DAILY CATHOLIC TUESDAY October 5, 1999 vol. 10, no. 189
NEWS & VIEWS
EUROPE'S "QUIET APOSTASY"
Synod Puts Finger on European Christianity's Sore
VATICAN CITY, OCT 4 (ZENIT).- From the very first day, the Synod for Europe, being held in the Vatican from October 1-23, began discussing the grave challenges the Catholic Church must face if Christianity in Europe is not to become something of the past in the third millennium.
The pace of the discussions was set by an initial report by the Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio Rouco, who later met the press and made it very clear that the 197 Synod Fathers and the close to 50 auditors and fraternal delegates must answer an urgent question: What does the Church have to say to Europe, after the fall of the Wall and the reinforcement of (the Continent's) political and cultural ties? More importantly, what can (the Church) say to a Continent that seems to be moving toward a 'quiet apostasy?'"
Replies to this question have come as a authentic deluge. Until October 11, the participants physical endurance will be tested, as they are having to listen to between 25-30 talks a day. John Paul II follows every discussions in person together with all the other bishops.
Failure of Christianity?
The expression, "quiet apostasy" was coined by Cardinal Pierre Eyt, Archbishop of Bordeaux, France, in the Synod "aula" just minutes before Cardinal Rouco's meeting with the press. Cardinal Eyt offered a very penetrating analysis of the situation in the West.
"The idea that Christianity has failed in Europe is widespread; at times it implies a distancing of contemporary culture from the Church and Christianity. This is the origin of the 'quiet apostasy' among a majority of Europeans, at least in the West, and especially among adolescents and youth." Paraphrasing the Fathers of the Church, the French Cardinal said "the European soul is no longer naturally Christian."
Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, used harsh and stirring words to describe the European cultural scene: "intellectual agnosticism, cultural amnesia, ethical chaos, religious asphyxiation, spiritual anemia." Cardinal Poupard, who is co-president of the Synod, stated that "doubt and irony, controversy and criticism, skepticism and agnosticism have never constructed a thing, except a dumb consensus." Consequently, "By being less Christian, European culture has become less human. Therefore, to evangelize European culture means to return to a fully human culture."
Bishop Andre Fort of Perpignan, analyzed in depth the grave European drama at this time. "Our exaggerated discretion in asserting our hope of eternal life and our desire for 'the coming of Christ, the only one who can destroy death' has grave consequences. In face of a human condition that has suffered the amputation of its eschatological dimension, failure, suffering and death become unbearable," the Bishop said.
"Christ is not desired or awaited, because he is not really loved. Then the Christian sense of sin becomes something incomprehensible and the priesthood seems useless."
Reason for Hope
Although the Synod did not hesitate to put its finger on the sore, this does not imply that the "aula" remained imprisoned by despair. The signs of a new springtime of the spirit in Europe are evident. A good number of Bishops and Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Archbishop of Prague, in particular, mentioned the importance of the new ecclesial movements. Their merit resides in having discovered the wisdom of a life committed to the faith in this new Europe. "It is not shameful for us, the Church's teachers, to put ourselves in a position of listening to these experiences" that "even before transmitting Christian life, are committed to living it," the Czech Cardinal, who is president of the European Episcopal Conferences, explained. There can be instances of "immaturity, exaggeration and -- on occasion even deviations," but at present these forces are going through "a new level of ecclesial maturity." After his words, there was a hearty round of applause from the section of the "auditores," among whom are numerous representatives, and even a few founders, of several new Catholic movements.
Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, contrasted the spiritual vacuum that is asphyxiating Europe with the force of the 450,000 nuns and 100,000 men religious in Europe who live consecrated to God.
Nor was downright frightening testimony missing, which opens new horizons for Christianity in Europe, as Czech Bishop Frantisek Radkovsky recalled. During "the Communist persecution, Jesus was ... in our midst and gave us the strength to love the enemy and helped us to endure the adversary together with the joy and hope in Christ's victory."
"The countless martyrs of our time (over 10,000 worldwide this century), are
a living challenge for the Church of the third millennium, especially for
youth," Ukrainian Bishop Michel Hrynchyshyn said.
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NEWS & VIEWS