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Just an amusing beach anecdote from World Youth Day: I met one of our seminarians who has just got back from Rio. They had a fantastic time with the Westminster group. I said to him, ‘Where were you staying’? And he said, ‘On the beach’. So I said, ‘I know you were all on the beach, but where were you staying for the other days?’ And he said, ‘On the beach!’ It seems that the Westminster crowd, instead of slumming it in the suburbs, were in a hotel right there on the beach itself, and they slept out on the beach for the vigil not because they needed to but just to get the vibe.

Anyway, that’s not my beach quote. Apparently the pilgrims got chatting to an atheist at the airport on the flight out to Rio. It was a friendly conversation, but they spooked him when they said that there was a big Catholic festival in Rio and that lots of young Catholics were flying out to participate. His response: ‘Oh well, I’ll just avoid them by staying on the beach the whole time’.

That’s my beach quote!

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Many, many congratulations to Krakow for being named as the host city for World Youth Day 2016. There are no hard feelings from us here in London and the UK: this is clearly the Lord’s will; Poland will be a fantastic host country; and we will be there in our thousands. I am already working out how many coaches we can get to go from the University Chaplaincy in London.

If you want to see the development of the WYD London 2016 idea, you can read my original post from last year here, and an update here. I’ll close the London 2016 Facebook event soon, in case it confuses anyone! But of course I couldn’t resist setting up a World Youth Day London 2022 Facebook event (there are 17 people going as I type now…).

Why 2022? Traditionally, World Youth Day alternates between Europe and outside-Europe. 2016 will be in Krakow. 2019 will probably be outside Europe. So 2022 will be the next chance for London and the UK to host WYD. Theoretically, there could be a gap of just two years between one WYD and the next (as there was between Madrid 2011 and Rio 2013), but personally I think three years is much better.

2022 seems like a long, long way away – but it gives us something to work on and look forward to for the next nine years.

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My original ‘World Youth Day London’ post was three weeks ago, so I thought I’d give you an update.

It started as a very spontaneous idea: to set up a Facebook page to see whether people would be interested in World Youth Day coming to Britain. It’s the first time I have used Facebook for anything other than linking to this blog or posting the odd comment, so I had no idea how it might pan out. I spent a few minutes setting it up, clicked ‘Go’ or ‘Publish’ or whatever, and within about five seconds ‘Michael’ had signed up to come – so it was now officially a party and not just a lonely fantasy; and then within the next few hours we reached a hundred, and there was a minor buzz amongst my small Facebook network.

I think it was Luke Coppen at the Catholic Herald who shifted it up a gear from social networking to mainstream media, just by linking to the blog post on his morning Catholic must reads. Then, after a call from Ed West at the Herald, it became an article in its own right. And the following weekend this article was pasted over the front page of the Catholic Herald, as I was to discover quite by chance when I popped into St Mary Moorfields for a quite moment on the Friday afternoon. More significant, perhaps, was the fact that the lead editorial in the Herald gave the idea a cautious welcome (under the less cautious headline ‘Let’s get ready to bring World Youth Day to Britain’). After outlining some of the objections it concludes:

Such concerns should not be dismissed lightly. But neither should Fr Wang’s initiative. If Rome sees that there is an intense desire to host WYD here then it will take notice and, even if it is Krakow’s turn next, we may move to the front of the queue.

The Tablet called for an interview as well, and ran a short Notebook piece about the idea.

Very quickly, the secularists expressed their outrage at the idea, various blogs were re-posting the story, and the TV news agency Rome Reports was reporting that London was in the running with Krakow to host the post-Rio World Youth Day:

This is when it went global – literally. I think the Rome Reports videos are syndicated, so straight away the idea that London was a contender was appearing as news down-under on the website of the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Originally I set up on Facebook a ‘Group’ (which requires the moderator to approve you as a member), a ‘Page’ (which you can ‘like’ and thus promote with a single click), and an ‘Event‘ (which you can publicise and invite friends to and sign up to attend) – you can tell I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I was told that the Page would take off quicker, because ‘liking’ doesn’t involve as much commitment as ‘signing up’ – and people hate commitment. But the Page did not really take off, whereas the Event grew very quickly. I’ve now closed the Group and the Page and left the Event, so that there is one main focus for the idea, and all the comments and suggestions are collected in one place. The most significant discussion developing in the comments over the last few days is whether Liverpool rather than London would be a better British host city (you know where my sympathies lie).

By this weekend, about 1600 have said they are coming, and about 9000 have been invited. The interest spread very quickly in the first week, kept growing in the second week, and is now slowing down. Maybe it has peaked already. I’m not sure what level of interest would signify that there is the requisite amount of energy, commitment, faith, passion, desire and sheer enthusiasm for the project for it to be worth thinking about in a more serious way. I joked that if the London numbers overtake the Krakow WYD event page (currently around 3500 signed up) then it would be worth moving to Stage B – whatever Stage B would be. I keep telling people that at this point, Stage A, it is just an idea, a straw-poll, and not a campaign.

I’ve learnt how quickly something can grow on Facebook. I’ve learnt how easily something can morph from a social networking doodle into a global mainstream media news story. I’ve learnt how you cannot control how an idea will be interpreted or where it will go. I’ve learnt, I think, that sometimes (not always, but sometimes) it’s worth acting on an impulse even if you are not sure what the impulse really means.

Here is the present pitch, which has been adapted in response to various suggestions and criticisms. The main shift has been to make it less London-centric (only a little bit less…), and to address the money question and remind people that WYD benefits an economy rather than harming it. You can see the event page here, I think, even if you are not on Facebook.

We believe that the next World Youth Day, after Rio 2013, should take place in Britain in 2016, with the main events and closing Mass in London. And we’ll be there! There will never be a better time: post-Papal Visit, post-Olympics, the faith and energy of young Catholics here, the sense of renewal and hope within the Catholic Church in this country, the pull of the English language, and the attraction of Britain as a destination for visitors. WYD has already been to Poland, France, Italy, German and Spain – it’s time to come to Britain!

We could put on the best WYD there has ever been. It would revitalise the Church and be an incredible witness to the people of this country. It would be a truly national event, bringing together every Catholic diocese, parish, group and movement. It wouldn’t distract from other important pastoral priorities – instead it would provide a focus and stimulus for them. The period of planning and preparation would galvanise the Church at national and local levels. The ‘Days in the Dioceses’, in the week before WYD itself, would be a celebration of faith throughout the regions, with hundreds of thousands of international young pilgrims welcomed into parishes and families across Britain. And there could be an important ecumenical dimension too, with Catholics and other Christian communities cooperating in hospitality, witness and celebration.

London would be the focus for the main WYD events and closing Mass. Why? Not because of some unthinking ‘London-centric’ prejudice in favour of the capital, but simply because of the practical advantages. London has the venues, the infrastructure, the transport, the public spaces – the sheer size; and it will have the experience of dealing with the Olympics. In the three dioceses that converge there (Westminster, Southwark and Brentwood), it has the greatest number of Catholic parishes and movements, the richest concentration of Catholic life, and an incomparable diversity of people and communities. And it has a unique pull in the international imagination – witness the time of the Royal Wedding. It would be ‘London uniting the country and opening out to the world’, rather than ‘London excluding the regions’.

Yes, there would be significant costs. But unlike the recent Papal visit, WYD would pay for itself. If just half a million pilgrims register (a conservative estimate), and the fee is just £50, that’s £25m to start with, even before the serious fundraising has begun. And despite the misgivings of some, no-one seriously doubts that this kind of event brings massive economic benefits to the host country. The Papal visit, for example, brought an £8.5m boost to Glasgow alone; and a £12.5m boost to Birmingham. According to an independent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, WYD Madrid brought 354m Euros to Spain [see links below]. This is one reason why the British Government, and Boris Johnson (as Mayor of London), will surely be interested in it. But there would be deeper reasons are well: the opportunity of hosting what is perhaps the largest youth event in the world, of opening our doors to people from every corner of the earth, and of putting young people at the centre of the national agenda.

At the moment, this is an off-the-cuff, un-thought-out, testing-the-water kind of proposition. It began in the parks and cafes of Madrid at WYD 2011, when thousands of young people from the UK began to think ‘We could do this!’ And this Facebook event itself started as a response to the enthusiasm shown on the Krakow WYD Facebook event page, and the feeling that we in Britain should be just as enthusiastic as the Poles. If we overtake the Krakow WYD event numbers (currently at 3,242 on 15 Jan), then it’s probably time to start thinking and praying about this more seriously.

So if you want to see it move forward, INVITE YOUR FRIENDS – TODAY!! And we’ll see where we are in a couple of weeks. The question is: Do we care as much as the Poles?

What do you think? Post your own comments, suggestions, criticisms, links, etc. in the box below.

You can see the Krakow event page here:
http://www.facebook.com/events/285324498163926/

Report about effects of Papal visit on Glasgow’s economy:
http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/papal-visit-s-8-5m-boost-for-city-1.1043610

Report about the effects of Papal visit on Birmingham’s economy:
http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-news/2010/09/08/pope-s-visit-expected-to-be-worth-12-5m-to-birmingham-s-economy-65233-27222221/

Report about the economic benefits of WYD Madrid to Spain:
http://www.rio2013.com/en/noticias/detalhes/144/wyd-madrid-yielded-354-million-euros

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I’m just back from World Youth Day in Madrid. We took the non-budget option, thank goodness; so instead of staying on school floors and going for a communal ‘hose-down’ in the yard each morning (as some friends had to do), we had the relative luxury of beds and hot showers. You can’t imagine the Madrid heat if you haven’t experienced it. It was 39°C walking to the Vigil on Saturday afternoon (that’s over 100°F), with rucksacks and sleeping bags on our shoulders. No wonder the medical services were stretched.

There were 121 pilgrims in the group from Westminster Diocese. At the beginning we had four glorious days in Salamanca. I’m glad, this time, that we didn’t stay with Spanish host families, because we needed time to get to know each other. Many of the young people came as representatives of their home parishes, and so wouldn’t have known many others before. Salamanca gave us the chance just to be with each other before the madness of Madrid; with time for prayer, catechesis, discussion, and plenty of opportunities to explore the city, to soak up the pre-World Youth Day atmosphere, and learn the meaning of ‘tapas’ and ‘cerveza’.

For some, the highlight was doing the conga round the Plaza Mayor, perhaps the most beautiful square in Europe, with several hundred Koreans, Zambians and Australians, as the clock struck midnight. For others, it was a frenzied search, instigated by our irrepressible Spanish guide, for a mythical frog carved into the facade of the university which – if found – would guarantee you delivery of a faithful and loving spouse. Pretty high stakes.

After a day in Avila, visiting all the Teresian sights, we got to our accommodation in Madrid on Monday evening last week.

What is World Youth Day? Let me give you the basics, in case you haven’t heard much before; and then a couple of reflections. Hundreds of thousands of young Catholics converge on a different city every two or three years to celebrate their faith and meet the Pope. At the beginning of the week, there is a Mass of welcome, which is the first time that you get a sense of how many people are there. This time it took place in the centre of the city around the Cibeles area. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday there is a pattern of smaller-scale local catechesis in the morning, with the afternoons and evenings free to join in the ‘Festival of Youth’.

The catechesis takes place in language groups, often in a local church, but sometimes in a big stadium or conference hall. It’s usually a package of music, drama, testimonies, etc., organised by a particular youth group. The centrepiece is a chunky catechetical talk from a bishop, together with a Q&A session. It’s one of the rare occasions when young people get the chance to fire questions at a bishop – any questions at all – and to hear his spontaneous responses. And the morning session ends with Mass.

The ‘Festival of Youth’ is a vast jamboree of events that take place over the city during the week. Hundreds of concerts, exhibitions, prayer services, talks, panels, and much more. You can spend hours just browsing through the programme, and the challenge is to select just one or two things each day that sound especially appealing and try to make them. Or you can eat. Or you can sleep. Or just hang out. It’s hard to do everything. And in the intense heat of Madrid I did a lot less than I wished and usually opted for a long lunch and a siesta, with the odd venture out into the city.

Midweek the Pope arrives, which is an excuse for another huge central celebration. Sometime on the Friday there is traditionally a World Youth Day Stations of the Cross. And then everyone who is registered, together with hundreds of thousands of others, head to a vast out-of-town venue for the Prayer Vigil on Saturday evening and the final Mass on Sunday morning. In Madrid it took place at Cuatro Vientos, an airfield in the south of the city.

By the time we got there, about 5.30pm, the main area – which holds 800,000 people – was already full. It gives you an idea of the sheer scale of the event. In our overflow area, which was meant for the day visitors the following morning, there must have been two or three hundred thousand people by the time the Vigil started; so I can quite believe that with the addition of ordinary Spanish parishioners who came for Mass the next day there were over 1.5 million people and even nearer to 2 million, as the organisers claim. Just take a look at the aerial photos. I’ve since heard that some groups didn’t even get into the overflow area because that was full.

On the one hand, it was incredibly frustrating for us to be ‘outside’, given that we had reserved tickets for sector E1 in the airfield itself. Someone had done their calculations wrong, or opened the gates without any scrutiny of the passes. And there was a shocking lack of care for the hundreds of thousands of young people in the overflow area – above all the lack of drinking water and food (our designated food parcels were inside the complex and we were not allowed in to collect them), and the complete absence of information or hands on assistance. On the other hand, people were very patient and accepting, recognising without the need for any sermons that there is a grace in not having the best seat and bearing this kind of small deprivation humbly. We could see a screen easily; emergency supplies arrived at 3 in the morning; and the advantage of being on the outside was having space to stretch out and as many portaloos as you could wish for – unlike those penned inside.

Just as the Pope came out, about 8.30pm, an incredible storm came over the area; lightning, thunder, horizontal rain. It was pretty scary, and the organisers obviously didn’t know what to do, so they just stood there behind their white umbrellas, trying to keep the Pope dry; and we huddled together; and the less trusting ones amongst us – me included – wondered whether we should leave while the underground trains were still running.

Eventually the storm passed, and there was an incredibly profound twenty minutes of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. It’s quite something to kneel in silence before the Lord with over a million people, and have a sense of how the silence and prayer are taking you deeper and deeper. People commented on this when we had Exposition in Hyde Park on the Saturday of Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain; and I felt it even more in Cuatro Vientos – the power of silent Adoration, not just as a psychological manifestation of being united in such a huge group, but something spiritual, the power of Christ’s Presence.

We slept under the stars, when the singing and dancing finally died down in the early hours, and woke for Mass at 9.30. With some other Westminster priests, I managed to use my ‘sacerdote’ pass to get into the main airfield, and then to the seating just in front of the sanctuary reserved for concelebrating priests – thousands of us. One of the first things I did was stand on my seat just to take a look at the crowds behind me – a staggering sight, although it made me appreciate the numbers that must have been at the World Youth Day in Rome in the year 2000, which seemed to be even greater. I slept in my seat before things started, and then managed to stay awake for Mass. It was heartbreaking that Holy Communion couldn’t be distributed to most of the congregation, because most of the chapels scattered round the airfield that were meant to hold the consecrated hosts were literally blown away in the storm the night before.

The storm coming in during the Saturday evening Vigil

Somehow we got back to base after the Mass; showered and slept a bit; had a final evening together in the hostel; and came home on the Monday.

I’m just writing about external events, and it’s hard to convey the deeper currents that flow through the week-long celebration, and through the hearts and minds of each group and each individual. What is it about World Youth Day that touches the people involved so profoundly and so personally? I think that there is a real grace to the event, a grace of conversion, of being renewed in faith, of glimpsing something of God and of the Church and of oneself as if for the first time – I’ve seen this on every World Youth Day I’ve been on (and this is my fifth…). It’s far more than some kind of mass hysteria; far more than an over-blown youth festival or an outdated homage to John Paul II (as some might think).

First, I think it’s an experience of the Church. The ordinary, simple reality of the Church, that is simply not seen very often. People being together, knowing each other, sharing each other’s lives. The beauty of the faith explained, in ways that speak to the heart and connect with the ordinary realities of life. The sacraments celebrated worthily, joyfully, with some solid catechesis behind them. The diversity of what it means to he Catholic, and the unity of the Catholic faith – at the same time. And of course meeting the Pope, praying with him and with so many others in such a visible expression of Christian communion. I don’t think there is some great secret to Catholic youth work – it’s just about living the Catholic faith, and creating a context in which it can be lived, in all its fullness.

Second, it’s obviously an experience of pilgrimage, in a particular form. So all the well-known graces of this experience are allowed to flourish – getting away from things, making sacrifices, travelling to a holy destination, carrying a particular intention, meeting new people, putting ordinary life in perspective, having extra time to pray and reflect, etc. This is true for Lourdes and Walsingham and a thousand other pilgrimages.

Third, I think World Youth Day allows young people to experience not just the Church as Church (faith, sacraments, Pope, community, etc.), but the way one’s whole life can be transformed by a living faith. Maybe because people are trying harder, maybe because they are liberated from some of the struggles that plague them back home, maybe because it’s easier when you are constantly being reminded about the meaning of faith and noticing it in the lives of those around you – but you really see what it means to love Christ and to share his love with others, and you see how much better the world is because of that. You see how the Catholic faith makes sense of life; how it makes life more alive.

You see how different life is when it is founded on prayer, generosity, service, sacrifice, forgiveness, joy, humility, and all the other virtues that can so easily be forgotten or even dismissed. You see how different life is when people are really living their Catholic faith and founding it on the love of Christ, even with all their human weaknesses; and when a community is trying to live it, not just for their own integrity, but for the sake of others too. It really works; it shines and sometimes dazzles. It’s just not put to the test very often. When you see it, on these strange occasions like a World Youth Day pilgrimage, you can’t but be affected. And no wonder the young people coming home are coming back a little bit different.

You can see some of our Westminster photos on Flickr here, and the official Spanish WYD photos here.

Apologies for the long post – it’s been quite an intense few days!

I’m off to Walsingham on Thursday for another huge youth event, this time the annual Youth 2000 summer festival. It’s like a mini-World Youth Day, only in Norfolk, England! So if you are between 16 and 35, and didn’t get the chance to go to Madrid, why not think about coming along. Or even if you did. It’s from Thursday 25 August to Monday 29. The details are here.

And to finish. One of the few disappointments from Madrid was this year’s theme song. So here is the one from Sydney three years ago, one of my favourite ‘worship songs’ of all time (if it comes under that category):

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Pope John Paul II has been a huge inspiration for me in my faith and my vocation as a priest. I was at seminary at the English College in Rome, from 1992 to 1997, and the Sunday timetable was designed so that we could get to St Peter’s for the Pope’s Angelus address between Mass and lunch.

It was wonderful to wander down to St Peter’s Square and join the crowds, especially if you had visitors staying with you; not just to see him – as a kind of tourist event or cultural icon – but to listen to him and above all to pray with him. The sense of ‘being in communion’ with the worldwide Church through your prayerful communion with St Peter’s successor was very strong.

Two personal memories stand out. Each year we had a different pastoral placement in Rome – some pastoral project that we got involved in once a week. One of these, for me, was working in a youth centre near St Peter’s. One week the team was invited to the Pope’s early morning Mass in his private chapel. We arrived all excited, like fans wanting to gawp at a celebrity, but we were suddenly caught up in an atmosphere of profound stillness and contemplation. He was there praying before the tabernacle. That’s all. But it felt as if he was carrying the needs of the whole Church in his heart, and as if the mystery and holiness of God were a living reality for him.

I think he was a contemplative, who lived continually in the presence of God. I was so keen not to reduce this prayerful encounter to an anecdote that I passed by the chance to buy the photo of our brief meeting afterwards – which I regret deeply now!

The other memory is the World Youth Day that took place in Rome in 2000. He was elderly and already quite frail, but when he came out to meet the young people – nearly two million of them – you could see how energised and open he was to them.

He was like a father, who somehow communicated a genuine love for everyone there, an almost personal concern, and a longing for them to know the beauty of Christ and the beauty of a life that is given to Christ. It seemed to touch everyone personally in a profound way.

He was a great teacher, a great leader; but it’s these personal memories of his goodness and holiness that seem to stand out for people – even those who never met him.

I don’t have the photo from that ‘private Mass’, just the memory; but I’ve got his Apostolic Blessing on the wall beside my desk, from the day of my ordination in 1998 – which makes up for it!

If you want some further reading about the beatification, here are some links to John Allen’s recent posts and articles:

NCR postings

Other media outlets

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Perhaps I’m overstating it in the title, but new research from the States shows that the Catholic Church there is much better at retaining old members than it is recruiting new ones. Or more precisely, it is not losing members any faster than any other mainstream Christian body; the problem is that it is not gaining them very effectively. As John Allen says: “To put all that into crass capitalistic terms, in America’s highly competitive religious marketplace, the real Catholic problem isn’t customer service but new sales.”

St Patrick's Cathedral, New York

 

Here is his analysis of the 2008 “Religious Landscape Survey” from the Pew Forum. You can read his interview with the people at the Pew Forum here.

Try as we might to remind ourselves that the Catholic church isn’t Microsoft and that quantitative measures of success or failure don’t always correspond to the logic of the Gospel, most of us take that lesson to heart only selectively. Some Catholics can’t resist touting the huge crowds at World Youth Day as an endorsement of their version of orthodoxy; others cite polling majorities in favor of reform on birth control and other issues as proof of the sensus fidelium.

The most powerful recent instance of that temptation has been Catholic reaction to the 2008 “Religious Landscape Survey” from the Pew Forum, which documented a remarkable fluidity in religious affiliation in America — almost half of American adults have either switched religions or dropped their ties to religion altogether.

For Catholicism, the banner headline was that there are now 22 million ex-Catholics in America, by far the greatest net loss for any religious body. One in three Americans raised Catholic have left the church. Were it not for immigration, Catholicism in America would be contracting dramatically: for every one member the church adds, it loses four. On the other hand, the study also found that the Catholic church has a higher retention rate than other major Christian denominations, and that 2.6 percent of the adult population is composed of converts to Catholicism, representing a pool of nearly six million new Catholics.

Naturally, critics of various aspects of Catholic life, such as the sexual abuse crisis or what some see as an overly conservative ideological drift, see the defections as proof of malaise. (A prominent American theologian recently claimed the Pew data reveal a “mass exodus” from the church, which he linked to a preoccupation by some bishops with the culture wars.) Equally predictably, Catholics content with the status quo play up the good news.

Given the disparities in interpretation, I turned to the director of the Pew Forum, Luis Lugo, to try to understand what the data really have to say. I spoke to Lugo by phone Thursday morning, and we were joined by Pew senior researcher Greg Smith.

Here’s the bottom line: In comparison with other religious groups in America, the Catholic church’s struggles aren’t really with pastoral care, but missionary muscle. Overall, Catholicism serves existing members fairly well, as measured by the share that chooses to stick around; what it doesn’t do nearly as well is to evangelize. The data do not reflect widespread dissatisfaction in the pews, at least to any greater extent than other religious bodies face. Instead, they reveal a problem with getting people into the pews in the first place.

To put all that into crass capitalistic terms, in America’s highly competitive religious marketplace, the real Catholic problem isn’t customer service but new sales.

Even if one were to focus just on defections, it’s not clear which ideological camp in today’s church could claim vindication. While many former Catholics object to church teachings on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, one in ten Protestant Evangelicals in America today is also an ex-Catholic, many of whom deserted Catholicism because it wasn’t conservative enough. Finally, there’s a clear plug for youth ministry implied in the Pew data: Roughly two-thirds of those who abandon Catholicism do so before they’re 23, which means the make-or-break period is adolescence and early adulthood.

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World Youth Day 2008 Concert (#458) by Christopher Chan.

World Youth Day - Sydney, 2008

I did a recent post about the religious identity of young Catholics and their desire for a sense of belonging and purpose. John Allen explains how the emergence of a certain brand of ‘evangelical Catholicism’ reflects a broader sociological reality that can be seen across different religions. He draws on the work of the French sociologist Olivier Roy:

It’s not just Catholics passing through an evangelical phase. In fact, the revival of traditional identity and the push to proclaim that identity in public is a defining feature of religion generally in the early 21st century.

In Europe, Roy points to the vigorous defense of the public display of crucifixes by Catholics, the insistence of Muslim women upon wearing veils, and a trend among younger Jewish men to wear the kippah at school and in the workplace. On the Christian side of the ledger, he also includes the massive crowds drawn by the World Youth Days instituted under Pope John Paul II, and the more recent “Christian Pride” festivals organized in some European cities as a self-conscious response to “Gay Pride” rallies. Globally, Roy notes the explosive growth of Evangelical and Pentecostal forms of Christianity, the success of Salafism, Tablighi Jamaat and neo-Sufism within Islam, the comeback of the Lubavich movement inside Judaism, as well as the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India and the popularity of Sri Lankan theravada Buddhism.

Though highly distinct, Roy argues that these evangelical strains within the world’s major religions share certain defining features: “The individualization of faith, anti‐intellectualism, a stress on salvation and realization of the self, [and] rejection of the surrounding culture as pagan.”

One can debate the merits of certain items on that list, but in the main Roy’s observation is indisputable: The reassertion of traditional markers of religious identity, interpreted in a personal and evangelical key, is part of the physiognomy of our times far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church.

I’m not sure all this works as a description of the sources of renewal I have met within British Catholicism, but there is plenty to think about here.

Interestingly, Roy doesn’t see this as a comeback for religion, but a sign that mainstream religion is becoming more and more detached from the broader cultural and political environment. So it is a sign of the success of secularism.

[It’s] a body blow, or at least a serious challenge, for religions such as Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity, which historically have emphasized the integration of religion with cultural, national and ethnic identity. Certainly the heavy losses Catholicism has suffered to Pentecostals in Latin America, and more recently in parts of Africa, seem to lend credence to that view.

But Allen counters that this might be just the moment for Catholics to re-engage with the culture and show the possibility of integrating faith and reason.

One could argue that Catholicism is uniquely positioned to do justice to the legitimate aspiration for identity expressed in today’s evangelical push, while ensuring that it does not become so thoroughly disengaged from, or antagonistic to, the surrounding culture that it ends in the extremist pathologies Roy describes. That seems to be what Benedict XVI has in mind when he talks about contemporary Christianity as a “creative minority” – clear about what makes it different, but aiming to renew the broader culture from within, not forever warring against it.

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