CARDINAL Sean Brady has pledged his support to his eventual successor as leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, as he was installed as co-adjutor Archbishop of Armagh.
Cardinal Brady – whose tenure as Primate of All-Ireland has been rocked in recent years by controversy over his handling of clerical sex abuse – warned his successor he faced difficult times.
At a ceremony in St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh yesterday, attended by hundreds of priests, bishops and religious leaders, Cardinal Brady said that the task ahead would not be an easy one, but pledged his personal closeness and support as well as that of the clergy, lay faithful, religious men and women and seminarians.
Archbishop Eamon Martin admitted he felt a "whole mixture of emotions about this new calling" including "excitement, nervousness, a sense of my unworthiness and inadequacy".
The 52-year-old told the congregation, which included school friends and former colleagues at St Columb's College in Derry, as well as his family, including his mother, aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, that this was "a time of change, challenge and opportunity" for the church in Ireland.
He indicated that he would seek fresh ways of presenting the church's message.
"How can we sing the song of the Lord in these strange times?" he asked. "How can we make it heard above the cacophony of voices competing for attention in the public square?"
Outlining his particular concerns, he told the packed cathedral: "For me, the new song is a song about love and peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. It sings out good news about the sacredness of all human life and the wonder of God's creation. It's a song about family and solidarity, about charity, truth and justice."
Admitting that there were those who would not want to listen, he said there were also those who had been "too hurt and betrayed in the past" by the church and understandably were unable to trust the church's message – an acknowledgement of the pain of those who suffered abuse at the hands of clergy.
Quoting from Pope Benedict's letter to the Irish church in the wake of the spate of damning reports into clerical abuse, the new archbishop, who will lead the Irish church when Cardinal Brady retires, said the church must "continue to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ's body and persevere in our efforts to bind those wounds and heal them".
In an unusual departure, the new archbishop chose a wooden staff instead of the usual metal one.
He said he had sourced it in Rome and chose it as more in keeping with the image of a shepherd.
Both he and Cardinal Brady expressed the hope that renewal in the church might bring new vocations.
The ceremony was attended by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers as well at the North's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, and prominent Catholics such as Nobel Peace Laureate John Hume and Baroness Nuala O'Loan.
Mr McGuinness told the Irish Independent that Archbishop Martin represented a decision by the Vatican for change in the Irish church.
"I think he epitomises everything that Catholics would like, in terms of his youth, his dedication and his commitment especially to education.
"He has the leadership qualities required for this job. I think everybody is inspired by this decision and the Vatican have taken a good decision in appointing someone who represents real change," he said.