Pope Benedict XVI has unveiled a new Vatican agency to promote “new evangelisation” and assigned it the task of combating the “de-Christianisation” of countries that were first evangelised centuries ago.
In an apostolic letter, the Pope warned of a progressive detachment from religious faith, especially in countries marked by scientific and economic progress. The new council, he said, would encourage a clearer understanding of the faith and help “remake the Christian fabric of human society”.
He said that one of the specific tasks of the agency, called the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation, will be to favour the use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
During his address last month at St Mary’s, Oscott, near Birmingham, the Pope urged the bishops of England and Wales to “avail” themselves of the new pontifical council.
Speaking at a news conference Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the council, said missionary activity in modern societies required a systematic effort against “the lack of awareness of the basic contents of the faith” among many Catholics.
He said: “We need to avoid, above all, that ‘new evangelisation’ comes across like an abstract formula. We need to fill this idea with theological and pastoral content, and we’ll do it on the strength of the Magisterium of these last decades.”
The archbishop said the council would work closely with modern communications media – an explicit request of the Pope – and that its staff would operate in several languages.
In his apostolic letter, which was released only in Italian and Latin, the Pope identified a variety of factors in the weakening of religious faith in the west: advances in science and technology; the widening of individual freedom and lifestyle choices; profound economic changes; the mixing of cultures and ethnic groups brought about by migration; and the growing interdependence among peoples.
While such changes have brought about benefits for many people, they have often been accompanied by “a worrisome loss of the sense of the sacred”, he said.
This erosion of religious values has led to a questioning of fundamental truths that once formed the basis of human society, such as “faith in God the creator, the revelation of Jesus Christ as the unique saviour, and the shared understanding of such fundamental experiences of man as living, dying and living in a family”, he said.
Although some have hailed these changes as a liberation, the Pope said, others have seen that an “interior desert” is formed when people try to live without such essential values.
He said the new pontifical council will address these expressions of religious indifference, which he said today were more worrisome than “declared atheism”.
The Pope added that the situations were different in each country, so a “single formula” of new evangelisation is impractical.
In some traditionally Christian countries, he said, the faith still shows vitality; in others it shows signs of weakness; and some areas, unfortunately, have become “almost completely de-Christianised.” He asked the pontifical council to work closely with local bishops’ conferences to promote evangelisation strategies.