more teachers.”

Ms Whelan says the diagnosis is not only important as a specific guide for the learning support teacher but also for the child’s self-confidence.

She explains that when one of her students was assessed and diagnosed as dyslexic “it was like a weight lifted off his shoulders”. “Up to that he was inclined to say ‘I am thick, I am stupid’ – it is soul destroying for a child. They need someone other than their parents telling them they are wonderful, they need to see it in black and white as well.”

Children at primary school with learning difficulties such as dyslexia are currently supported by the Department of Education through N.E.P.S and the General Allocation Model (GAM).

The N.E.P.S aim is to get the school to take responsibility for initial remedial intervention for pupils.

This intervention involves three stages – support within the classroom, support by the learning support teacher and direct contact between pupil and the N.E.P.S psychologist where the school is unable to make progress. The NEPS Psychologist acts as a consultant to the school during these stages supporting 15 to 40 schools.

According to the NEPS: “The school authorities provide names of children who are giving cause for concern and discuss the relative urgency of each case during the psychologists visits.”

In the NEPS outline of their model of service the Students Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a key element of the remedial intervention within the school at all stages. The additional support hours required for the child with special needs comes out of the General Allocation Model (GAM) serviced by the learning support teacher.

However, there is a problem with the Individual Education Plan (IEP) – it is not a statutory requirement.

The Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act (EPSEN) 2004 says that any child with special needs should be given an IEP.  While this is envisaged in the EPSEN Act – all the parts of the act have not been fully enacted.

When the Department of Education was contacted with regard to the full implementation of the EPSEN act the response was that some of the sections have commenced. These include the setting up of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and the sections promoting an inclusive approach to the education of children with special needs.

However, the NCSE have advised the Department that the full implementation of the EPSEN Act would cost up to an additional €235m per annum over a number of years.

In a statement issued last May, the Department of Education said: “Given the costs involved and current fiscal constraints, addressing this issue will be very challenging. The Department will be considering how we can develop a plan to implement the objectives of the EPSEN Act so as to deliver improved educational outcomes for students with special needs.”

Mr Ewing from the Dyslexia Association said –  it is important to acknowledge we already have structures and resources in place to support children with special needs and it is about making these more effective: “stopping and thinking about how we do more of the right thing, rather than just ‘more’.”

He believes there is a need to build the capacity of teaching professionals in the school to diagnose and support children with dyslexia.

In Finland they stopped and radically reformed their education system in the 1970’s making it one of the best performers internationally today.

Author Pasi Sahlberg outlines the key education reforms in Finland in his book Finnish Lessons.

Special education reforms include – identifying children’s potential learning difficulties as early as pre-school. Pre-school is free and attended by 98 per cent of children.

Intensive support is provided for students with special needs in the early years of primary school. Grade based assessments are not used in the first five years of school in Finland – to prevent children being ranked according to their educational performance.

Ireland’s two main teacher training colleges – Mary Immaculate College in Limerick and St Patricks College in Dublin said special education is very much embedded across their teacher training curriculum. They also have modules in special education including dyslexia as well as literacy modules explicitly referring to dyslexia.

But perhaps, before we get too caught up in how we can do more of the right thing to support children with dyslexia – we need to stop and reflect on our understanding of dyslexia and the particular strengths of the dyslexic brain.

American neuro-learning experts and authors of The Dyslexic Advantage, Drs Brock and Fernette Eide present a different view of dyslexia based on their research.

Dr Brock Eide says “there’s a large and growing literature supporting the existence of various advantages in dyslexic processing”.

“At a time when every study of employment needs shows clearly that every company and every country has a critical need for workers who can think critically, solve problems, innovate, work in teams, and understand the perspectives of others, the dyslexic community is full of individuals whose brain wiring predisposes them toward the development of all these skills,” Dr Eide says.

“It’s simply in all of our interests to support the development and flourishing of this group of high potential individuals.”

UN: Syrian Child Refugees hits One Million Mark


2013-08-23 Vatican Radio

This latest number comes from the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and the UN children’s fund UNICEF. The UN said that the number of children living as refugees now accounts for half of all Syrians driven abroad by the conflict. According to UNHCR, nearly two million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and North Africa. At least 100,000 people are believed to have died in the two-year conflict, 7,000 of whom are believed to be children. In an interview with Vatican Radio, UNICEF spokesperson Patrick McCormick described the latest number as a “shameful milestone,” which does not “bode well” for the future of Syria.
Refugee camps, meanwhile, are facing the challenge of providing for these children. “They can’t provide everything,” he said. Even though some of these camps have become almost like small cities, he continued, “they can never replace a real home for a child, and was never meant to.” McCormick said he hopes that these latest numbers serve as “an alarm bell… to really bring this terrible crisis to an end and get these children back to their homes

A centre of hope for the homeless in Dublin


2013-08-23 Vatican Radio

“People who maybe would have had jobs or maybe would have had a good house or maybe had two cars and because of the economic downturn have lost those jobs or who have, you know, lost their homes and all of a sudden they find themselves, with no income, some of them are finding themselves homeless…”says the centre’s Fr Bryan Shortall.
Brother Kevin Crowley, says Fr Bryan talks about the concept of the “new poor”. These are the people that have been badly affected by the economic downturn. However, he adds that despite the difficulties that people are facing there is a positive side in that, “so many people are so kind and so generous to us (at the centre)