In conversation with Archbishop Martin Currie
BY Dillon Collins
Archbishop Martin William Currie of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in St. John’s isn’t fraught with the trappings and trimmings of an atypical man endowed with papal power. In fact, his modesty and personable nature are among his most easily recognizable attributes. Or that was my immediate takeaway upon meeting the man for the very first time.
ascending the ranks
“Some people ask ‘what do people call me’ and I say ‘my mother always called me Martin,’” the Archbishop said with a laugh, the perfect icebreaker for our Herald sitdown.
Currie was born in Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia in the winter of 1943. He ascended the ranks of the church in Atlantic Canada, reaching the mark of Bishop of the Diocese of Grand Falls in 2000, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Saint John, New Brunswick in 2006, before being named as Archbishop of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador by Pope Benedict XVI in October of 2007.
Naturally, then, the man who has devoted his life and career to a higher calling would stand as a fine authority to weigh-in on the status of Christianity in Newfoundland and Labrador, and no time is that subject more applicable than in the Easter season.
‘can we be smarter?’
The first question I posed to the Archbishop, with honest curiosity, concerned his nine-plus year tenure serving the Archdiocese of St. John’s. His answer, an honest one, a common theme of the conversation.
“It’s been challenging. Hopefully we’re making progress. It’s the way you, or I, look at Christianity and the gospel that I try to follow,” shared the Archbishop. “You try to be a good steward of what God has given us and try to serve people. Can we do it better? Can we be smarter and have less buildings so we wouldn’t have to tie up our resources? Are there different ways that we can serve the needs of the people, because they’re in walking distance many times. We’re looking at that and trying to have a strategic plan so that we can better serve the people here and make better use of our facilities.”
state of Christianity
More curious than the preceding question was the one that followed: in Newfoundland and Labrador, in 2017, what is the state of Christianity? Do the numbers tell a story?
“If we come back to practice, the number of people that go to church today versus 20 years ago is vastly different,” said the Archbishop. “The numbers who come are vastly different. We have to in some way serve those who come and try to reach out and get our message so the younger people see it and understand it as positive, rather than negative. Because of all of this that is going on, my church and all of the other churches are looking at ourselves and I like to say trying to read the signs of the times.
“I’m not sure how much the voice of Christianity is wanted in the marketplace,” he adds candidly. “I think they try to shut us out as if we have nothing to say.”
Barring those thoughts in mind, Archbishop Currie is helping spearhead a movement of reaching out to the next generation and proving that the message he and others are preaching is worthy and with merit. Part of these efforts is embracing the advent of social media and using it as a valuable tool to reach current and prospective followers.
“The whole media and the whole way of doing things could be a blessing or it could be a curse,” shared the Archbishop. “People can tune in anywhere and have everything they want at their fingertips. It’s also a great opportunity for us because that’s the way I feel we’re going to reach the younger people. They’ve grown up with cell phones or Ipads in their hands. We’re working to promote published programs we can use and we can be in daily contact with people on their Iphones or things like that. It’s one of the big challenges to get into that medium. I think if we can get into this we can reach more people and expose them to our message.”
But, like most things these days in Newfoundland and Labrador, reaching a newer, younger and more worldly audience is an up-hill battle. Factor in that we’re an aging population, with the prospect of outmigration being very real, and there is much work to be done in keeping the faith.
the next generation
“I think all churches are conscious of that, of the next generation. We’re an aging population to start with,” he says. “One time Newfoundlanders had eight or ten kids and now a lot of people have one or two. How do we engage this and what does the future look like, how do we touch them some way that they’ll gather with us on Sunday or something that is meaningful that gives and sustains life to their life?
“In the rural areas a lot has been already dictated to us by outmigration. Down in Trepassy, for example, when the priest went there there were two schools and 550 kids. There are 34 kids in school there now,” adds the Archbishop. “In St. Mary’s Bay where there was one time four priests we now only have one. They’re losing huge numbers and there are very few younger people. How do we do things better? We have all these churches in these areas, so how do we serve people and make better use of it? Those are the challenges that I find today.”
It is worthy of note and reflection in all of this doubt that the church is operating at a level of community and social outreach that rivals that of any period in its history. With concentrated efforts to lend a hand and heart to the plight of the refugees, homeless, mentally ill and countless others in need, there is still positive work being done on a day to day basis.
“You hear every day that at The Gathering Place they feed an amazing amount of people. The people who will come and sponsor the meal, give up their time. We have a chapel in the penitentiary, a Chaplin at the Waterford Hospital. Mental illness is a growing concern and we do what we can to be with them,” the Archbishop says with a smile.
“One of the things that we’ve put emphasis on in the last several years is home-care homes. We try to have a Chaplin go and visit them and be with them, people who have served the church faithfully for years and we now try to care for them and administer to their needs. We have sponsored refugees and we try to care for them. The Holy Father Pope Francis has encouraged us to adopt refugees.”
A fitting segue, as a recent meeting with the aforementioned Pop Francis for Archbishop Currie and his fellow bishops in Rome can reaffirm something that many of us have already observed, that His Holiness Pope Francis is a Pope of our time, a man of the people and perhaps the most progressive Pope in a long-lineage of his ilk. Perhaps it will take a man of his caliber and ability to adopt forward-thinking to broaden the churches reach within the new social media driven age.
“Pope Francis is the first Pope from South America and mostly they’ve been all European,” shares the Archbishop. “I think having lived in Argentina there’s a different atmosphere and I think he sees the world a bit differently in his experiences. He is trying to do what he feels is right. He doesn’t mind talking about the environment – he went to visit the migrants and refugees that are coming in.”
Coming full circle to the matter at hand, the Easter season, and Archbishop Currie lets go a widened smile. It is this period, he says, that is the crux of what he, his fellow bishops, priests, followers and all others that abide by Christianity live for.
Without Good Friday and the resurrection of Easter Sunday, there would be no conversations of this kind. No religious semantics, no story. It is a reality that causes this writer a moment for pause and one that sheds a light on just how truly meaningful this time of year is for millions of people, and for the man sitting directly opposite myself.
“It is very important, the most important time of all. What we celebrate on that Friday, Saturday and Sunday, if that didn’t happen then we wouldn’t have a church. On Good Friday Jesus the Son of God died on the cross and became our Savior. On Easter Sunday he rose from the dead, that he’s alive and with us and walking with us on the journey and it gives us the promise that we too, if we’re faithful, will be raised up and we’ll have a resurrection when our earthly life is over. It gives deepest meaning to what it means to be a Christian.”
With that, Archbishop Currie departed with a warm handshake and heartfelt blessings. I was left with a feeling of comfort where previously there was curious questioning.
It’s a fond feeling to know that come this Easter, there are men like him at work, tirelessly, doing what they feel is in the best interest of public betterment. Today, how could we possibly ask for more?