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Europe suffers from 'faith fatigue,

December 22, 2011

The Church in Europe is facing “a crisis of faith,” Pope Benedict XVI said in a year-end address to the leaders of the Roman Curia.

Citing Europe’s “fatigue” as a main reason for the crisis, the Pope noted that during the past year Europe has suffered through “an economic and financial crisis that is ultimately based on the ethical crisis looming over the Old Continent.”

The problem facing the Church, the Pope said, is well known; all Christians—especially in Europe--should be aware that “regular churchgoers are growing older all the time and that their number is constantly diminishing; that recruitment of priests is stagnating; that skepticism and unbelief are growing.” After laying out the problem, the Pope stated flatly: “If we find no answer to this—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.”

Against that background, the Pope continued, the Church struggles to revive an active faith. Looking back across 2011, he remarked that “the ecclesial events of the outgoing year were all ultimately related to this theme.”

Following a Vatican tradition, the Holy Father met on December 22 with members of the College of Cardinals and officials of the Roman Curia, for an exchange of Christmas greetings. After Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, conveyed the greetings of the group, Pope Benedict replied, thanking the prelates for their service during the year. The Pope then offered a candid assessment of the challenges the Church faced in 2011.

Among the major initiatives of the year, the Pope highlighted the creation of a new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, dedicated to restoring the faith in societies that have lost their Christian character. He also mentioned his proclamation of a Year of Faith, with the same goal.

The Pontiff mentioned that some of his experience during the year have offered a more positive vision of the Church’s future. For example, he said, during a visit to Benin he found “none of the ‘faith fatigue’ that is so prevalent here.” In Africa, he reported, the faithful appear “so ready to sacrifice and so full of happiness” that their attitude is an antidote to Europe’s exhaustion. Another sign of hope, the Pope said, was the celebration of World Youth Day, at which “a new, more youthful form of Christianity can be seen.” Pope Benedict saw five noteworthy characteristics of this vigorous form of Christianity:

  • First, “there is a new experience of catholicity, of the Church’s universality;
  • Second, there is “a new way of living our humanity, our Christianity,” in a spirit of service to others;
  • Third, there is a profound spirit of adoration, most evident during Mass and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament;
  • Fourth, there is a renewed interest in sacramental Confession, “which is increasingly coming to be seen as an integral part of the experience” of World Youth Day;
  • Fifth, there is an active sense of joy.

In his description of the spirit that dominated World Youth Day, Pope Benedict contrasted the sense of solidarity with the selfish attitude that is too common in the secular Western world:

There came into my mind the image of Lot’s wife, who by looking round was turned into a pillar of salt. How often 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.”


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  • Posted by: unum - Dec. 23, 2011 8:31 AM ET USA

    Holy Father, there is nothing like a lengthy depression to restore peoples faith in a higher power, rather than the government and the economy. If you take the long view (which is difficult when one is over 80), things are progressing according to God's laws. It is ordained that we shall reap what we sow, as St. Paul tells us in Galations 6:7-8.

  • Posted by: normnuke - Dec. 22, 2011 6:05 PM ET USA

    Holy father hits the nail on the head. Again. When I think on the time of Jesus' life on earth I wonder at the (what we would consider) dreadful under-stimulation of life in that time, and on its poverty. What a contrast to the relentless prosperity and stimulation of our lives! Which rob us of faith and leave us with nothing but ennui.