TO SHOW THAT
'BEING' MEANS 'BEING RELIGIOUS'
At the end of the work of our Plenary Assembly on
Christian faith at the dawn of the new millennium and the challenge of
non-belief and religious indifference, these are the principal
Non-belief is not increasing in the world. It is a phenomenon that is seen
primarily in the Western world. The cultural model it inspires spreads
through globalization and exerts an influence on more or less all
cultures. However, nonbelief cannot be considered a specifically Asian,
Latin-American, African or Muslim phenomenon.
Militant atheism is in regression and no longer has much influence on
public life, except in those regimes where an atheistic political system
is still in force.
the contrary, religious indifference as well as practical atheism are
growing. Agnostics and non-practising believers account for a large part
of society and indeed, live as though God did not exist and with no
reference to religious values: "Perhaps God does not exist but it doesn't
matter; in any case we can get along very well without him".
Atheism and non-belief, phenomena that seemed to have something rather
masculine and urban about them and to be found particularly among those
with an above-average culture, have changed their profile and now seem to
be connected more with a lifestyle. Consequently, non-belief is increasing
among women who go out to work.
dwindling number of regular church-goers can be seen everywhere. This
observation, however, does not mean that non-belief is on the increase.
Rather, it points to a transformation in religious practice and in the way
of believing: believing without belonging. This phenomenon implies the
detachment from any specific religious confession of a religiously
disposed person who rejects every form of institutional structure.
Everywhere there is a new, growing spiritual quest, rather than a
religious one, that is not a return to the traditional faith. Science and
modern technology have not done away with the religious sense, yet they
are unable to satisfy it.
There is no globalization of nonbelief, but a disenchantment with the
traditional religions, as regards both adherence to their doctrinal and
moral content and religious practice.
the same time, the crisis of faith among young people is counterbalanced
by the witness of other youth whose evangelizing power has been as it were
"potentiated" by the fruitful initiative of Pope John Paul II. By bringing
to the Church the fresh vigour of youth, the World Youth Days have given
her a new face that shines out in the secularized culture. As has been
said: "Young people must be taught to swim against the tide".
In our anthropocentric culture which precipitates a
cultural weakening of faith, only a clear, public affirmation of the
Gospel Message, lived without compromise in the Christian communities and
joyfully received, can give the right response to the often stifled cries
that are nonetheless always latent in the depths of the conscience. A
witness from Vietnam challenges us: "Only when our faith is strong can we
share it with others".
We are reunited in the joy of fraternal communion and in
the common desire to respond, in new or renewed ways, to the challenges of
our time. This is a matter of helping the whole Church, by means of
concrete proposals, to take the Good News to the heart of the cultures of
this vast world at the dawn of the new millennium. The celebration of the
Liturgy of the Hours, the Eucharistic Bread broken at the same table and
the sharing of pastoral concerns have invited us to turn our
hearts to Christ, the Redeemer of man, and ask him with renewed fervour to
hasten the time of his coming.
In this common hope we are preparing ourselves to express
our communion with the Holy Father, reaffirming our faithful devotion to
the mission entrusted to the Pontifical Council for Culture.
During the discussions, in the effervescence of ideas that
took shape from the mosaic of cultures on five continents, we singled out
seven proposals during the debates:
importance of witnessing to the joy of being a person loved by God;
need, reasserted by apologetics, to account with gentleness and reverence
for the hope that is in us (I Pt 3:15);
reach out to the city dweller with a public presence in social
put the Gospel in touch with the forces that form culture;
From school to university, to learn how to think;
When confronted with a secularizing media, dispersive scepticism,
intolerant liberalism and pluralism that levels everything out, to react
against the tacit acceptance of the prevalent culture with a new and
joyful presentation of Christian culture;
show non-believers, indifferent to the question of God but who believe in
human values, by means of the living example of believers and of faith
communities, that "being" means "being religious", and that men and women
find their human fullness in following the message of the Gospel of
Christ, the Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, crucified and risen,
the infinite and inexhaustible source of beauty, truth and love.
According to the Apostle John's vision in the Prologue to
his Gospel: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not
overcome it" (Jn 1:5). This is our conviction. The light of Christ's
Gospel cannot be imprisoned, and the darkness that sometimes gathers on
the horizon of a secularizing and secularized culture is not strong enough
to overcome this light.
This is the task of evangelization: to give all people the
possibility of contemplating the splendour of the Face of Christ. It is
also the great challenge that troubles us: a considerable number of our
contemporaries do not manage to see this light. The reasons are complex
and many, and it is up to us to discern and remedy them.
Thus, we have identified a range of different categories
of non-believers: those who are so through indifference, those who
explicitly reject religion and Christianity in particular, and also those
who are in search of light but fail to believe despite their awareness of
an inner call to transcendence.
In this world of non-belief, the influence of a certain
more or less organized "elite", including non-believers, agnostics and
anti-Christians, must not be overlooked and demands a pastoral response
suited to every situation.
The reasons for the lack of perception and even at times
rejection of enlightenment are various, complex and rarely original. The
cultural context, with the changes of the modern, the post-modern and the
complex phenomenon of globalization, weighs very heavily on persons
rendered frail by a culture centred on the subject and his needs.
The disintegration of society produces a phenomenon of
fragmentation that counterbalances individualization taken to extremes.
The social bond that in the past was based on religion is losing its firm
hold in many societies that are moving away from their traditional
culture. Thus, people find themselves losing their bearings on uncertain,
shifting, quicksand-like terrain.
Communicating the Gospel
We have already stressed that the Gospel proclamation
avails itself of the triple path of the true, the good and the beautiful,
which are as many places in which various factors can cast a dark pall
over spirits, preventing them from perceiving the splendour of Light.
Philosophical and moral relativism that generate pragmatism and cynical
hedonism, dim and distort the gaze of men and women and eclipse it, often
without their knowledge. Even the perception of beauty sometimes becomes a
specialized skill that requires an appropriate training for both clerics
and lay people.
To enable the light to break through the darkness, it is
important to re-establish the mind's fundamental orientation to the truth,
to ensure that it is not merely content with a worldly horizon. Indeed, if
this can satisfy natural curiosity, it cannot quench the thirst for truth
and the desire for contemplation that are inherent in the depths of the
human mind. Limited rationality imprisons in a suffocating atmosphere the
men and women and society that it claims to set free.
We recognize the immense benefits of science and encourage
scientists to persevere in their research for the good of the human being
and never against him. We are conscious of the effort that is needed in
the Church to help scholars, by means of a dialogue that inspires
confidence, to put their research under the sign of Wisdom, that is, to
recognize the need to be guided by an ethic that can distinguish by means
of natural law what is and what is not good for the human person.
At the same time, it is a question of opening people's
hearts in their quest for good in order to help them discern what can
ennoble human life and be a radiant source of happiness for themselves and
others. As we have stressed, in the context of globalization we are
witnessing a crisis of the collective rather than of the individual.
Moreover, at the same time and paradoxically, there is
still a strong demand from our secularized societies for the "social"
rites of the Church, whereas there is a worrying decline in the reception
of the sacraments of daily life. This demonstrates the importance today of
the traditional mystagogical process of Christian initiation that
accompanies the transmission of faith with its sacramental and liturgical
The journey of love is the journey of the Gospel; it is
the journey towards holiness where the witness of a life enlightened by
the splendour of grace makes it possible to understand how beautiful it is
to be Christian.
As we well know, this journey of love, which chose the
path of Calvary and the humble acceptance of suffering as the way to
Redemption, is contrary to the mirages of the media culture. The
initiation to this path takes place in the family. At the heart of the
challenge of non-belief, the pastoral care of the family is thus a
priority. In addition to this, the witness of a Church-family of God, to
use the phrase coined by the Synod of Bishops for Africa, is of capital
Lastly, it is a matter of reawakening the sense of beauty,
as we have had many opportunities to emphasize, and its capacity to
reflect the splendour of the truth in the heart of society: the truth
about the human being and the truth about God.
A short time ago an agnostic wrote to me: "Although I have
ceased to believe in God, I have never turned my back on the Church. The
reason for this attachment lies in sacred art, and perhaps in pure and
simple art. All these splendid works that express a truth whose messenger,
I believe, the Church must continue to be, prevent me from surrendering to
the fascination of materialism and from listening to the beguiling song of
the sirens of fashion".
This confession reminds us of the words of St Augustine:
"We cannot but love the beautiful". The language of beauty opens hearts to
the truth, and in its most perfect form overcomes the peculiarities of
cultures and the divisions of history.
The Church has received the light of the Gospel from the
Lord to communicate it to men and women of all cultures. For 2,000 years,
she has not ceased to build bridges to enable the inhabitants of the
earthly city to discover Christ, alive in his members.
The personal dialogue in which I learn about the other,
who he is and what he bears within him, together with the dignity of his
unique quest and the renewal of the apologetic that takes our
contemporaries' questions into account, is like the railings of bridges
that enable us to welcome our brethren, listen to them and discuss in
depth a fundamental problem, especially in order to rouse the indifferent.
The Gospel truth is inexhaustible and suffices to satisfy
all the expectations of men and women in the course of the millenniums. We
must act in such a way as to reach the minds and touch the hearts of those
who are remote.
The light of the Gospel is given to us to transform our
lives as Christians and Pastors of the Church. A holy life is the best
possible transmitter of light.
This explains the urgent need for profound renewal in the
Church, with the search for a true culture of holiness in our particular
It is a question of the authenticity of witness: the saint
knows that he is not a source of light. He loves it with all his or her
might and, with evangelical patience, witnesses to it as a poor person who
practises what he preaches.
The scandal of division and its relationship to the challenge of non-belief and scepticism
with regard to the Gospel of the Beatitudes urge us to be firmly committed
to ecumenical dialogue. The desire for unity is the fruit of charity
lived, which is itself a way of spreading the truth.
On this journey of holiness, prayer is the life-breath of
Christians. It is our duty to remember non-believers in our daily prayers.
It is also our duty to implore the grace of God so that he will enable us
to witness credibly to the beauty of the Gospel, and that this witness,
through the grace of the Holy Spirit, will move the hearts of the
nonbelievers and the indifferent.
Our Plenary Assembly has taken place beneath the gaze of