Archbishop Eamon says Pope Francis has motivated him to think of ministry in a missionary key. Why might this be important in Ireland?
Ireland is experiencing a crisis of faith. Many people – 84% – still choose to self-identify as Catholic when asked, but, many of these people live their lives as if God does not exist. Ireland is a textbook example of a land in dire need of the new evangelization. Many Irish people have heard the message of the Gospel and are familiar with Christ but they do not know him nor have their hearts been touched, moved or transformed by an authentic encounter with Jesus.
Are there hopeful signs in the Irish Church?
There are hopeful signs: many young people – infused with a Christian spirit – do great voluntary work. There is a thirst for the Church’s social teaching and many young people appear to share the Irish missionary zeal. A challenge will be joining the dots and helping people see that Christian charity goes hand-in-hand with a personal encounter with Jesus and his Church.
Archbishop Martin has been Cardinal Brady’s coadjutor bishop for the last year and a half; what has he been doing?
Archbishop Eamon has been lucky in having the 16 months that he has had as coadjutor. This has allowed him to get to know his diocese very well and also to see the challenges and opportunities facing the wider Church. He has used his time well, engaging with parish pastoral councils, the diocesan pastoral council and many lay movements and positive initiatives around the country. He has played an affirming role and has a natural affinity with young people. I have seen him walk in to a room and be visibly energized by the presence of young people. When he tells them “you are my hope” it is not a cliché – he feels it and believes it.
I think he has an innate trust in the goodness of young people and their thirst for meaning. His role as an educator has meant that he is not afraid to challenge young people. He understands well that their young minds are searching for something radical, that they have often not experienced Christianity as that radical thing. I think he will challenge young people. It’s interesting, he often recalls how the most formative moment of his life was at a youth Mass in Galway with Pope St. John Paul II, when the Polish Pontiff told young Irish Catholics in a booming voice “something else is needed!” This is a theme Archbishop Eamon returns to frequently. I think he will challenge young people to use their faculties and abilities to embrace a mature faith.
How does Archbishop Eamon think young people might do this?
He is aware of the disastrous pastoral strategy that saw the Church expect Irish culture to evangelize our young people and teach them Christianity. He realizes that relying on a traditional Catholic culture is no longer possible, that, at best, it brings a sentimental attachment. His constant call is for young people to become “intentional disciples.” To be convinced by Christ and for Christ and, so, to convince others.
What can Archbishop Eamon bring to the Church in Ireland?
I think Archbishop Eamon can be a unifying force within the Church in Ireland. He is orthodox and a stout defender of the Church’s teaching and place in the public square. But he is not overly ideological. I think he will be able to bring people together in the Church and dialogue and build bridges with people who have a different vision of the Church.
If you could give Archbishop Martin any advice in terms of what he should do, what would you say? Any ideas on how people might be introduced to the Gospel?
I love the line from Mother Teresa where she says she has learnt the paradox of life, love until it hurts then there is no more hurt only love…I would say reach out, evangelize until it hurts…push the limits, get out constantly to the public square, to where young people are, expect nothing, but keep reminding them of Christ who is waiting for them. Keep challenging society…keep reminding people that something more is needed.