COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Christians around the world are observing Palm Sunday today. The day marks the beginning of the holiest week of the year.
For the new bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Columbus, it is also a time of new beginnings. Bishop Robert Brennan came to central Ohio after spending his entire life in Long Island, New York. Right now, he is getting to know his flock and they are getting to know him.
When Bishop Brennan introduced himself to parishioners at Our Lady Of Guadalupe Center, he did so in Spanish and to a warm reception. Brennan is easy to like and he is committed to connecting to the 2.5 million Catholics in the 23 central and southern Ohio counties in his diocese.
“What a rich variety of parish experiences — here in the city, in the suburbs around us, I was down over the weekend in Portsmouth and the southern part of the diocese along the Ohio River and some of our agricultural areas,” Brennan said. “It’s been just a really rich experience.”
Brennan is on the road frequently, traveling to parishes for confirmation, the sacrament that initiates young people into the Church. He is doing so at a time when membership is dwindling, especially among the younger generations.
“It is true for young people, I say this a lot at confirmations, that young people sometimes you sort of feel isolated, but when we are together, we fell a strength and vibrancy in our faith,” Brennan said. “I would like to build upon it. I think we do have some very, very fine young people.”
The young people in central Ohio have so far surprised Brennan however. He said they are showing a commitment to the Church he did not expect.
“Young people are talking about it. I know that is not going to translate into huge numbers, but it is going to make a difference. And I have to say I am a little bit impressed with the ones who step forward, you know the culture is a little tougher, and to me the ones who step forward are heroic,” said Brennan.
One of the challenges Brennan is facing is the inescapable child abuse scandal involving priests. The scandal has many Catholics questioning their church, if not their entire faith.
“The whole experience of sexual abuse of children and minors, that’s an awful, awful reality. It’s a sin, it’s a crime…I can’t come up with enough adjectives to express my disgust,” Brennan said. “This is a place where we try to teach the truth, where we want to experience Jesus Christ, not the horrors of what people have taken advantage of.”
He said he is committed to helping the church heal and reaching out a hand of reconciliation to the victims.
NBC4’s Colleen Marshall, a life-long Irish-Catholic, asked the bishop about Catholics who divorce and then remarry but are no longer welcome to take communion, noting the pain that causes many who find themselves in that situation.
“[Annulment] is meant to be a healing process and that is something again that Pope Francis has been very strong on making reforms so we can make that whole process approachable and healing,” Brennan said. “It is a matter of balancing out the sanctity of marriage that when people make the promises at the altar that that’s a serious commitment.”
Brennan went on to say that sometimes divorce is the only way out of very hurtful situations.
“We do try to offer that outreach, that hand of healing, support along the way,” he said. “That’s what it means to be a friend of Jesus Christ, a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Brennan said that healing hand is also extended to LGBTQ+ individuals who feel they aren’t accepted by the church.
“To say [the Church] doesn’t accept isn’t exactly the way to put it,” he said. “I would say that we try to embrace everyone but what we want to do is do it within the context of the truth of the gospel.”
Now at the beginning of the holiest week of the year for the Church, Brennan has a simple message for Catholics in the diocese.
“It’s the message of Christ alive, ‘Christus vivit,’ the message that Christ Jesus is alive that he brings hope and strength. That he brings joy and new life, that God has come to walk the journey with us and continues to walk the journey with us,” he said.