LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s Church is facing a “growing alienation” from the country’s young people, according to the Archbishop of Dublin.
“Numbers attending Mass are down right across Ireland. People are struck when they go to Mass in a parish at which there is a substantial presence of young people or young families,” said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.
The archbishop, who is the Primate of Ireland, made his comments on July 1 while celebrating a Mass marking the 100th anniversary of the Columban Missionaries, an Irish order of priests.
“The crisis of the Irish Church is more than about of a lack of vocations. The bigger crisis is that of the growing alienation between young people and the Church and indeed the growing distance between young people and the relevance of the teaching of Jesus Christ,” Martin said.
“Priests find it hard to communicate with young people about religious matters. The same is true of Christian parents who day after day struggle in seeking to transmit something of their own sense of faith and prayer to their children. Yet they are truly proud of the great sense of idealism and goodness, of justice and care of their children,” he said.
The archbishop was speaking less than two months before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, taking place Aug. 22-26 in Dublin.
Once of the most Catholic countries in Europe, revelations about clerical sexual abuse have left public confidence in the Church at its lowest level in history.
On May 25, over two-thirds of voters approved a referendum to remove pro-life protections from the country’s constitution; this was three years after another referendum, backed by 62 percent of the voters, legalized same-sex marriage in Ireland.
Recently, Martin was involved in a public dispute with a government minister after she called for the Church to ordain women, a stance which later gained the endorsement of the country’s prime minister.
During his homily on Sunday, the archbishop reminded his listeners that “the message of Jesus is always a message that challenges us to rise above conformity.”
Martin noted that when the Columban family was founded in 1918, Ireland was also experiencing an existential crisis.
“Our insecurity today about Brexit fades into the shade with the uncertainty and insecurity that existed in Ireland in June 1918. It was only two years after 1916 [when the Republic of Ireland was declared]. The horror of First World War had not yet ended. Ireland was divided. Negotiations regarding future independence were underway but still uncertain. The possibility for the first time of a border on the island of Ireland lurked on the horizon. Economically, Ireland was at its poorest, both in urban and rural communities,” said the archbishop.
Given these problems, Martin said it was “remarkable” that a group of priests would have chosen such a “far-seeing sense of what mission means.”
“We have to learn the lesson that renewal in the Church comes when the Church rises above being locked within its own cares and rediscovers its call to reach out and be missionary,” he said.
Martin said as Ireland prepares to welcome the pope for the World Meeting of Families, “we have to come back to that sense of not being trapped in the crisis of the moment and dreaming again of an openness to being truly missionary disciples.”