In his address to the German bishops on the occasion of their ad limina visit to the Holy See on November 20, Pope Francis has called on the bishops to initiate a new program of evangelisation to deal with the collapse of religious practice and belief in Germany
In his address to the German bishops on the occasion of their ad limina visit to the Holy See on November 20, Pope Francis has called on the bishops to initiate a new program of evangelisation to deal with the collapse of religious practice and belief in Germany.
After expressing his gratitude for “the great support given by the Church in Germany through its many charities for the people around the world,” Pope Francis referred to the mounting problems of the church in Germany.
Central to these is the decline in belief and practice of the faith.
He noted in traditionally Catholic areas “a very strong decline in Sunday Mass attendance and the sacramental life.”
Fifty years ago, he said, Sunday Mass attendance was around 50 per cent, but it is now often less than 10 per cent.
“The sacraments are increasingly less used. Confession is often gone. Fewer and fewer Catholics enter into the sacrament of marriage. The number of vocations for the priesthood and the consecrated life have drastically declined.”
The pope then challenged the German bishops by putting forward solutions to the crisis.
“First of all it is necessary to overcome the sense of paralysing resignation,” which implies that nothing can be done.
Second, he urged the bishops to draw inspiration from the heroic lives of the early Christians, singling out two of St Paul’s companions, a married couple known to us as Priscilla and Aquila, who gave witness to their faith in their lives, showing that “truth which is founded on the love of Christ for his Church, is truly credible.”
The pope perceptively observed that their commitment, as volunteers, was the complete opposite to the “progressive institutionalisation of the church,” which he described as “a new Pelagianism which tends to put our trust in administration.”
He said that “over-centralisation complicated the life of the Church and her missionary dynamism, instead of helping her.”
Echoing the words of Evangelii Gaudium, he called on the German bishops to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, and find new ways to express the truths of faith. Repeating the words of this encyclical, he said, “In fact, every true missionary activity is always 'new'.”
Pope Francis also highlighted the importance of the new evangelisation, and said that the need of the hour is pastoral reorganisation "to ensure that the structures of the Church are all missionary.
He deplored the “worldliness” of society which “deformed souls and stifled awareness of reality”.
Pope Francis said the secularised man lives in a world that he himself has created. “He surrounds himself with tinted windows, so to speak, so as not to look outwards. It is difficult to reach such people.
“On the other hand, our faith tells us that God is always the first “doer”. This certainty leads us in prayer. We pray for all men and women in our city, in our diocese, and we pray for ourselves, that God will send a beam of light of his love.
He said, “Every time we must return to the source and recover the original freshness of the Gospel, and find new ways, creative methods, other forms of expression, meaningful signs and words for the world of today.”
Teacher of the Faith
He added, “It is essential that the bishop conscientiously perceives his task as a teacher of the Faith, of the traditions and practices of the living community of the universal Church.
“The bishop is a faithful caring father to theological faculties, and must help the teacher to keep the ecclesial significance of their mission in mind.
“Fidelity to the Church and to the Magisterium does not contradict academic freedom, but it requires an attitude of willingness to serve in relation to the gifts of God. The sentire cum Ecclesia must especially honour those forming the young generations and forms.
“The presence of Catholic faculties at state educational institutions is also an opportunity to advance dialogue with society.”
“If we take a look at the parish, the community in which the faith is the most experienced and lived, the bishop must offer the sacramental life as a special way to the heart. Here two points can be highlighted: confession and the Eucharist.
“The forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy provides the opportunity to rediscover the sacraments of Penance and Reconciliation. Confession is the place where God's forgiveness and mercy is given. In the confessional, the conversion of the individual believer begins.
“Likewise, it is necessary to make the intrinsic link between the Eucharist and the priesthood always clearly visible. Pastoral plans that do not attach to the consecrated priests due importance to their service of directing, teaching and sanctifying in connection with the construction of the Church and the sacramental life, are doomed to failure.
“The valuable help of lay Christians in the communities of life, especially where vocations are missing, is not a replacement of the priestly ministry. Without priests there is no Eucharist. The Vocation Ministry begins with the desire for the priesthood in the hearts of believers.
“The Church must never be tired of being a defender of life, and cannot make any compromises in the fact that human life must be protected fully from conception to natural death. Here we cannot compromise.
“How deep are the wounds of our society through the marginalisation and ‘trashing’ of the weakest and most vulnerable – like the unborn, the elderly and the sick.”