As cardinals gather to replace Pope Benedict XVI, many of their discussions will focus on the outgoing pontiff’s efforts to attract people back to the Roman Catholic Church. The New Evangelization, as it has come to be known, is about reawakening the faith, particularly in parts of the world where it was on the wane, such as Europe.
Even for the world’s largest Christian church, however, the struggle to reconcile ancient doctrine with the needs of a rapidly changing world is no small task. The Globe and Mail’s monthly religion panel, Faith Exchange, has convened to weigh the challenges and consider some possible solutions.
- Peter Stockland is publisher of Convivium magazine and director of media services for Cardus, a think tank that draws on 2,000 years of Christian social thought.
- Cheridan Sanders hosts a new Salt + Light TV series for young people, The Church Alive, on the New Evangelization and faith and culture issues.
- Father Paul Hansen is director of Biblical Justice Consultancy for the Redemptorist Order.
- Chris Stedman is assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University and author of Faitheist.
- Lorna Dueck has been reporting on Christian practice in Canadian life for the past 20 years. She is an evangelical Christian and host of Context with Lorna Dueck , seen Sundays on Global and Vision TV.
- Moderator Guy Nicholson is an editor in The Globe’s Comment section. He professes no religious beliefs.
Guy Nicholson: Thank you for joining us today, panelists – particularly those who are with us for the first time.
I’d like to start with a question about the very premise of a “New Evangelization.” Catholicism isn’t a consumer product – it’s a community of people with strongly held common beliefs. Why is it important to “engage” people who are currently outside that community?
Lorna Dueck: I think there is more consumer product to Christianity than we realize, but the essence that is valuable is not a commercialized one. (Even though it can be spread by commercial means, that’s a different debate.) If you think of a consumer product as something that has traction because it has been created for the benefit of a consumer, the doctrines of Christianity can fall into that. The Catholic branch of Christianity, like any Christianity, can feel comfortable being widely distributed. When Jesus launched what we know today as the Church, it was a challenge to his small group of believers to share, spread and evangelize. That’s part of why you’ll find Christianity constantly engaging the world.
Paul Hansen: The first question we have to ask ourselves is why are they outside the community. Recently, my father died. At the wake for the family, before all others, there were about 45 people gathered. All were raised Catholic, received all the sacraments of initiation and yet not one of those present in that funeral home at that time were parish affiliated. Why? These family members are not angry; they simply feel that the Church as institution is simply irrelevant to their lives. A few years ago, they would have argued with me politely about church matters. Today, we care deeply for one another, but such a conversation would be not desired.
I conducted a priests’ retreat almost a year ago on the East Coast and, in preparation, discovered from the Pew Research Institute that 30 million – yes, 30 million – raised Catholics had left the institutional church in the U.S. in the previous 10 years. So, for me, the first question that needs to be asked is why!
Cheridan Sanders: The Church exists to proclaim Christ to those who have never heard of him, but we can’t forget to re-evangelize, repropose Jesus Christ to those “who are nominally his friends but for whom that friendship has lost its pizzazz – that’s the new evangelization.” (I’m quoting Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.) So, in a sense, the New Evangelization is especially for those inside the Church. How can you profess something you don’t really understand or know? And we can’t transmit a reality we don’t live ourselves. We know that holiness is attractive and, when people are exposed to it, they want to find out more.
Peter Stockland: I think the real question is why the onus is constantly put on the Church to adapt to the inconstancies of the age. How many of those who simply walk away from the Church do so after a genuine critical examination of what the Church teaches and promises, and their own temptation to deify consumerist choice?