By Sarah Mac Donald - 31 December, 2014
Recalling the media’s coverage of the Irish Church in the immediate period before his appointment in 2011, Archbishop Charles Brown said it was “entirely negative” and all about the clerical abuse scandals.
“Obviously the only contact I would have had with Ireland before I arrived in 2011 was through the media and that painted a very bleak picture of the situation of the Church.”
However, the Nuncio told CatholicIreland.net that one of the things that immediately struck him as he got to know the country was the “beautiful reservoir of faith and catholic practice in Ireland”.
“I think it is safe to say that the practice of the faith in Ireland today continues to be higher than almost any other European country or perhaps any European country.”
A “bedrock of faith” and “love for the Church” has survived in spite of all the difficulties and there is a desire to bring the Church forward into the 21st century, he suggested.
Archbishop Brown also spoke about his role as Dean of Diplomatic Corps in Ireland, which means that he is number one in terms of precedence within the diplomatic community in Ireland.
The New York-born Archbishop will deliver the New Year’s greetings on behalf of the 55 ambassadors based in Dublin to President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin at the end of the January.
“I speak on their behalf,” he explained. “When an ambassador is leaving Ireland, I organise the gift that the other ambassadors give him and I give a speech for his farewell departure reception.”
“Countries can chose the Dean either by pure seniority and that means whoever has been in the capital longest or the Vienna Convention on Diplomacy allows a country to choose the Nuncio as the Dean regardless of how long he has been here. So if I stay here long enough I will be the Dean also by seniority – and it won’t be that much longer….!”
Asked about what he sees as the priorities for the Irish church, the Papal Nuncio said Pope Francis had emphasised the need to ‘go out’.
“He wants us to get out of our comfort zone and to bring Christ to a world that is thirsty for God. He wants us to leave our sacristies and bring Christ to people, especially people who are on the margins – people who are hurting, who are suffering, people who have been hurt by the Church – to get out and bring Christ to them. I think that is the priority here in Ireland.”
He continued, “To go out and announce Christ to Irish society and not feel constrained or caged in our own little ecclesiastical comfort zone. But to engage society and present the beauty of Christ and the wonderful nature of Catholic faith to the world around us.”
The Nuncio also identified the sacrament of confession as another priority.
“Pope Francis is very big on the sacrament of confession. We need to do our best to make confession available to people – that encounter with Christ in the intimacy of confession is incredibly life-changing for people.”
Archbishop Brown also highlighted that vocations are also a priority.
“We need more vocations to the priesthood; this is a priority of the bishops and something obviously I share. I talk about vocations when I go out to parishes. We need young women who want to give their lives to Christ as consecrated Religious and we need young men who want to follow Christ as priests.”
Archbishop Brown spent Christmas in upstate New York with his mother and his brother’s family.
He has 21 nieces and nephews and was able to spend Christmas with three of them. He also celebrated Christmas services at a small country church, covering for a parish priest who oversees three parishes in the area.
Of his eight great grandparents, five of them were from Ireland.