Catholic World News

Cardinals reflect on New Evangelization, 'religious illiteracy'

February 20, 2012

The urgent need for a “new evangelization” and a response to “religious illiteracy” were among the main topics of conversation during a special meeting of the College of Cardinals on February 17.

Pope Benedict XVI had called all of the world’s cardinals—including those who would receive their red hats the next day—to join in the discussion on the day preceeding the February 18 consistory. Although the meeting took place behind closed doors, the Vatican released a summary of the themes that were discussed.

The main speakers during the morning session were Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York (who released the text of his address) and Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization, whose message was summarized by the Vatican Information Service. However, there were 27 talks during the afternoon session, the Vatican reported. The Vatican press office listed the main themes:

Attention was given to the problems of evangelization in various parts of the world and in different cultures: The increasing numbers of Christians in China despite difficulties; inter-religious dialogue and the struggle against poverty in India; the trials faced by Christians in the countries of the Middle East; the importance of popular religiosity for evangelization in Latin America; the challenge of secularism which tends to marginalize religion from social life in the West; challenges and difficulties as well as encouraging prospects and events that are signs of hope, such as new and vivacious ecclesiastical experiences like World Youth Days and International Eucharistic Congresses.

The Vatican statement went on to say that the cardinals had spoken of “the educational emergency” in the Church and the necessity for more effective instruction in the faith. As the afternoon session concluded, Pope Benedict XVI underlined that theme, speaking of “the need for an authentic renewal of catechesis in order to against what has been defined as 'religious illiteracy.’”

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  • Posted by: koinonia - Feb. 21, 2012 6:52 PM ET USA

    Technically speaking, religious apostasy would be more appropriate in describing what has been going on among many Catholics. Religious illiteracy, while certainly undesirable, sounds much like a euphemism for the stark reality. The Vatican has apparently discovered the extent of "the educational emergency" that exists. Sadly, this is only half the battle. There is also the will, which must be united with the intellect in directing one to Truth Himself. And that is the miracle of conversion.

  • Posted by: Defender - Feb. 21, 2012 10:30 AM ET USA

    So much depends on who is running things at the diocesan and parish level. Having taught in Catholic schools and having to send my sons to CCD (because I couldn't afford Catholic schools), I know the good and bad. Having students all day allows teachers to reinforce what they learn in class, but it can be difficult when the principal doesn't understand the Faith and belittles these efforts. My sons still ask me things they should have learned years ago in CCD-it's enough to make you cry!

  • Posted by: rfwilliams2938 - Feb. 21, 2012 10:11 AM ET USA

    I went to a Catholic grade school in the 60s and through rote memorization learned nothing. My wife and I are CCD teachers and even though the time is limited to an hour and a half a week, the kids are getting a much better understanding of the faith than I ever got at a Catholic school back then. In addition to teaching, we are evangelizing the kids. You can't just fill their heads, you have to reach their hearts too! Many Catholics, even church-going ones, have never been evangelized.

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Feb. 20, 2012 11:51 PM ET USA

    I think educating children in their faith once a week for an hour or two is the reason for religious illiteracy. The Catholic school system had children all day, the public schools have them now.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Feb. 20, 2012 8:25 PM ET USA

    Why is Vatican II looked upon with such suspicion and contempt? I struggle with how the Holy Spirit led us to so called "feel-good" catholicism. I'll stick with St. Teresa on this one, "God save us from sad saints!".

  • Posted by: TheGillerans6870 - Feb. 20, 2012 6:44 PM ET USA

    I blame it on the orders of teaching sisters who abandoned their mission. My parents got proper catechesis from the Sisters of Notre Dame; my siblings and I got a lot of amorphous, touchy-feely stuff about "renewal"...

  • Posted by: Defender - Feb. 20, 2012 5:51 PM ET USA

    Can't we track this "religious illiteracy" back to Vatican II? The so-called "spirit" of Vatican II led to feel-good Catholicism, politicians who don't know their faith (look at today) and even bishops who ignore their surroundings.