The cleric set to become the next head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has pledged to work to heal the wounds of those who have lost trust in the institution.
Eamon Martin delivered a call for renewal in the church as he was ordained into an interim post ahead of eventually succeeding current Primate of All Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady.
The Derry-born former teacher today became Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh and will act as an assistant to Cardinal Brady for at least another two years.
The 52-year-old takes up his new post after a period of unprecedented turmoil for the church in Ireland, during which its influence has been damaged by a series of clerical child abuse scandals.
At his ordination ceremony in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh this afternoon - during which a letter endorsing his appointment signed by former Pope Benedict was read to the congregation – the new Coadjutor Archbishop reiterated his belief that the time had come to ’sing a new song to The Lord’.
“Of course there are some who will not want to listen,” he said.
“There are others too who have been so hurt and betrayed in the past, that understandably they find themselves unable to trust our message.
“That is why we must continue, as Pope Benedict XVI exhorted us in his letter, ’to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body’, and persevere in our efforts to bind those wounds and heal them.”
Archbishop Martin said he felt a whole mixture of emotions on being chosen to take up the role.
“Excitement, nervousness, a sense of my unworthiness and inadequacy,” he said.
The cleric then referred to Pope Francis’s call for the church to reach out to people.
“Pope Francis has spoken recently about the need to ’go out of ourselves’, beyond our usual comfort zones to the ’edges of our existence’,” he said.
“It is there, he says, that we meet the poor, the forgotten, the disillusioned.
“And there we must sing our new song in a way which will speak to the reality of their daily lives, with all their hurts and burdens and troubles. The only way we can do that is by singing about God’s mercy and love for each one of us personally.
“That is what the new song is about – it is a song of love, that God unconditionally loves each one of us, despite our sinfulness and imperfections, and that the Lamb of God, who suffered and died to take away the sins of the world, has mercy on us.
“The singing of the new song is not simply a task for bishops, priests and religious. It belongs to all God’s people. We are all called to holiness and to mission.
“During this Year of Faith, I pray for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Ireland, enkindling the fire of God’s love in the hearts of all the faithful! My brothers and sisters, we need you to share in the renewal and new evangelisation that is at the very heart of the Church’s mission.
“Sing the new song of the Lord with your hearts and your lives, by witnessing to Christ in your families and workplaces, and in the new mission fields of media, culture, business and politics.”
He added: “Of course we must all be sure that it is the Lord’s song that we are singing, and not simply our own composition with a catchy rhythm and some clever lyrics. And we must sing in harmony with one another as people, priests, religious and bishops.
“Our new song must never dilute the strength of Christ’s message but must capture faithfully the timeless truth of the Gospel. And that can only happen if we live in communion with Christ and with one another, and if we gather regularly to be nourished by God’s word and the sacraments.”
Cardinal Brady, 73, has led the church in Ireland for more than 16 years as a series of investigations exposed damning levels of clerical abuse.
He himself was at the centre of the mishandling of allegations about paedophile priest Brendan Smyth dating back to 1975.
As a 36-year-old teaching priest and canon law expert, he interviewed two child victims and – despite being made aware of further allegations – did not alert the parents of potential victims or police.
Last May he said he would not resign over the affair but apologised to the victims.
He had requested in 2010 that Pope Benedict XVI appoint an assistant to the Armagh Archdiocese in a sign that reputational damage had been done.
Cardinal Brady welcomed his new assistant to the role and offered his support.
“Today, with great joy, the diocese of Armagh gathers with you, Monsignor Eamon, in the words of your chosen motto, to ’Sing a new song to the Lord’,” he said.
“We come to offer you our support, friendship, and prayers as you answer the call to come, among us and for us, as our Bishop.”