Bishop Charles Morerod, the newest bishop in the Catholic Church, is ready to evangelize Switzerland, despite the size of the challenge.
Upon his appointment to Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg in Switzerland he disarmed the Swiss media by admitting, “in all frankness, I was hoping that the choice would not fall on me,” but “what the Pope wants, you cannot refuse.”
The 50-year-old Swiss Dominican was ordained a bishop on Sunday after spending the past 15 years in Rome, most recently as the rector of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. He is also Secretary General of the International Theological Commission and a consultant for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“It is quite frightening,” he told CNA before he left Rome for his new post. “And the only reason that I’m not too afraid is that when God calls he also helps, and I know that because I have noticed that in my life already.”
Bishop Morerod returned to a homeland where Catholics are statistically the majority – 42 percent of the population – but where secularization has eaten away at the practice of that faith in recent decades.
It is in these types of traditionally Christian countries that Pope Benedict XVI wants to launch a “new evangelization.”
“If we compare the new evangelization to the first one,” said Bishop Morerod, “in a sense, we now have to speak to people who think they know Christianity and who think they know it well enough to know there is nothing to be found there – or are even who are in reaction to it.”
The Christian gospel was first preached to the people of Switzerland in the third century. Bishop Morerod said that, in comparison, the task now is “more difficult” but is still “worth it.”
“I would like people to know it is beautiful to be a believer. Oddly enough, it seems that many don’t even suspect that. There is a very deep ignorance of faith. I think that could be addressed.”
He is also convinced that the current experience of the Church offers many reasons for hope, beginning with “trust in God and the Holy Spirit,” as well as the increasing thirst for reasons to believe in God, Jesus and the Catholic Church.
“I have been quite surprised by the number of questions I’ve received on Facebook since my appointment was announced,” he said. Most of those questions come from “people who say, ‘I’ve been asking this question for years but never found anybody who would reply with some answers.’”
Bishop Morerod says that he has also been asked many questions about “the relationship between faith and reason” by journalists, although they are usually tied to hot button moral issues.
“I try to tell them that Jesus did not choose saints as his apostles or disciples but that they became saints because they were with him,” said Bishop Morerod, making that point that “morality is not a starting point but is rather a consequence” of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
With that relationship as the starting point, he said, the Church can explain how Christian morality can help “build a better society.” At the same time, convincing people of the goodness of Christianity also requires avoiding scandals, he pointed out.
Fundamentally, Bishop Morerod believes that the evangelization of countries like Switzerland is ambitious but realistic, “because basically if I did not think it was possible I would do something else with my life.”
Despite being a native of the Fribourg region, the new bishop is eager to reacquaint himself with his homeland after a decade and a half in Italy. While Rome “is a beautiful city,” he finds it “more pleasant” to live in “more or less in the countryside of Switzerland.”
But he will miss the many friends and students he has gotten to know and love during his time in Rome.
“As a professor I hope I have helped some students,” he said, recalling how he received a message a few days ago from a former student who told him, “I was in a bus in Albania and I was surrounded by Jehovah’s Witnesses and thanks to your class I could speak to them in favor of the Trinity, so I must thank you.”