The Primate of All Ireland has said the Covid pandemic “lifted the veil” on the reality of the position of the Church in Ireland, observing that it ranked low on the public’s list of priorities.
Speaking at the online launch of a new book, Maynooth College Reflects on Covid-19: New Realities in Uncertain Times, Archbishop Eamon Martin said that despite speaking to government about the importance of public worship ahead of reopening society, it had been “humbling” to realise that “spiritual health, the importance of going to Mass, the importance of being together in worship, didn’t really figure as one of the major issues in the minds of a lot of people”.
But the Archbishop of Armagh noted that surveys have shown that being able to worship and be together has a positive impact on people’s mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and consequently on the common good.
The new book is a response to Archbishop Martin’s call to explore what the Covid crisis is saying about the Church and about prayer and faith, as well as exploring the possible lasting effects of the pandemic on church life. It offers a variety of reflections from the perspectives of theology, Scripture, philosophy, ethics, liturgy, pastoral and canon law.
“So much of what we take for granted as Church was cruelly disrupted and interrupted by this pandemic,” said the archbishop, and he acknowledged how difficult it was to be a leader in the Church at this time and to have the kind of decisiveness that people were sometimes expecting. It was only natural that people would start to ask: “Where is God, where is Church, where is Eucharist?”
To the question: where was the Church during this time, for him it was not inside empty churches, “but out in the daily lives of so many good people, nurses, carers, others – who, motivated by their faith, were going the extra mile to reach out in helping others”.
Professor Salvador Ryan, one of the editors of the new book, said that because of the pandemic a number of issues that have needed to be addressed by the Church in Ireland were now “really being seen in high relief in a way that they haven’t been seen or that we weren’t prepared to see or didn’t want to see or didn’t have time to see” before Covid. He said the pandemic offered the Church “the opportunity to recalibrate, to take stock, and hopefully work towards renewal”.