At the Episcopal Ordination in St Mary’s Cathedral 22 June 2023, the words of thanks of Bishop Niall Coll
At the end of this beautiful ordination liturgy, I am afforded an opportunity to offer some words of thanks and a thought, a word of encouragement to all gathered here this afternoon … especially the people, religious and priests of the diocese of Ossory representing our 42 parishes and 13 pastoral areas. I also salute people of goodwill everywhere, not least those who are joining with us through the webcam in Ossory, Donegal and elsewhere.
Let me begin by thanking all present, most particularly my mother and father, my brother, sisters, brother-in-law and wider family of aunts, uncles, cousins. Also my friends, seminary classmates and contemporaries, former colleagues especially from my Belfast days, and priests and people from Raphoe diocese and everywhere, especially parishioners from Tawnawilly and Drumholm parishes. A particular warm welcome to the new Church of Ireland bishop here, Adrian Wilkinson. Similarly, a warm welcome to the representatives of the other Christian traditions and other faiths here present …. So many have travelled a great distance to be here. Thank you.
I would like to thank so many of the people of the diocese for the warm welcome they have extended to me already, the 96th bishop of Ossory and the first Ulsterman – a diocesan historian has reliably informed me – to serve in that office. Thankfully, that great Ulsterman, St Canice, from Limavady, Co. Derry, not far from my native heath in Donegal, never the bishop here however, indisputably blazed a trail in the diocese. The lasting legacy of a cathedral, many churches and schools under his patronage demonstrate that fact. My northern footprint here will be smaller, but I come too, whatever my own limitations and with so much to learn, with a great heart for the people and terrain of Ossory!
I would like to welcome Archbishop Farrell back to Ossory and to thank him for being principal consecrator today. Thanks too to the two co-consecrators, my Maynooth classmate, Bishop Denis Nulty and the bishop of Raphoe, Alan McGuckian. A word of gratitude to all the other bishops present. Thanks to all who made this act of worship today so magnificent: the Ordination Organising Committee and the Diocesan Office staff who worked so hard behind the scenes. Thanks too to the musicians and singers, the sacristans and altar servers, the young people here present from local primary and secondary schools, the stewards and greeters, those who designed today’s Mass booklet, and the many others who assist in the Cathedral. A special word of thanks is due to Sr Helen Maher Forum Coordinator and Ms Gemma Mulligan our Diocesan Pastoral Coordinator for the wonderful occasion of prayer as we gathered here on Friday evening and to our homilist today, Fr Kieran O’Shea, the Cathedral Administrator, Fr Richard Scriven and today’s Master of Ceremonies, Fr Roderick Whearty.
So much has already been said at this Liturgy, so much more could be said, but to keep things within bounds I will confine my comments now to introducing you to my new crest, my Coat of Arms as Bishop of Ossory. You can find it just now on the back page of your Mass booklet.
A word to set the context. There’s a long tradition in the Church that each new bishop picks a motto, normally chosen from Scripture, which seeks to encapsulate his thoughts, prayers and priorities as he begins his new ministry.
The motto I have chosen – ‘Christ Jesus our hope’, ‘Críost Íosa ár ndóchas’, ‘Christus Jesus Spes Nostra’ – is emblazoned on the crest. It is taken from the opening salutation of the First Letter of St Paul to Timothy.
In the heraldic tradition of the Catholic Church, the bishop’s motto is further expressed through the use of symbols on the crest. You know well the expression: ‘a picture paints a thousand words …!’
The symbols I have chosen: To begin, both the transcendent and imminent dimensions of life, heaven and earth, are acknowledged, following the ancient practice of Christian iconography, by the presence of the colours blue and red respectively. And these two realms are seen to be united by the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, represented on the crest in the form of a dove.
Interestingly, if you turn your eyes upwards now and glance at the sanctuary ceiling of this cathedral, you may be able to see the striking depiction of the Holy Spirit as a dove. And it is this dove which is represented on the crest. Note, too, that on the crest the dove is seen to hover over an image of the County Kilkenny ninth-century Killamery High Cross, a National Monument. It is used here to represent the Christian faith and its deep roots planted in the soil, and by extension in the hearts of the people of Ossory across some 15 centuries. Of course, the same can be said with similar gratitude of my own native Raphoe diocese in the hills of Donegal.
The symbol of the dove is intended to remind us that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are united to Christ, to his death and resurrection and that that same Spirit continues to pour out grace and blessings upon us. So, we are empowered as God ‘s holy people, a pilgrim people, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, called to build his Kingdom in the Church and in the world.
Also found on the crest is an image of the sun, at the centre of which is the symbol ☧ (an ancient sign for Christ), which is also designed to direct our attentions to Jesus Christ, the Light of the World (Jn 8:12). It seeks to remind us that the light of Christ accompanies us and illuminates our path on the journey of life. Truly, we, as members of Christ’s body the Church, are called to reflect this light by loving both God and neighbour, especially the poor and marginalised. But we can’t do this on our own steam, we need to be strengthened, empowered by the Word of God (represented on the crest by the open Bible). We must ponder it in our hearts, allow it to fire our imaginations and live it by means of both the sacramental and social justice dimensions of faith and life. Afterall, faith is communicated by the people who live it as a dynamic in their lives …
In an era marked by strong currents of secularisation, materialism and individualism, when many people have pushed God to the margins of life, if they haven’t forgotten about Him entirely, Christians can be tempted to lose hope and retreat into a holy huddle. And this is exacerbated for many by the concrete problems of life today as we try to recover from the restrictions on life visited by the Covid-19 pandemic. Then there’s the current war in Ukraine and civil conflicts raging elsewhere in such places as Ethiopia, Congo, Yemen which rarely get reported in the West. And there are economic difficulties, especially for young people, rising prices, climate change and social unrest especially in relation to the family. In the midst of such rapid change, some may be tempted to lose heart.
But to despair would be a response that would fly in the face of the Gospel. Christian hope speaks into these difficult contexts. Christ, as the crest also reminds us, drawing on the Letter to the Hebrews, is our beginning and our end, the Alpha (A) and the Omega (Ω) in whom we place our joys and sorrows, our fears and hopes.
Because we know and love Christ, because we serve him our Lord and Saviour, we are called – to put it in a nutshell – to be people in the world characterised by faith, hope and love. Returning in particular to the emphasis on hope that is highlighted in my motto, might it be enough to say now that by hope is meant faith as we go forward into the future. Hope is the looking forward in faith to the future in God that Christ makes possible. Hope clings to that future, assured of God’s faithfulness. Thus Pope Francis has spoken of Jesus as ‘the wellspring of our hope’.
We, the followers of Jesus, are a community of faith who believe in the continual and ongoing presence of the God of Jesus Christ in our lives. Those lines from the Psalm sung in this Mass encapsulate this succinctly when they entreat us to ‘Hope in Him, hold firm and take heart/Hope in the Lord.’
The importance of hope, hope in our hearts for ourselves and our families, hope for the Church at this time of great challenge and change, a painful time of pruning and renewal, especially in light of the abuse crisis, is urgently needed. Pope Benedict had a deep understanding of Europe and the West today and the intensity of the challenge which people of faith face. He poignantly encouraged us to know that people ‘who live by hope live differently’ because they have ‘been granted the gift of a New Life’.
It is in Christ Jesus our hope that we find this new life and the courage to persevere on our pilgrim journey of faith. It is in this hope that I, with my own share of qualities and weaknesses, can summon up courage in the Lord, in his grace and mercy, and come among you as bishop.
I would like to take this opportunity at the beginning of Catholic Schools Week 2023 to ask God’s blessing on our schools and their good work of sharing that hope and meaning with our young people.
And I hope my Antrim friends here present aren’t too discommoded if the hurlers of Ballyhale were held in our prayers this day as they battled with Dunloy!
Finally, I would like to thank Mgr Julien Kabore, Chargé d’Affaires at the Apostolic Nunciature in Dublin, for his help and kindness before and since my appointment as bishop. And Bishop Nulty, too, for his kind and unflinching attention to the diocese of Ossory during his time as Apostolic Administrator and for his care and support for me personally. I look forward to working with the priests, people and religious of the diocese of Ossory to enhance the work already underway here to develop a sustaining theological and pastoral vision, one able to invite, inform and enthuse a new generation of Christian witnesses.
Truth be told, committed Irish Catholics already know full well that we need to build up from the ground a new way of being church, one which will seek to blend the old faith and, where possible, the new ground of contemporary Irish society in a new organic synthesis. That is the work of the process of Synodality, of journeying together as disciples, so precious to the heart of Pope Francis, and I would like to commend the discussions, reflections and actions which are already underway in Ossory as part of the beginnings of this process of renewal in the life of the diocese.
As we look to the future, we know that we will face many challenges together. We find courage for the work that lies ahead because Christ Jesus is truly the way, the truth and the life. He is our hope. Amen
Téimis ar aghaidh le chéile agus muid lán le muinín. A Mhuire, a Mháthair na hEaglaise, guigh orainne.
A Chiarán, a Cheannach, a Adhamhnain, a Bhríd, a Cholmcille, guigí orainn.