An attendance survey is set to be carried out at masses held throughout the Raphoe Diocese in February to determine the future of mass times and parish structures within the Diocese.
As part of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan, results of the survey will be used to determine if there should be a reduction in the number of masses held in low attended parishes, while it will also examine the possibility of restructuring and combining parishes to facilitate mass and other parochial services.
The review will involve looking at parish numbers and boundaries to see if alignment and amalgamation is possible within some communities, while it will also address the future viability of maintaining multiple churches within a parish and to prepare for a time when this will not be feasible.
This process is being undertaken in a number of dioceses across the country and in the Diocese of Raphoe, this is all part of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan that was launched by the Bishop of Raphoe, Alan McGuckian SJ in April 2022.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Brian O’Driscoll, Director of Pastoral Renewal for the Diocese of Raphoe said the restructuring of the Diocese is being carried out due a decline in active priests in the Diocese.
“It is important that the diocese acts now to create parish and deanery structures that are vibrant and sustainable into the future.
“Celebration of liturgies are key in every parish because it is around these that communities of faith are built.
“So it is crucial that our liturgies continue to be celebrated in a meaningful way, ensuring that the liturgy is not rushed and that the priests are not overworked.
“The result of this is that the number of Masses that are celebrated may have to be decreased in some parishes and that new ways for parishes to work together will have to be found,” said Mr O’Driscoll.
The survey in each parish will take place over a three week period from Monday, February 13 to Sunday, March 5 and attendance will be recorded at weekday and weekend services in each parish.
There will also be an assessment into the possibility of individual parishes holding lay-led prayer services for a time when a priest cannot be present.
The survey is the first step and a data collection exercise. Once the data is collected, the Diocese will then review it.
The review will be carried out by a working party drawn from the Diocesan Pastoral Council, Council of Priests and the Vicars Forane who will work with the Bishop.
Speaking of the survey Fr Eamonn Kelly, Parish Priest in Raphoe said the Diocese has been lucky with resources until now, but there will be big changes in the next ten to 15 years.
“This review has already been carried out in other Dioceses in the country so the Diocese of Raphoe has been very lucky because although there is a scarcity of priests, it had not been noticeable until now.
“The survey is about identifying where the biggest need is and where people are going to mass.
“Parishes might have to amalgamate but if you look at the rest of the country they have slow on the amalgamation so it won’t be a quick process.
“To be honest, priests cannot do the impossible. If a priest is asked to do two parishes, it could be done, but it is not possible for a priest to cover up to three or four parishes.
“Priests have had to come in for elsewhere to cover – that is already happening here. There could be a case where lay people will be leading a communion service if a priest is not available.
“There will be changes in the next ten to fifteen years and this plan is part of forming those changes,” said Fr Kelly.
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