Dublin Event Seen as Source of Renewal for Church in Ireland

Archbishop Martin on the Abuse Crisis and Youths Catechetical Needs

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By Ann Schneible

DUBLIN, Ireland, JUNE 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- While never forgetting the sins of the past, says Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the renewal of the Catholic Church in Ireland will depend upon the catechetical formation of the youth, and the redirecting of Catholics to the Eucharistic center of their faith.

The 50thInternational Eucharistic Congress, which is taking place in Archbishop Martin’s archdiocese this week, is seen as an important step toward bringing about renewal in the Church of Ireland. It is of particular relevance, moreover, that the Congress is being hosted in Dublin, where many cases of clerical abuse of children have come to light in recent years, fueling the already existing crisis within the Church in Ireland.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, primate of Ireland and archbishop of Dublin since 2004, spoke with ZENIT today about the Congress, the crisis in the Church, and the renewal of the Church in Ireland.

ZENIT: What have been your impressions of the Congress thus far?

Archbishop Martin: I think enthusiasm would be the first one. People feel that they are part of something. I think that’s important in the Irish Church because we have gone through difficulties, and of course the Irish Church is a little tired, and needs an element of confidence in itself. The presence of people from different parts of the world will bring a certain sense [of this]. If you go to the World Youth Day, for example, one of the things the young people say as well is that they have found many other people in the same situation. I think you’ve got some of that experience here.

We’re also seeing how different and diverse the Irish Church is; it’s a very catholic Church in that sense. And the fact that, also, the leaders of the other Christian churches have taken part so enthusiastically in the Congress is again an indication of a change that’s taking place in Europe. We’re all facing the same challenges on the secularization in society, and there’s a lot we can do working together.

ZENIT: In the wake of the crisis within the Church of Ireland over the past 20 years, this Congress is, in many ways, seen as a step toward renewal in the Church. There were other sorts of events that could have been considered to achieve this purpose: World Youth Day, for instance, or World Day of the Family. Why was a Eucharistic Congress chosen as the event to bring about this renewal?

Archbishop Martin: I think it was looked on as one possible event, also remembering that World Youth Day moves around from continent to continent. The decision had already been made about the WYD being in Europe the last time, so it wasn’t going to be in Europe for some time to come. That was one of the reasons.

There was also one thing: that in Ireland, the Church was a very dominant figure in society. If you read some of the comments in the Irish media and so on, all their emphasis – when they talk about change in the Church – they’re thinking about changing the role of the Church in society. They offer very little reflection on what exactly the Church is, on the internal renewal of the Church in faith, and on renewal in its Sacramental life. We felt that this was an important dimension: the renewal of structures will never work if there isn’t at the same time the interior renewal in the Church.

It isn’t just a question of the numbers of people attending Mass going down – they’re still high by many standards. It’s the quality of formation in the faith, and development of the faith, that we really need to emphasize in a particular way.

That’s why I think the Year of Faith coming after this Congress, will match in terms of what way we should be moving forward.

ZENIT: One of the main symbols of the Congress is the “Healing Stone,” upon which is inscribed a prayer composed by a victim of clerical abuse. How do the survivors of clerical abuse feel about hosting this Congress here in Dublin?

Archbishop Martin: Some are not happy. But it’s very hard to generalize about victims. There are different types of victims; there were victims in institutions, and there are also those who were victimized by individual priests. Each of them has an individual story.

There are present at the Congress quite a number of victims who are here. They are not going around with a sticker saying “I’m a victim,” but they are part of what’s going on. Then there are others who are so alienated from the Church that anything will only anger them, and that’s part of their history.

But what we’ve tried to do is to re-express the type of repentance that has been going on in the Irish Church. At the same time, that repentance will only have value if the Church reforms and renews itself and becomes active in doing what it’s supposed to be doing.

ZENIT: There has been frequent reference to the crisis in the Church throughout the Congress. However, the Eucharist is center of our faith, and the focal point of this Congress. How can the Church help to redirect the focus of faithful Catholics from the abuse crisis – without forgetting it – to the Eucharistic center of the faith?

Archbishop Martin: It would be wrong in any way to give the impression that we’re saying that the abuse crisis is over, that we should forget about that, and put it in a safe and lock it up. That isn’t the case. There are still many other stories to be told that haven’t been told. Those who have been abused carry the abuse for the rest of their lives, and one has to be sensitive to that.

But the renewal of the Church will have to look at [the crisis]. Some people will say, “let’s not talk about it.” But it’s only when the truth about the past comes out that you will be able to face the future.

On the technical levels of safeguarding children and introducing norms, that’s all been done, and it’s been done reasonably well, and is being consistently verified and examined.

Yet the renewal in the faith is something much broader; our systems are not really reaching out to young people. The 1,000 young people at the Taize gathering the other evening again shows the fact that there are many young people there who are looking, for example, for silence; they’re looking at the idea of what prayer means to them, and I don’t think we’re doing enough of that. The formation in the faith that was given in the schools was very bookish, and didn’t necessarily give them that experience of what an encounter with Jesus Christ means.

ZENIT: Yes, a significant number of young people have attended the youth programs this week, especially on Monday evening, even though Irish schools are in a period of exams. What are your thoughts on this? Also, what is being done to promote catechetical renewal in the diocese and in the Church of Ireland?

Archbishop Martin: We have this new catechetical directory for Ireland: “Spread the Good News.” It’s a broad-reaching program for faith development. It doesn’t just stress what’s going on in schools between the age of 6 and 18, but what’s going on outside the schools.

Our parishes are not sufficiently open to young people. There are some parishes that don’t really have any strong youth movement beyond what’s in the schools, and this is a huge lack. We have to regain this idea of building, within our parishes, communities of young people who feel that they belong, are welcome, are part of the Church, and are shown that they really have something to give to the Church.

I keep saying that this isn’t the seven-day wonder. We’re not going to change the Irish Church in a week.

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