Monsignor Eamon Martin admits to a “certain sadness” as he readies himself to leave his hometown of Derry to take on his new role as Coadjutor (assistant) Archbishop of Armagh.
However, he says he is looking forward to the new challenge of getting to know a new diocese, new priests and new parishioners.
“It’s like starting all over again,” he told the ‘Journal’ yesterday. “I’ve a whole new family of people to get to know. I’m on a new journey.”
Leaving Derry, he says, is, obviously, tinged with sadness but, as he himself acknowledges, “it’s not as if I’m heading to the other side of the world. After all, it’s only down the road.”
This Sunday, the episcopal ordination of Monsignor Martin (51) will take place in the impressive surroundings of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.
The chief celebrant for the ordination Mass will be Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland - and the man who Eamon Martin is set to succeed as the leader of Ireland’s Catholics.
Monsignor Martin says there are many “personal challenges” facing him as he prepares to relocate to Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital.
“Yes, it’s a big move, in more ways than one. I’m leaving my home, my family, close friends, the priests and Diocese I’ve come to know over the 26 years of my priesthood - so, all in all, it’s a real personal challenge but one that I’m very much looking forward to.
“By the same token, I’m also faced with the challenge of getting to know a new diocese. From Sunday, I will be bishop of a big diocese - comprising 66 parishes and criss-crossing a number of counties on both sides of the border - and the people of Armagh will be looking for me to be their shepherd and, in return, they are my new flock.
“My priority over the next year or so is to get to know these parishes and their people. I want to listen to and hear them. I want to hear what their concerns are, what their views are on the church and their faith, and what, if any, difficulties they may be having living their faith in today’s world.”
The Catholic Church, particularly in Ireland and Europe, says Monsignor Martin, is now operating in a “whole new context.”
“However, what remains key to all this is people’s faith and the personal relationship that each and every one of us has with Jesus Christ and all that he represents. For people today, making real the message of the gospels and the values Jesus stood for is very important. We must try to be authentic to the gospel in a way which is fresh and speaks to people of this age.”
Turning to the “culture of individualism” which pervades much of modern-day culture, Monsignor Martin acknowledges that, while, faith does have a very powerful individual dimension, the “big challenge” facing any form of belief is to bring people together to encourage them to “share their faith in God together.”
“I think 21st century culture is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this aspect of faith sharing - the individual approach to everyone and everything appears to becoming more and more apparent. We almost treat the gospel like a menu where we take the bits that make us feel good but avoid the bits that challenge us.
“Nowadays, alot of people wish to live their lives the way they want to; they don’t want anyone challenging them. But, if you get to know Jesus, he will challenge the way you live your life.
“For example, he will ask you if you are reaching out to the poor or if you’re aware of those begging on the street. There is a huge social justice element to our faith now and, interestingly, Pope Francis has just begun to touch on this very theme, cautioning us against becoming too comfortable with our faith. In other words, imploring us to go out to the very edges of existence where we will find the poor, the forgotten, the marginalised and those who feel betrayed by all institutions, including religious. This is a concept that needs a whole new language and a whole new way of working.”
Turning to the new Pope, Monsignor Martin says he feels “invigorated” by his appointment.
“I think Pope Francis will challenge us to look at the massive inequalities which exist in the world - for example, the fact that 15 per cent of the global population are massively undernourished and underdeveloped while another 15 per cent have most of the world’s resources. This is just one of the big issues facing all of us in the modern world.”
Staying with the Papal theme, Monsignor Martin says he would love Pope Francis to visit Ireland - and to come North of the border.
“I’ve always felt that Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979 was somewhat incomplete because he never came North due to the ‘Troubles’. I would certainly support any call by the Irish bishops for him to come to Ireland and I would love it to be soon. However, at the minute, I’m sure every country in the world is keen for him to visit.”
Turning to the issue of clerical abuse, Monsignor Martin again pledged to do everything he could, with the help of other people, to ensure that the welfare of children and young people was paramount and that the “terrible things” that happened in the past didn’t recur again.
He said he was committed to ensuring that young people were always protected, respected and nurtured.
“I know I can never be complacent. I can’t sit here and say, ‘I have it perfectly right’. Anyone who would say that would be very foolish indeed. All I can do is pledge to learn from whatever decisions I take. I will also be open to people telling me I’m wrong when I’m wrong.
“I think it’s good to have people around you who are prepared to challenge the way you do things. In the past, perhaps, too much control was vested in one person or in a small number of people. Nowadays, however, the whole issue of safeguarding incorporates committed lay representatives and clergy who do great work in promoting a safe and nurturing environment at parish level.
“I’d love to be able to promise you that I will be a perfect person - but I’m not. I’m a human being. I just hope and pray I don’t make mistakes.”
Turning to the controversial issue of celibacy and married priests, Mgr. Martin said that, from a personal point of view, celibacy has been “challenging but also life-giving.”
“I think being a celibate priest gives us an availability to people which we may not have as married men. It allows us to give ourselves completely to our people and the church.
“Celibacy is, in my opinion, something that is very, very valuable and something I would like to see kept in the church into the future.”