Pope Benedict XVI, in addressing the College of Cardinals and the Roman Curia today, offered a pretty sobering year-end status report about the Church in Europe.
The Continent, he warned, is facing an ethical crisis which has been fueled by an economic and financial crisis. Most importantly, Europe is facing a crisis of faith.
As evidence of that faith crisis, the Pope cited the diminishing number of churchgoers and their increasing age, the decline in the number of vocations to the priesthood, and the rise of skepticism and unbelief.
“If we find no answer to this,” he warned, “if faith does not take on new life, deep conviction, and real strength from an encounter with Jesus Christ—then all other reforms will remain ineffective.”
Not to say that there wasn’t some hopeful news.
- Initiatives emanating from the Vatican included the newly instituted Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, and the Year of Faith which will begin in Fall 2012.
- The Church in Africa is growing rapidly—as noted during the Pope’s recent visit to Benin.
- And World Youth Day showed a vigor and a sense of solidarity among young people in the Church. The noteworthy characteristics of this more youthful form of Christianity, Pope Benedict explained, include:
- A new experience of catholicity, of the Church’s universality;
- A new way of living our humanity, our Christianity, in a spirit of service to others;
- A profound spirit of adoration, most evident during Mass and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament;
- A renewed interest in sacramental Confession, “which is increasingly coming to be seen as an integral part of the experience” of World Youth Day; and
- An active sense of joy.
In contrast with this is the selfish attitude which is too common in the secularized Western world. Pope Benedict explained this selfishness by citing the Scripture story of Lot’s wife who, after disobeying God and looking behind her, was turned into a pillar of salt. “How often,” Pope Benedict reflected, “the life of Christians is determined by the fact that first and foremost they look out for themselves, they do good, so to speak, for themselves. And how great is the temptation of all people to be concerned primarily for themselves; to look round for themselves and in the process to become inwardly empty, to become ‘pillars of salt.’ ”