The Student Christian Movement of Ireland organised a conference for students on issues of faith and society in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute from 4 to 6 March. The conference, entitled ‘Progressive Faith in a Wounded World: Reviving the Gentle Revolution in Ireland’, sought to understand the current developments in the spiritual and religious practice of young Christians in Ireland. Vlado Kmec, a doctoral candidate at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin, attended the conference and has written a guest post about the presentation there by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin.
Archbishop Martin’s progressive view on progressive faith in wounded Ireland: Guest Post by Vlado Kmec
The conference featured presentations by theologians and church practitioners such as the Most Reverend Dr Diarmuid Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Andrew Pierce from the Irish School of Ecumenics, Dr Mary Condren from the Institute for Feminism and Religion, and brother Richard Hendrick from the Sanctuary. Their presentations, together with challenging conversations, ennobling talks and other interactive activities, provided a forum for an open and encouraging discussion on youth and religiosity in the contemporary Irish society. In this article, I focus on the presentation of archbishop Dr Diarmuid Martin.
In his keynote, archbishop Martin questioned "whether Ireland has lost its soul". He is convinced that this is not really true. There still is "too much generosity and goodness", he argued.
Instead, what Ireland’s Christianity needs in order to become a vibrant community of believers is a change. The church has to become a place of interaction. A dialogue between faith and progress is crucial for the church to become an interactive place. The church has to take seriously the developments of the contemporary society. As an example, he pointed out that the Vatican website that contains a myriad of uploaded texts from previous centuries, but said that "there is no interaction". He also noted that structures are not sufficient. Motivation and commitment of individuals are more needed.
Archbishop Martin was right while claiming that Ireland has not lost its soul. Generosity and goodness are still here. Interaction and consequent dialogue between faith and progress is what is only missing. Nonetheless, I would say that interaction is present in the Irish society. Irish people are the most interactive people and nation I have ever met. While commuting by the Dublin’s dart to the city centre during rush hours, I have often been approached by Irish people in a nice conversation. I am from Slovakia and have travelled widely, and I can attest that this would never happen in another capital city in the world.
It seems for me that the only problem of the church is its structures which have been unable to accommodate this interaction – the problem that was also highlighted by archbishop. Most importantly, the changing Irish society has urged Irish people to interact not only with their native fellows and members of their religious communities, but also with foreigners and people from different religions. What is needed is that the church structures find ways to accommodate the existing and new forms of interaction.
Furthermore, Archbishop Martin highlighted the absence of young people in the life and the activities of the church. According to him, "the failure of the church" to attract young people is the main reason why young people do not involve in church-related activities. He claimed that:
"The church is not able to get the appropriate message to approach young people".
Young people in the current Irish society face an identity crisis, while trying to find out who they are and where they belong. The church has failed in addressing this underlying need of identity formation.
Truly, young people are not present in the life and the work of the church. Also it is true that church has failed to find the appropriate ways of reaching young people and meeting their needs. A conclusive evidence for this is even the fact that many participants of youth events, including the SCM conference, are people who certainly were not in their youth and student age.
I do not want to offend anyone. I really enjoy the presence of experienced people whose contribution can enrich my horizons and knowledge. However, I have been asking myself where all those young people and students have been? I agree with archbishop that appropriate and youth-specific methods, which will address the needs of young people, have to be adopted and implemented in order to attract young people for the life and the work of the church.
Finally, the archbishop concluded with a statement that any change needs time and individuals who can undertake it. He acknowledged that he does not feel to be the right person to do this change, however. Being a protestant, if I correctly understand his position within the hierarchical system of the Catholic church, I would say that especially he is the only person to make changes that he has been talking about. Who else, if not him?
Nonetheless, understanding the complicated dogmatic, liturgical, historical and hierarchical composition of the Catholic church, it becomes clear that a rapid and immediate change is not possible. For me, as an outsider, archbishop Martin is a progressive individual – a man of strong words – who, in the position of clerical status, has said what others would hesitate to express. He seeks to understand the problems that his church and his society are struggling with.
He understands and names these problems correctly. He even knows the methods to solve them. Will he find the courage and the ways to implement these methods and solutions?
Progressive approaches such as the archbishop’s one, can make progressive faith real and capable of healing a wounded society and church. Nonetheless, not only words are needed but also actions to make any change happen. Undoubtedly, churches in Ireland have this potential, but will it be realised?