“Pope Francis,” he says, “challenged us all with those words ‘getting to know the smell of your sheep’ and I think in my own case, it’s so important that I get out there, get to meet the people, the priests, the religious, who are in the diocese here in Armagh.”
The more he listens, the more he is likely to experience a Church that, although demoralized, is far from a lost cause. Ninety percent Mass attendance rates may be a thing of the past, with some Dublin parishes barely managing one percent or two percent, and generally low attendance rates among younger age groups have caused one priest to remark that “the real crisis for the Church is the shortage of laity rather than the shortage of clergy.” Nonetheless, even now 84 percent of people in the Republic of Ireland still self-identify as Catholic, a typical Sunday sees about a third of Ireland’s Catholics at Mass, and there are real signs of life in such movements as Youth 2000.
Archbishop Martin would do well to remind himself of this if he needs the “courage to get up and go out.” Getting up and going out, he says, is not merely his greatest challenge but “the great adventure that is evangelization and that is being a believer in today’s world.”
Greg Daly covers the U.K. and Ireland for Aleteia.