Archbishop Eamon Martin has asked the faithful to pray for marriage

The Archbishop of Armagh has called for prayers ahead of the referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland.

Preaching at a Mass celebrated this morning at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland, said: “I would like to ask you to remember a special intention with me this year at Lourdes. In the coming days the people of Ireland will be asked to vote in a referendum which will change the meaning of marriage and family in the Constitution of Ireland.

“The Bishops of Ireland are clear that they cannot support this amendment and they have asked the people of Ireland to reflect and pray very carefully before voting.”

He added: “I know that many people in Ireland and around the world are beginning a novena today, or praying the Rosary, or fasting and doing penance for the special intention of marriage and the family.”

Meanwhile, priests from across the world, including the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, have written an open leter to Pope Francis calling for the Church to accept the marginalised faithful.

“Around the world, our bishops increasingly respond to the priest shortage by merging active and vibrant parishes into anonymous and unmanageable superstructures. Merging seems to be the formula of the hour. But in the new mega-parishes, personal contact between people and ministers is lost. The sacraments and the priests are removed ever further from the everyday life of Church citizens,” they wrote.

The letter continued: “There are women and men, married couples, divorced and remarried, homosexual and heterosexual partners, young and old, those in the centre and those who have been pushed to the side – there are dedicated people who want to put an end to the merger of their parishes into ever larger units. By their personal dedication,by the strength of their baptismal calling, they assist in relieving the priests of their increasing responsibilities in order to continue offering vital services to the people.”

The referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland is due to take place on May 22.