Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Brady honour acknowledges the historic role of Armagh

On the eve of Sean Brady's elevation to Cardinal, Religion Correspondent Alf McCreary assesses the significance for the Catholic Church in Ireland

When Catholic Primate of all-Ireland Sean Brady is elevated to the College of Cardinals tomorrow by Pope Benedict XVI during special ceremonies in Rome, he will join one of the most elite groups in the world.

The College - of more than 180 senior prelates from around the globe - advises the Pope when he considers issues of special importance to the Church and its role in the world.

Members of the College of Cardinals have become increasingly influential as a group within the Church, and their role was expanded by the late Pope John Paul II who called on them for advice on important topics such as finance, and latterly on the vexed question of clerical child abuse. Within this group of advisers to the Pope, Dr Brady and his 13 fellow-Cardinals who will also be nominated this weekend, will be expected to play their part.

Another important duty for Cardinals under the age of 80 is to elect a new Pope, when the current Pope dies or resigns. The new Cardinal Brady and his colleagues - under the age of 80 - will have the task of choosing a successor to Pope Benedict when the time comes. However, five of the new Cardinals who will be nominated with Dr Brady are over 80 and ineligible to vote.

The title of Cardinal is often given to those with particularly senior positions in the Church - such as the heads of certain departments in the Vatican, and to the Archbishops of Milan, Westminster, New York etc. The title and authority of a Cardinal is also given to clergy for outstanding service to the Church. One such cleric, from Poland, was on the list of nominations this time but he died the day before the announcement was made.

In practical terms Dr Brady's elevation as a Cardinal will not make a significant difference to his day-to-day role as Primate. However, it is generally recognised that Dr Brady's elevation is not only a personal affirmation of his work and character, but also an affirmation of the important, and indeed primary, role of Armagh in Irish Catholic Church affairs. This is the city where St Patrick established his first main Church in the fifth century AD, and the relationship between the Catholic and Church of Ireland Primates, and with other Church leaders, is of paramount importance.

It was significant that Dr Brady's appointment was welcomed by the heads of the main Protestant Churches, including the Presbyterian Moderator and the Methodist President. In his 12 years as Catholic Primate, Dr Brady had close working relationships with his Church of Ireland counterpart Archbishop Robin Eames, and latterly with the new Church of Ireland Primate, Dr Alan Harper, whom he met at ecumenical gatherings.

One of Archbishop Brady's priorities has been, and will continue to be, the development of good relations between all the main Churches. Earlier this week Bishop Anthony Farquhar, president of the Irish Bishops' Commission on Ecumenism, pointed out that this has been particularly helpful in furthering this important work.

One result of Archbishop Brady's elevation to the role of Cardinal could be a significant increase in the number of invitations to speak at functions all over Ireland, and further afield. He prepares such addresses very carefully and his work-load may increase accordingly.

This, he admits, will give him even less time to read widely or to enjoy some of his pastimes, such as Gaelic games and reading.

However it is highly unlikely that the new role will change Dr Brady as a person. He is widely-respected as a genuinely humble and spiritual man whose main desire to is spread the values of the Gospel. As he said himself recently: "My motto is 'To know Jesus Christ' and that's what I will be judged on - what did I do to help people to know Jesus Christ. In the end, that's what really matters."

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