16/11/10 Pope John Paul II Awards Address

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POPE JOHN PAUL II AWARDS

Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
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Mansion House, 16th November 2010

As a Bishop one of my greatest concerns is the lack of interaction between the Church and young people.  I refer in particular to the lack of contact between young people and their parishes.   This is a concern shared by many within the Catholic Church and indeed within other Christian confessions.

How do we react?   It is interesting that the first thing we do is to look around to find someone or something to blame.  We blame secularism, we blame scandals in the Church; it may be simply a question that young people have so many commitment between their academic life and sport that they do not have time for Church activity.   It may be that our Churches and the way we worship are not attractive to young people.

In all this analysis we tend to look for the blame and the solutions everywhere without talking with young people themselves.  Our young people today are if anything more idealistic, generous and committed than in the past. The answers to the question of dialogue between young people and the Church has to begin with listening to young people and showing them that the Church wants them to take responsibility within the Church itself for their faith life and formation, and that the Church is willing to facilitate their taking on that responsibility.

That is one of the reasons why I am happy to be present here on this occasion of the launch of the Pope John Paul II awards in the Archdiocese of Dublin.  It is a project that places young people at its centre.  I congratulate the Order of the Knights of Saint Columbanus for this initiative.  I congratulate Catholic Youth Care for launching it in Dublin diocese.  I congratulate and thank all of you present here.

Young people are idealistic but idealism needs focus.  Young people are trapped in two worlds, indeed in many different worlds.  Alongside their idealism, they belong to the society in which they live, where power and possession and celebrity are considered the signs of success.  Inevitably that dominant culture shapes part of their identity and vision of life and rightly so.   Young people want to be successful and being successful in today’s society will not be attained without the risk of rubbing alongside negative aspects of the current culture.

We need to find counter-cultural examples within our Church: witnesses – especially young witnesses – to show that consumer values do not have to have a monopoly on our lives. Power and possession are attractive, but not absolutes.

I have rarely in my life been involved in difficulties with the police.   One such occasion is very much in my mind in these days.  About fifteen years ago I was on a mission from the Vatican in Burma.  One of the first things I did on my arrival was to be asked to be shown the house where Aun Sang Suu Kyi was under house arrest. Doing so did not involve any great de-tour from our route.  We drove past the house discretely, without wanting to draw any attention, without even slowing down our speed.  Five minutes later we got back to the Archbishop’s residence, to find heavily-armed and angry police and military already there telling us in very clear terms that we should not have done such a thing and suggesting that we might be heading home earlier than we imagined.

Aun Sang Suu Kyi was under house arrest for fifteen of the past twenty years.  She was and is a person of principle.  Who will be remembered in history, this clear minded woman of principle, or the military leaders who had all the power?  Power is not the only way to be successful.  Power without principle is a dangerous combination in Burma, in Ireland – anywhere.   Principle may lack the trappings of power, but can leave those with all the trappings of power anxious and in fear.

I said that I was concerned about the lack of contact between young people and the Church.  You might ask, how can you say that when in this diocese over 90% of primary schools are under your patronage as Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and most young people attend either Catholic voluntary secondary schools or schools with guaranteed Catholic ethos?    Somewhere there are fault lines in a system of Catholic education which does not foster a real relationship between young people and their parish faith community.

The Christian faith is not an ideology or spirituality or a value system which I can adopt personally as an inspiration of life.  The Father of the Church Tertullian who notes that: “The Christian alone is no Christian”.  Being a Christian is about being a member of a believing and worshipping community.  The characteristic of the early Church, we read in the Acts of the Apostles, was that they gathered.  They gathered to listen to the teaching of the apostles and for the celebration of the Eucharist and that sacramental gathering gave rise to a different form of community, one in which all things were shared.   Eucharist is communion with Christ, but also with one another.

We need renewal in our system of Catholic education.  We need renewal in our parishes.  We need a strong injection of the generosity and idealism of our young people as an integral part of that renewal.  I hope that the John Paul II Awards will become a strong starting point in that renewal.

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