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.