Dublin's Coadjutor Points to Evangelization as a Priority

Interview With Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

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ROME, AUG. 31, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Coadjutor Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is coming home to Dublin. And he has a plan.



Formerly the Vatican's permanent observer at the United Nations in Geneva, he is returning to settle in his native town after three decades abroad.

On Saturday, Cardinal Desmond Connell, the 77-year-old archbishop of Dublin, received the new coadjutor during a solemn Mass in the Pro-Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. A coadjutor usually becomes the head of the diocese when its bishop retires or dies.

Archbishop Martin says his plan for Dublin is to promote evangelization activity, especially among young people, and the participation of all the faithful in the life of the Church.

In this interview, given to the Web page www.korazym.org while he was still in Italy, Archbishop Martin, 58, talked about the challenges facing the Church in Ireland.

Q: You return to Ireland, to Dublin, your city, after having spent 30 years outside, at the service of the universal Church. How do you feel about returning to your diocese?

Archbishop Martin: I think no one was as surprised as I was when I was called to take on this service in the diocese of Dublin. Of course I saw my name in the newspapers, but in reality I could not believe that they would have actually appointed me, after having lived such a long time far from my country, Ireland. So I return to my country to rediscover Ireland.

When I came to Rome 30 years ago, for further theological studies, there was no direct telephone line to Dublin. Today, Internet exists; I can read the headlines of the most important Irish newspapers from my house, but with the passing of time I have lost contact with the reality of Irish life and of the Church in Dublin.

I left the capital after spending seven years in the seminary, so I remember Irish life and society as it was at the time of my adolescence. I left the country in the '60s. Since then, there have been numerous and important changes in Irish culture which I will now have to learn.

I left an extremely poor Ireland, with a high rate of unemployment and a high emigration factor. Today, instead, the country lives in a situation of greater prosperity; it is a better Ireland, in which poverty has decreased.

Q: Over the last 50 years, there have been events that have marked the progress of the Catholic Church in Ireland, for example, the Second Vatican Council II, the encyclical "Humanae Vitae" of Paul VI, the extraordinary growth of the country -- some describe it as the Celtic Tiger. And then there are the scandals suffered by the Church in Ireland. What is the present situation?

Archbishop Martin: The influence of Vatican Council II is certainly one of the major events that has transformed the Ireland of the 20th century.

It began a vast process of change which has developed through a plural society present in Ireland, a change that the Church itself has experienced. I believe that the effects of Vatican Council II have been, perhaps, greater in Ireland than in other countries, because they referred not only to the Church, but also to the role of the Church in society and therefore, to the society itself.

On many occasions I have said that since my entrance in the seminary in 1962, to my exit six years later, the Church had changed, and so has Ireland. I remember that during a meeting with Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, he said to me: "What you said is true; we are living a time of intense change for the Church."

This is one of the examples of what fidelity means. Fidelity does not mean to be encapsulated in something of the present, but to be open to accept what is new, remaining faithful to Jesus' message; also in the changes suffered in time and society.

I think that at the present moment, one of the most important things for the Church in general and for the Church in Ireland in particular, which has suffered and is still suffering rapid transformations, is to analyze how a community can be formed that unites people in the message of Christ.

Q: Scandals attributed to priests have created a difficult situation for the Church. What lessons can be learned?

Archbishop Martin: Some time ago, I was asked to write a message in this connection, as a priest of my diocese. I underline the concept of humility, because I think there is a difference between a humiliated Church and a Church that is humble in its style. I think that a Church that is humble in its way of being is much more effective in the present world, also because it is closer to the message of Jesus Christ.

In the past, the Church was far more authoritarian, in some cases in an abusive way, lacking in respect for people's autonomy. I think we must avoid any kind of authoritarianism and also a certain kind of clericalism. This means, moreover, to be totally open to the universal Church, which seeks to involve an ever-greater number of participants in religious life.

Some research shows that the number of people who, with the exception of the Mass, have an active part in the life of the Church is not as high as it is in Ireland. Personally, I have been very fortunate because since I was young I participated actively in the life of the Church, together with other young people. I worked in an institution that took care of prisoners in England.

I think that also today, young people must take on responsibilities, including in the realm of the ecclesial reality itself. From what I have been told, the number of young people who participate in the life of the Church in Ireland is decreasing dramatically.

I don't think that young people, in Ireland and to a degree in other places, are not seeking profound and concrete answers for their lives, just as I don't believe that they are strangers to the message of Christ. Rather, I think there is an urgent need to contemplate new forms of evangelization for young people, and when I say evangelization I am not referring simply to something passive, but to something capable of making young people understand the richness of the message of Jesus Christ in their concrete lives.

Q: Hundreds of Irish young people, from different dioceses in the country, participated in Toronto's World Youth Day. They expressed great openness and a strong desire to work for the Church. Many of them, however, manifested the desire to see a Church increasingly open to young people. What is your opinion?

Archbishop Martin: One of the advantages of being archbishop coadjutor is precisely to have time to go out and see and listen to the needs of each parish, institution or movement, in order to understand the role of young people in each situation. It is exactly what I will do!

Q: What do you think of the role of the laity in the Church?

Archbishop Martin: I trust that from my introductory address during the welcome ceremony in Dublin, the importance that I wish to give to the whole diocesan community will be understood.

I hope there will be a strong participation by young people, women, and what I call "the new Ireland," because today Ireland is a multicultural country and many immigrants are Catholics, but they are still not properly integrated in Irish society.

And if we wish to talk about evangelization we must likewise talk about the interreligious dimension to understand how there can be growth thanks to the other religions and cultures.

Q: Following your appointment to Dublin, you received positive reactions in Ireland for having said that during your mandate you would work to help the victims of violence and abuse on the part of the clergy.

Archbishop Martin: The phenomenon of abuses and violence is very grave. I have known people whose love for the Church is so strong that they have been able to surmount this time of crisis and forgive the Church, despite their experience.

I have known other people, however, who still harbor interiorly strong resentment. I think the Church must put it all behind and start again, strengthened by these negative experiences. I hope that the latter group of people will understand that they have not been abandoned by the Church and can find trust in it.

Q: Ireland has always been considered as a land of solidarity for those who suffer, and the Irish have shown themselves solidaristic and generous in offering assistance to the needy: countries of Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Considering your international experience and your work in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome, for many your appointment in Dublin will give hope that Ireland will continue to be linked with solidarity. In this connection, what message would you like to give?

Archbishop Martin: I think that it is extremely important to continue in this line. For me, poverty is the inability to realize human potential. But if God has given us the potential, we must make use of it. Inability to realize it impedes men from fulfilling what the Lord wants for each one of us.

The most important means to combat poverty is to work in such a way that each individual can realize his own potential. In this connection, for example, there are numerous organizations in Ireland that try to combat poverty. One of the most famous is Trócaire.

Q: Is Trócaire an offspring of Vatican II?

Archbishop Martin: Yes, and together with Trócaire, there are many other organizations that are carrying out great work in this field. Also, many NGOs, with less specific tasks, play a significant role.

Moreover, I must stress another important point. The Irish government carries out a clear development policy whose objective is to allocate 0.7% of the gross national product to international cooperation. The contribution of the Church must not be forgotten either.

Q: What will be the priorities of your mission?

Archbishop Martin: My first objective will be to listen and to meet the people of the diocese to renew old contacts, to understand the reality experienced by Dublin. Moreover, I will analyze, together with Cardinal Connell -- who continues as archbishop of the city -- how to reinforce the structures at the disposition of the Church in Ireland in order to begin with the subject of evangelization.

[Translation by ZENIT]