The architects of the new euro-evangelization

The Vatican today has announced who will sit on the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the new Evangelization, the agency headed by Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella and tasked by Pope Benedict XVI with finding new ways of engaging with the secularized, post-Christian world, especially of western Europe. 

There is great excitement in the Curia about this Council, which will be Pope Benedict's major legacy, and strongly identified with his priorities.


Excluding for a moment the heads of other dicasteries appointed to ensure the Curia is working together on this agenda, the appointments reflect a strongly European emphasis, as the Pope implied in his Apostolic Letter last year that it would:

Above all, this pertains to Churches of ancient origin, which live in different situations and have different needs, and therefore require different types of motivation for evangelization: in certain territories, in fact, despite the spread of secularization, Christian practice still thrives and shows itself deeply rooted in the soul of entire populations; in other regions, however, there is a clearly a distancing of society from the faith in every respect, together with a weaker ecclesial fabric, even if not without elements of liveliness that the Spirit never fails to awaken; we also sadly know of some areas that have almost completely abandoned the Christian religion, where the light of the faith is entrusted to the witness of small communities: these lands, which need a renewed first proclamation of the Gospel, seem particularly resistant to many aspects of the Christian message.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, is arguably the key nomination. The Dominican theologian, a former student of the Pope's and part of his circle of close advisors, has long been convinced (see my interview with him in 2004) that secularism has dug too deep for the Church to wait for people to arrive at its door through the promptings of the human heart. The Viennese cardinal's view -- and surely Pope Benedict's too -- is that the Church needs to go out and confront people with the message of the Gospel while challenging neo-paganism. When it comes to putting this into practice, he has form. He started the International Congress for the New Evangelization, a mission which took place each year in a different European city, beginning in Vienna in 2003, and going on to Lisbon, Brussels, Paris and Budapest), which grew out of the International Academy for Evangelization run by the Emmanuel community in the Austrian capital with his enthusiastic backing.

The Catholic movements are key to the new Council's mission because of their experience of growth and outreach at a time of secularization. Today's appointments give them a substantial new voice in a key Vatican coming agenda. Cardinal Angelo Scola, patriarch of Vienna, is the leading figure of Communion and Liberation, while Vincenzo Paglia, Bishop of Terni, is the most senior priest in the Community of Sant'Egidio. CL and Sant'Egidio speak for the "right" and the "left" of the Italian Catholic movements, so these two appointments are nicely balanced. Outside Italy Pierre-Marie Carré, coadjutor bishop of Montpellier, who is close to the Ignatian Christian Life Community (CLC) in France and Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, a member of the Schonstatt movement, also balance the progressive and the conservative. 

Other Europeans reflect the Council's targets: the Bishop of Almeria, Adolfo González Monte, reminds us that Pope Benedict in Santiago de Compostela said the Council had been created with Spain particularly in mind; the Archbishop of Birmingham in the UK, Bernard Longley (see recent Tablet interview here), indicates again how much the Pope sees Britain as crucial to challenging secularism. Two other appointees reflect the Council's pan-European ambitions: André-Joseph Léonard, the hapless Archbishop of Brussels, can only have been named because of the Belgium's importance as seat of the European Union, while Archbishop Josip Bozanic of Zagreb is a former vice-president of the Council of European bishops' conferences, and now sits on the European council of the Synod of Bishops. 

Other appointments suggest that European "cultures" are not to be neglected: hence the names of the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan;  the Archbishop of Monterrey (Mexico), Francisco Robles Ortega; the Archbishop of São Paulo (Brazil), Odilo Pedro Scherer; and George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney in Australia, who relishes nothing more than a punch-up with secular society.

The other names show that the Council's work will involve plenty of liaison with other parts of the Curia: Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, are the two heaviest hitters; also included are Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Council for the Laity; Claudio Maria Celli, who heads the Council for Social Communications; and Nikola Eterovic, who is secretary general of the Synod of Bishops.

Their task now is to devise strategies for reaching out to Europe's secularized, individualized, atomized, urban soul. The agenda is pretty much laid out in the Pope's book-length interview Light of the World, in which he speaks of popular identification with the Church “melting away” in the Western world, where "we are headed increasingly towards a form of Christianity based on personal decision”. Convinced, as he says earlier, that "Christianity is on the verge of a new dynamic", he speaks of how important it is to “consolidate, enliven and enlarge” this “Christianity of personal decision, so that more people can consciously live and profess their faith again”.

Expect plenty of city missions, events in tents, and no shortage of experiments with digital media --as well as gatherings of church movements and charismatic groups, all designed to enable the still small voice of God to be heard above the noise of the modern European city. But above all, it will be the experience of the church movements -- which understand the importance of personal commitment -- which help guide these strategies. This is not about restoring a mass Catholicism, but encouraging the growth of what the Pope has in the past called the "little cells" of faith. It's what the movements, with their urban habits and flexible formats but strong prayer and other commitments, are well placed to help the European Church embrace.

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Jim McCrea
8 years ago
I had the chance to meet with a representative of Sant'Egidio in Rome this summer.  He told me and the others who were there that, at their beginning, both the government of Rome and the church in Rome accused them of being communists.  To this day they claim they are polite to the official church, but give it absolutely no say in what they do, how they are organized, where the live and work, how they pray and to whom they minister.  Priests are allowed to be members, but only as a member, not in any special or official capacity, unless they are elected thereto.
Assuming that what he told me/us is truthful, they seem to have reached an amenable way to being within the church (although church membership by individual members is not required) without being under the thumb of the church.
The governments of countries in which they operate seem to be quite amenable to their presence, their works and their veracity.
8 years ago
In watching the Blair/Hinchens debate on "does religion promote  the good?",
 it struck me that the argument was really about  how much good fundfamentalism produces.
I think that instead of waging war on the putative evils of secularism , we need to break out of the fundamentalist view held by some of these (e.g.Pell) and engage   modernity for its good and bad  before many more just walk away,
Jack Barry
8 years ago
One barely mentioned aspect of the New Evangelization deserves attention.   Europe of today is strongly shaped by more than a millennium of ''old evangelization''.   In the eighth century, Charlemagne converted many Saxons to Christianity, offering a choice of Baptism or death.  In the 1990s, his memory was honored in Brussels.   In 2017, many will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther, originally a Catholic activist, writing his theses in Wittenburg.  In the centuries between, numerous popes, kings, princes, reformers, and others acting for the Church have played major roles in shaping present European religions, nation-states, and cultures, and also historical memory, presumably the locale of the Christian roots to which the Pope has referred.   
 Any New Evangelization starts off confronted by the results of the old evangelization.  Rather than select the threat of secularism is if it were another hostile intruder to be vanquished, the present effort might start off more fruitfully by carefully reviewing the many major ways, bad as well as good, in which a millennium of Christianizing has contributed to creating the Europe of 2010.  
david power
8 years ago

What you write is interesting because I think they will go in the opposite direction to what you propose.
The current Pope is all about the Christian roots of Europe but those he has selected are mainly Ceillini and so see Christianity as an Event.
Fisichella, Ouellet and Scola truly belong to this school and Schoenborn has links to it.
 A present event is seen as countering or being countered by the path you laid out.  There are two books which explain this very well.
"Generating traces in the History of the World" and "A Generative thought" both make the encounter between Jesus and His apostles as the true path to follow. The New Evangelization will be a lot less like the Counter-Reformation and a lot more like the discussions in the Areopagus of Paul.
Both CL and the Community of St Egiodio have a great fidelity to their charism even if CL has been stained due to political involvement but are  now  moving back to  their educative and cultural roots.   On paper  this project  seems like a great idea and I hope they do it justice.  
ed gleason
8 years ago
"The Catholic movements are key to the new Council's mission because of their experience of growth and outreach at a time of secularization'
As 50+ year member of Catholic movements I would concur that if evangelizing were to happen movements are the answer. Think St Francis. However with your naming all those A/Bs and cardinals says to me it's already dead in the water. Movements begin from the bottom up. The movements need personal contact... one on one .. Archbishops and cardinals have absolutely NO skills/time/experience/inclination to do the job.  The US bishops have been both neglectful and even hostile to movements.. because they can't control them as they wish. Movements can't even get a cost nothing posting on a diocesan website. Look it up! I'm too old to see the fruits of New Evangelization and the organizational outline you posted won't be able to deliver it anyway. My suggestion is watch the BOTTOM and look for SIGNS of new grace life  bubble up in strange places.. Think of how Facebook did NOT come from high level,highly financed tech,companies, staffed with the brightest people, 
My Movements. CFM, Legion of Mary, ME, EE, SVDP, Pax Christi, Retrouvaille. Sant'Egidio,VOTF   


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