“We as a Church need to restore our confidence that we have a message which is solid. Our house is built on rock,” Archbishop Eamon Martin, president of Irish bishops’ conference says, noting: “If we can in some way help our young people to discover the foundations, the fundamentals of faith and its values, this will be of great help to them in the future”
In an interview with Catholic World Report, Archbishop Eamon Martin, head of the Archdiocese of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, reflected on the upcoming Synod on Young People, to be held October 3-28 at the Vatican. The Irish prelate was interviewed in Poznan, Poland, during the Plenary Assembly of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), September 13-16.
Speaking to CWR, he reflected on the Pope’s recent August 25-26 visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families and discussed his hopes for the upcoming synod, as well as for the planned February 2019 summit on the protection of minors and vulnerable adults in the Vatican.
CWR: What are your most vivid memories of the Pope’s visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families? What left an impression?
Archbishop Eamon Martin: First of all, it is important to remember that when the Pope came to Ireland it was fundamentally because of the World Meeting of Families. For me, his interaction with families is what stands out. I think, for example, of his presence in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin with over 300 young couples who had just been married, or were just preparing for marriage.
And there he was a caring pastor, a teacher, listening to their questions, to their testimonies, and offering them encouragement and perspective on family life. Then, he went to the Festival of Families in Dublin, where he was greeted with great joy and enthusiasm. Clearly, he relished being with families. You could see that in his testimony and his interaction with various families from around the world. You could see he was empathetic. He understood family.
His ability to relate to the survivors of abuse and his ability to go into the Capuchin day center with homeless people shows that he is not insensitive to the suffering and struggles, the deep hurts, that there are within some families. This is what stands out for me. He is a pope of the family and a pope for families.
CWR: As we know, things have changed since the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979 for the centenary of the apparition at Knock. Among many other changes, gay marriage was legalized, along with abortion recently, when the 8th Amendment was repealed. How do Irish families manage still to proclaim the Gospel of the Family, despite some of the changes that have happened in their country?
Archbishop Martin: As you can imagine, the results of the recent referendums came as a jolt to those of us who were proclaiming the Gospel of Life and the Gospel of the Family. But I found that the World Meeting of Families was the first opportunity for people of faith to gather together and say to each other: we are still here. We may be a minority in Ireland, but we can be a creative minority. And we can be a voice in society that still holds family and life as very important values, not just for the Church but indeed for society itself. I am hoping that the presence of so many people at the World Meeting of Families, along with so many others from all over the world, can be truly an opportunity to recall the beauty of the family. A large number of people joined us, some 10,000 or so delegates from all over the world, of which about 20 percent were under 18. It was really an opportunity for families to affirm the importance of the message of the family and the message of life, albeit in a very different world.
CWR: The Holy Father encouraged the bishops in their path for purification and reconciliation. What would you tell those protesting the events, citing scandals that have plagued the Church?
Archbishop Martin: It was difficult for us. The World Meeting of Families was overshadowed in some way by the reality and trauma of abuse, and the ongoing hurts, and the sense of betrayal and breakdown in trust, which has always been there, but which came to the fore at this particular moment. But it reminds me that, in some ways, we need to walk into the future, conscious of our past—we cannot relegate it to the past. Some people say to me, can we draw a line under the past? And I think that what happened in Ireland during August really confirmed to me that we must walk forward in the future, but never forgetting and never letting go of the shame, really, and of the lessons that need to be learned.
We must continue along the lines that we are going with—very stringent norms for the protection of children—but at the same time to never forget the needs of survivors.
We need to remember that sometimes people who have been abused—they never really move on. For a while their hurt and sense of betrayal may calm, but it is always there and it is easily rekindled. When the stories came out from America with the Pennsylvania report about the abuse cases, and then of course the Vigano letter, which came on the very last day of the World Meeting of Families, it reminds us that we need to move on, carrying the past with us, but being careful that it does not obscure the light of the Gospel, or it does not entirely extinguish our hope. I think Pope Francis, by the way he was present to this issue in Ireland—he never forgot about it, he mentioned it many times—but at the same time he was able to still inspire hope and confidence in the hope of the future. We learn from him.
CWR: Much has been done to achieve safeguarding and prevention of abuse in Ireland in recent years…
Archbishop Martin: Yes. I think that safeguarding is about minimizing risk, and the sorts of factors which maximize risk are silence and trying to avoid scandal by not dealing with issues properly. These are the things that the Church in Ireland has had to learn from its mistakes, and perhaps this is an area where we will be able to speak to the broader Church in February when we have the meeting in Rome.
CWR: What is the February summit’s meaning for you?
Archbishop Martin: Basically, to share our story, share our misperceptions at the beginning, our tendency towards silence, toward denial—that this is a real issue. So when the Church tries to disseminate the lessons of countries like Ireland, United States, Australia, Britain, Germany, we need to disseminate these lessons throughout the Church, because believe me some areas in the world will still be in the place we were in 30 years ago, a place of denial, trying to preserve the Church from scandal, not realizing that what we were really doing was stirring up a far greater scandal for the future.
CWR: I visited Knock—it was so beautiful and the devotion there was so strong. What does Knock mean for the Irish people?
Archbishop Martin: I actually think there was something significant about Knock this year. It was Sunday morning and we literally got up, had breakfast, and flew to Knock. During that night, the Vigano letter had come out. And even though I did not speak to the Holy Father about it, I was very conscious that he probably was aware [of it]. When he arrived in Knock, first of all he was greeted by tens of thousands of people who had been waiting for him there, but his attitude was of almost a solemn silence. He went into the Apparition Chapel and he knelt down and we had five full minutes of silent prayer…and it created amongst the very huge crowd a very real silence. What was really beautiful for me, [something] a lot of people probably did not realize, [is] that when Mary appeared at Knock, she was silent. She did not speak. Unlike many of the other great apparitions of the world, Mary spoke by her presence…. Therefore, the Holy Father’s silence at Knock spoke volumes for me about how we should approach all of these issues that are really causing great tensions in the Church at this time.
CWR: The Synod for Young People is taking place soon in the Vatican. What are your hopes for the synod?
Archbishop Martin: I think we need to be conscious of the great pressures that young people are under, and that will come across at the synod, no doubt, as we hear the stories about young people throughout the world, from Europe to Asia to Africa to the Americas and other places. I truly believe that young people today are looking for something solid, they are looking for stepping stones, for scaffolding, something they can hold onto in this sort of postmodern world, where they are floundering with so many contradictory messages pulling them this way and that way. We as a Church need to restore our confidence that we have a message which is solid. Our house is built on rock. If we can in some way help our young people to discover the foundations, the fundamentals of faith and its values, this will be of great help to them in the future.