Putting ‘fresh heart’ into the Church

The task of bringing the encouragement of faith to modern Ireland belongs to all believers, says Archbishop Eamon Martin

There is a line in the letter to the Hebrews: “Every day, as long as this today lasts, keep encouraging one another” (Heb 3:13). Much of my life as a priest has been about encouraging people with the Good News of Jesus Christ, offering them ‘fresh heart’, even in the most troubled moments of life. But equally I have discovered that, as well as giving encouragement, I too need to receive encouragement.

I am blessed with a wonderful family and very special friends who never stop encouraging me. I am very grateful also for the warmth of support, welcome and prayers, not just today, but every day since I came to Armagh, 16 months ago.

I genuinely feel honoured to assume the role of ‘shepherd’ in the Archdiocese of Armagh. I look forward to serving the people of 61 parishes in the counties of Armagh, Derry, Louth and Tyrone.

I feel humbled to be following in the footsteps of St Patrick and, like him, I pray for “God’s strength to pilot me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s shield to protect me”.

Over the past 16 months, I have been encouraged and inspired by the enthusiasm of our young people and the dedication of our teachers, the commitment and pastoral care given by our priests and religious and the willingness of so many people to become actively involved in the life of their parishes and diocese.

I was ordained a bishop just a month after the election of Pope Francis. I chose my episcopal motto to be: ‘Sing a New Song to the Lord’, because I think we are all being challenged nowadays to find fresh ways of bringing the Gospel into the world. Pope Francis inspires us to write that new song in a ‘missionary key’, and reach out to everyone in society with the love and friendship of Jesus.

People have been asking me to put ‘fresh heart’ into the renewal of the Church in this country. But I am only one person with all my inadequacies and sinfulness. The task of bringing the encouragement of faith to the world belongs to all of us – people, priests, religious sisters and brothers, bishops – working together in communion with Christ and with one another. I am certain that a humble renewal in the Church in Ireland will only come about as our lay people exercise their specific vocation and mission to hand on the faith and to insert the Gospel into the reality of their daily lives and work.

I pray that my heart can be more like the Heart of Jesus, burning with love for everyone. Not far from all of us today are people who feel isolated or lonely; people whose hearts are heavy with worry, illness or anxiety; perhaps someone whose heart is broken by grief or loss; a man or woman whose heart has grown colder because of some cruelty or emptiness in their lives, past or present.

Every day, then, as long as this today lasts, let us keep encouraging one another with the love and compassion of Christ.

This is an edited version of the remarks Archbishop Eamon Martin made on his succession as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland.