The ‘post-modern’ or ‘post-religion’ era doesn’t exist, Chai Brady hears
Modern youth movements and shrines are becoming increasingly important in the ‘new evangelisation’ of the Western world as parish churches attract fewer and fewer people, according to a high-ranking Vatican prelate on a visit to Ireland.
Archbishop Salvatore ‘Rino’ Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation, flew to Ireland to visit Knock Shrine last Wednesday for their annual novena and 140th anniversary of the Apparition. He was the keynote speaker and celebrated both novenas at 3pm and 8pm.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic, he says: “It is true that in many countries our parishes, churches are with few people, it is true. But if you go to the shrines, they are full, full, full of people, that means something. It means that probably the way of the new evangelisation cannot be limited only to the parish.
“The parish remains a concrete site of the presence of the Church where there is the daily life of people. But that cannot be exclusive, in order to understand the new evangelisation, we should have eyes open to check a concrete, positive response to the new evangelisation.”
It is true that many young people would prefer to go to a concert of a famous person or band than attend Mass or any religious service, but they can’t all be tarred with the same brush, he says referring to the International Youth Festival in Medjugorje from July 28 to August 9 this year.
“It is not true to say that these are the youth of today, because the youth of today are also the 70,000 youth participating with the catechesis and going to Mass in Medjugorje for instance,” he says.
Archbishop Fisichella points to the US where there is “a huge movement of the new evangelisation among youth in universities, in the campus, they do evangelisation specifically on campus and it’s amazing”.
Both the US and “especially” Canada, he says, are in a cultural situation under a “very strong secularism”. Despite this there is a very vibrant youth community that dedicate themselves to evangelisation.
“Last year I was in Canada,” says the archbishop, “speaking with 150 people responsible for these communities, and you could not believe how joyful for us… that there are experiences of evangelisation that are working and young people; they are committing their life.”
Archbishop Fisichella has been responsible for his dicastery since its foundation in 2010, and almost 10 years on he says that “the new evangelisation works, but it’s not enough”.
The term new evangelisation is lost on the majority of people, even among those of faith. The best explanation is said to come from St John Paul II’s encyclical Redemptoris Missio, which came out in 1990, on the 13th year of his pontificate. He is believed to have first used the term in 1983 in an address to the Latin American bishops.
He describes three different forms of evangelisation, the first of which is mission ad gentes, meaning ‘to the nations’. This includes places where Christ is not known or Christian communities are not “mature” enough to proclaim the faith to other groups.
The second are Christian communities with solid ecclesial structures and are fervent in their faith and have a sense of commitment to the universal mission. “In these communities the Church carries out her activity and pastoral care,” St John Paul II writes.
Archbishop Fisichella’s concern as head of his dicastery is St John Paul II’s third explanation, in which he calls for a “new evangelisation”, which pertains to much of the Western world. He says it is an intermediate situation “particularly in countries with ancient Christian roots… where entire groups of the baptised have lost a living sense of the Faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel”.
Pope Francis reiterated this call in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium in 2013, following a synod of bishops on the matter in October the year before. He says evangelisation is first and foremost about “preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him”.
He makes it clear that even historically devout Christian countries have become mission territory when he says: “Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone.”
Archbishop Fisichella says this will be discussed at an international meeting in late November at the Vatican, focused on the reception of the exhortation, saying: “Evangelii Gaudium is the teaching of Pope Francis about how to do evangelisation today, the new step of evangelisation today, so in order to understand if it works we have this meeting.”
The archbishop said he would not react to statements that Ireland is a ‘post-religion’ society as someone responsible for new evangelisation, but “as an expert that for more than 20 years taught on this specific topic”.
“I disagree when we describe the cultural situation today like ‘post-religion era’ or ‘post-religion moment’. Some philosophers, for instance, in France they prefer to speak of this historical moment as: L’Ere du vide, it means the ‘era of emptiness’, because there is only superficial reaction to everything. Also the description of a ‘post-religion’, I think that we cannot describe such a complex situation that we are living today just with one word: post religious, post-modern, post-Christian, it seems to me that is a little superficial,” he says.
He says it’s important to know the history of cultural movements, “until today we mentioned the ancient era, the Middle Ages and the modern era, and then now we are speaking about post-modern era”.
Between the ancient and Middle Ages there was a moment of transition between 150-200 years, he says, which occurred again between the middle and modern ages.
Dr Fisichella says he is convinced that currently there is another transition period that can’t be described as ‘post-modern’ or ‘post-Christian’, but that we are in front of a new culture such as that of the Roman, Greek or Mesopotamian in the past. This culture, he believes, could be a ‘digital culture’.
He says: “We are in front of a new event and this is the digital culture. In the digital, everything is different.
“Normally we think about time and space, the two fundamental categories to understand reality, with digital you have no more time and space because you have immediately now and here. What do you do with this big world in which we are just in the beginning, what it will be in the next 10, 15, 20 years? I am afraid when people in a so determinate way decide.”
“Mankind needs religion,” he states, and if they have no religion, if there’s nothing they can or want to turn to, they “go for something that is like religion”.
Mentioning popular movements such as the “green movement”, which has been a driving force in many people’s decision to focus on caring for the planet through environmental protection and sustainable practices, Dr Fisichella says many movements such as this are like religions themselves.
He says: “There is a dogma, a theory now becomes a dogma, there is a priest because there is many people explaining and so, you know, when you abandon religion you go looking for superstition.”
New evangelisation is also about realising how important the transcendent is for human nature, he adds.
“The challenge, the true challenge, in Ireland, in Italy, everywhere, the true challenge is to put the question: what is the sense of your life? I think this is the challenge given by religion, because Christianity it means to answer, to give an answer to the main question of man, who am I and where am I going? That means the sense of my life.
“If you don’t ask the question of the meaning of your life, the meaning of your own presence in this peculiar moment of history, what do you do?
“You eat, you drink, you take drugs, you go to the concerts, you do everything, but the sense, the meaning? And when there is a disease and when you are disappointed in love, when you want to give the meaning of love, what do you do? What do you do?”
Dr Fisichella says people can’t live with this “emptiness” in their lives, and that it’s not about going ‘back to’ religion but to “reach something” as it’s something positive to help people better understand themselves.
“Catholicism is not to go back to something, Catholicism is to live with the experience of the past but to live your presence, but in the light of preparing your future,” he says
“For us the word of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, it will introduce you to all the truth. It means something very important for us. We have not all the truth in our hearts, in order to say go back to the truth of yesterday, this is not the Catholic faith. Catholic faith is a proposal to understand that in your life, step by step, and step by step, you reach the meaning of yourself.”
Speaking in defence of Pope Francis, Archbishop Fisichella said that he remembers St John Paul II’s pontificate, at the time he was a newly ordained priest, and that in the first five years he was “criticised for everything”.
Regarding Pope Paul VI, he remarks on the backlash to his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, and the “big movement against” him. The archbishop adds that Pope Benedict XVI also had his fair share of detractors.
“And if we think about Francis there is a part of opposition to him. When there is a so huge movement like the Catholic Church, 1.2 billion believers around all the world, with different cultures, with different ways of reaction, with a different style of life, with all the differences, it is true that there is in some part an opposition like the opposition made with other Popes, but I think the unity of faith continues to be very strong in the Church,” he says.
Currently Francis faces criticism on several fronts, with some saying he is too liberal or is trying to change Church doctrine to appeal to more people, but Archbishop Fisichella says: “I think we should say something when it’s happened, but until that moment it’s just chat.”
“For this reason, this is the moment of silence… in my homily I explained the sign of St John with the request of silence. Probably we need more behaviour with silence in front of such a huge chat and daily chat that we have.”
He adds: “It depends about what we are speaking of, there is no one concrete act of Pope Francis about female diaconate, about many other things, and about something more explicit, we should also understand it in the right sense of events.”