Archbishop Charles J. Brown, the Vatican’s diplomatic envoy (papal nuncio) to Ireland, believes the young people of Ireland are leading a rebirth of the Catholic Church in the country.
Originally from New York, Brown has been the Vatican’s representative in Ireland since 2011. Brown said after 20 years of winter Ireland’s Catholic Church is entering a springtime and he sees “green shoots.”
In a video interview (see below) he said, “You see a renewed enthusiasm among young Catholics in Ireland now.”
Brown was deployed to Ireland in November 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI, just when the Irish government had closed its embassy to the Holy See. He was tasked with repairing the relationship between the Irish and the Catholic Church that had been so badly soured by the sexual abuse crisis in Ireland.
A priest of the Archdiocese of New York, Browne has worked for the Holy See since 1994 in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that also dealt with the child abuse scandals.
The Archbishop said that part of that mission was to go out and meet the Irish, be among the people, and “hear about their dreams and hopes for the future also to listen to their stories of sadness and difficulty.”
Not previously trained as a diplomat he said his position has been challenging, but he has placed his trust in God.
He told the Catholic New Service, “You look at the great history of the church in Ireland, the saints, its 15 centuries of faith, and you realize how inadequate you are to play a role in the continuation of that.
“Those are moments that pass. The biggest challenge is not to focus on ourselves and difficulties but keep our eyes focused on Christ, God made man. Then all things are possible.”
Brown said he’s been cheered by the new generation of Irish Catholics, those studying for the priesthood at St. Patrick’s College, the national seminary in Maynooth, or the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.
He said they will “lead the church forward into the next decade.”
He told the Catholic News Service that Ireland’s young Catholics represent what is best in the tradition of Vatican II, “the idea of communicating the ancient unchanging faith in a new, vibrant and attractive way.”
He added that women are “the heart of the church” and should assume a role in administration “even in Holy See. I’d be very surprised if we don’t see that happen under Pope Francis.”
Brown also welcomed the new generation of “very impressive” female theologians, however he added that priestly vocations, which continue to be low in Ireland, are crucial to the renewal of the Catholic Church.