Interview With Director of British Evangelization Agency
LONDON, 20 MAY 2007 (ZENIT)
A new report on church attendance in the
United Kingdom suggests that many Britons have no connection with
organized religion, and that the majority of those who identify
themselves as Christian never go to Church.
The Christian relief and development agency Tearfund released the report
"Churchgoing in the U.K." in April, which revealed that more than half
of those polled claim to be Christians.
Monsignor Keith Barltrop, director of the Catholic Agency to Support
Evangelization (CASE) of the bishops' conference of England and Wales,
tells ZENIT in this interview that the key to successful evangelization
in the modern world is renewing a sense of confidence among Catholics in
Q: How did the decision by the bishops of England and Wales to establish
CASE three years ago herald a change in the way the Church engages with
Monsignor Barltrop: First of all, the decision to establish CASE
heralded a recognition by the bishops that there was already a certain
amount happening at grass roots level in England and Wales regarding
evangelization, but it needed more official support and coordination if
the challenges of 21st century Britain were to be met.
When the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor,
asked me to help in setting up CASE, he told me that we needed to look
at such new ecclesial movements and distil the secrets of their success
into the mainstream of parish life, so that evangelization would no
longer be a foreign, or even an embarrassing, concept to Catholics, but
something they felt happy to engage in.
The bishops were thus trying to root in English and Welsh soil the
understanding that Pope John Paul II gave the universal church
that the time has come for a new evangelization. By that he meant that
secularization had made such inroads into what were once Christian
societies that the Church needed a new ardor and new methods in
Q: What are the biggest obstacles to evangelization in Europe today?
Monsignor Barltrop: The biggest obstacles are sheer ignorance or
"forgetting" of the Gospel, and the fact that many people who think they
know what Christianity means actually have a distorted and woefully
The "forgetfulness" of Christianity
summed up in the well-known saying that "God is missing but not missed"
is a phenomenon with a complex origin. In the 20th century the twin
disasters of Communism and Fascism led people to become profoundly
disillusioned with all attempts to explain and save the world. People
have now become consumers of spirituality and religion, as they are of
material products, and Catholic truth itself can become one more
lifestyle option among others.
This problem is compounded by the way values of Christian origin
such as justice, equality and human rights
have become detached from their Christian roots and are now even being
turned against the Church, so that the very proclamation of the truth is
seen as somehow oppressive and destructive of human freedom and
happiness. In such a world it becomes difficult to avoid the impression
that evangelization is about clever manipulation of the truth or, even
worse, associated with that fundamentalism which the modern world both
fears and is, paradoxically, responsible for.
Q: Why is it often difficult to engage Catholics with the need to
Monsignor Barltrop: In Britain, one of the main factors is that
evangelization is associated with a certain kind of Protestantism, or
with related images such as people preaching aggressively on street
corners and "televangelists" looking for money.
By making known a variety of Catholic methods of evangelization, and
especially by associating it with the Eucharist and Eucharistic
adoration, CASE tries to get across the message that there is a Catholic
way of evangelizing.
There is also the problem that evangelization is seen as the preserve of
specialists, but we want Catholics to see that it is fundamentally about
living and sharing their faith in everyday life, with the people they
meet at home, in the office or in their neighborhood.
This means Catholics need to recover a sense of confidence in their
faith, and to see it as something coherent
nothing less than the splendor which radiates meaning to every corner of
the universe. Where there has been poor catechesis, liturgical
deformation or a false understanding of ecumenism or interfaith work,
Catholics lose the sense that the Gospel is a marvelous treasure that
all need to hear.
Q: A report released recently by Tearfund on church attendance in the
United Kingdom found that, while 53% of adults still claim to be
Christian, only 15% attend church at least once a month. How do you
explain this discrepancy?
Monsignor Barltrop: I think that by claiming to be Christian, people are
saying they want to be associated with Christian values such as
kindness, fairness and compassion. Obviously that is an inadequate
understanding of Christian identity, which is actually based on faith in
Christ leading to a personal relationship with him which can only be
real if it is rooted in active membership of his body, the Church.
However, it does constitute a reminder to the Church that there is more
good will and openness to the Christian faith in our society than we
might think. It is up to us to find creative ways of engaging with
whatever spiritual quest such people are on, however inadequate we judge
its basis to be.
Q: How can the Church re-engage people with the Gospel who may never
have encountered it?
Monsignor Barltrop: Through a change of mentality where we see ourselves
as having something of immense value to offer everyone in our society,
and through more imaginative methods.
As an example, I have just come back from a "Christian Spirituality
Fair" in one of our Anglican cathedrals, at which I joined the
Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in blessing animals
and in explaining the cross of San Damiano which spoke to St.
Francis. We joined Christians of other denominations in reaching out to
passers-by, yet were very clear about our Catholic faith and way of
life. We have to believe fully in what Pope Paul VI called "the divine
power of the message the Church proclaims," and look for creative ways
to bring it to non-Christians.
Q: In the three years since the launch of CASE, what have been its main
achievements? Is the model of CASE in England and Wales one that could
and should be used elsewhere?
Monsignor Barltrop: One of our main achievements has been setting up two
Web sites, one for Catholics (www.caseresources.org.uk), and one to
interest non-Catholics in the faith (www.life4seekers.co.uk)
with a third Web site for young teenagers on the way. Through these
sites we have been able to identify or create opportunities to get the
good news into the public square. For example, this year on Valentine's
Day we promoted St. Raphael as our "heavenly helper" in finding a
suitable life partner, and this attracted a huge number of hits and
interest from the secular and Catholic media.
We have held many training days in dioceses, published many resources
both printed and online
and have produced a Directory of Evangelization Resources for Catholics
in England and Wales, listing all the groups, movements and training
opportunities available. It runs to 168 pages, which is encouraging in
Whether we are a model that should be used elsewhere is hard to say.
Setting up an agency is a pragmatic approach which fits well with
British culture since an agency implies doing something practical. Other
countries may already have a lot of evangelization going on and need a
more theologically based approach.
New evangelization is for the whole Church but the approach varies from
culture to culture. One thing is constant, though, as Pope John Paul II
wrote: "Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep
him for themselves, they must proclaim him" ("Novo Millennio Ineunte,"