During a speech at the Saint-Louis of France cultural center in Rome, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, said that the de-Christianization of Europe is dramatic and accelerated, but it is not irreversible.
Addressing the participants of the Congress on “The Future of Christianity in the West,” Cardinal Tauran began his reflection by singling out books recently published by diverse European intellectuals who point out deficiencies in the Church and Christianity that, from an historical point of view, seem to make the total de-Christianization of the West inevitable.
Nevertheless, “the Church has been buried many times,” the cardinal said, recalling the example of Frederick Nietzsche, who declared “the end of religion,” and the totalitarian regimes of the last century that said the same.”
He also noted that many sociologists and scholars take pleasure in describing the Christianity of tomorrow as elderly, divided and undermined by the loss of its identity, succumbing to the attacks of new religions or of new forms of unbelief and atheism.
Cardinal Tauran acknowledged the reality of troubling signs in the West: “very few young people in the West have regular contact with the Church, a large number of children grow up without having ever read the Bible, without knowing the Christian rites, without knowing that one can pray to God…”
However, he added, religion is “far from disappearing.” “And Christians have not renounced their task,” because “this apparently dying Christianity displays a surprising vitality and holds many surprises,” he said.
Cardinal Tauran mentioned the Church’s capacity to renew herself, pointing to “that October afternoon in 1978 on which the Archbishop of Krakow, in the heart of Marxists central Europe, was called to the Chair of Peter.”
Just ten years before in Rome, the famous American author Harvey Cox, presented the French edition of his book, “The Secular City,” in which he proclaimed “the liberation of modern man from all the religious archaisms.” However, years later, Cox himself “would acknowledge that a world without concern for the spiritual is not real,” Cardinal Tauran stated.
“Christianity always has much to say. Our point of view always sparks interest even when it is not taken as a point of reference,” he continued.
The dramatic changes in the world today are forcing “believers and non-believers, optimists and pessimists to ask essential questions about what the future holds.”
“The precariousness of the world, the violence of our societies and Islam, today the second largest religion in the world,” have led “many Catholics to make efforts to recover their identity,” the French cardinal stressed.
An increased concern for prayer, theological formation, greater catechesis and a more refined understanding of the Church are all elements that point to a rediscovery of the interior life, he went on. “How should we look at our future,” he asked. “With serenity, because it is our future. True, we are a minority, but we are a functioning minority and Christian values sustain many of the secular ‘convictions’: from the dignity of the human person, to freedom, solidarity and respect for the environment. All these are values that have their roots in a Christian foundation,” the cardinal said.
In addition, he continued, “Christianity is also creative: new communities, schools of faith, and initiatives of every kind to serve one’s neighbor. And we should not forget that the Catholic Church is the only institution capable of bringing together so many young people.”
“What should we do? Become more and more a Church that prays, celebrates and serves,” Cardinal Tauran said. In a multi-religious world, it would be a paradox if we Christians, “who have as ancestors in the faith Augustine, Benedict, Dominic, Teresa of Avila, Frances de Sales, were incapable of entering into a dialogue of love with a personal God.”
“Christianity has a good future in the West and beyond,” he said, “because, as in the past, it will know how to ‘overcome the barbarians,’ to find the path of renewal in faith and tradition, as it always has.”
“We should not be frightened by modernity! We belong to this world, as Christians, and we want to be recognized as such,” the cardinal stressed.