LONDON, MAY 20, 2007 (Zenit.org ).- A new report on church attendance in the United Kingdom suggests that many Britons have no connection with organized religion, and that the majority of those who identify themselves as Christian never go to Church.
The Christian relief and development agency Tearfund released the report "Churchgoing in the U.K." in April, which revealed that more than half of those polled claim to be Christians.
Monsignor Keith Barltrop, director of the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelization (CASE) of the bishops' conference of England and Wales, tells ZENIT in this interview that the key to successful evangelization in the modern world is renewing a sense of confidence among Catholics in their faith.
Q: How did the decision by the bishops of England and Wales to establish CASE three years ago herald a change in the way the Church engages with evangelization?
Monsignor Barltrop: First of all, the decision to establish CASE heralded a recognition by the bishops that there was already a certain amount happening at grass roots level in England and Wales regarding evangelization, but it needed more official support and coordination if the challenges of 21st century Britain were to be met.
When the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, asked me to help in setting up CASE, he told me that we needed to look at such new ecclesial movements and distil the secrets of their success into the mainstream of parish life, so that evangelization would no longer be a foreign, or even an embarrassing, concept to Catholics, but something they felt happy to engage in.
The bishops were thus trying to root in English and Welsh soil the understanding that Pope John Paul II gave the universal church -- that the time has come for a new evangelization. By that he meant that secularization had made such inroads into what were once Christian societies that the Church needed a new ardor and new methods in evangelization.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles to evangelization in Europe today?
Monsignor Barltrop: The biggest obstacles are sheer ignorance or "forgetting" of the Gospel, and the fact that many people who think they know what Christianity means actually have a distorted and woefully incomplete picture.
The "forgetfulness" of Christianity -- summed up in the well-known saying that "God is missing but not missed" -- is a phenomenon with a complex origin. In the 20th century the twin disasters of Communism and Fascism led people to become profoundly disillusioned with all attempts to explain and save the world. People have now become consumers of spirituality and religion, as they are of material products, and Catholic truth itself can become one more lifestyle option among others.
This problem is compounded by the way values of Christian origin -- such as justice, equality and human rights -- have become detached from their Christian roots and are now even being turned against the Church, so that the very proclamation of the truth is seen as somehow oppressive and destructive of human freedom and happiness. In such a world it becomes difficult to avoid the impression that evangelization is about clever manipulation of the truth or, even worse, associated with that fundamentalism which the modern world both fears and is, paradoxically, responsible for.
Q: Why is it often difficult to engage Catholics with the need to support evangelization?
Monsignor Barltrop: In Britain, one of the main factors is that evangelization is associated with a certain kind of Protestantism, or with related images such as people preaching aggressively on street corners and "televangelists" looking for money.
By making known a variety of Catholic methods of evangelization, and especially by associating it with the Eucharist and Eucharistic adoration, CASE tries to get across the message that there is a Catholic way of evangelizing.
There is also the problem that evangelization is seen as the preserve of specialists, but we want Catholics to see that it is fundamentally about living and sharing their faith in everyday life, with the people they meet at home, in the office or in their neighborhood.
This means Catholics need to recover a sense of confidence in their faith, and to see it as something coherent -- nothing less than the splendor which radiates meaning to every corner of the universe. Where there has been poor catechesis, liturgical deformation or a false understanding of ecumenism or interfaith work, Catholics lose the sense that the Gospel is a marvelous treasure that all need to hear.
Do read the whole article, but the third question and answer that I posted is one that I think we all need to take to heart. First of all, there is a Catholic way of evangelizing. It must be rooted in strong catechesis, faithful liturgy, and a strong Catholic identity. We should not present Catholicism as just another flavor on the menu of Christianity.
Secondly, evangelization is not the bailiwick of those with special training. Living our lives as faithful Catholics is in itself a powerful form of evangelization. As a parent, I witness to my children when they see me pray, when they hear my reflections on my spiritual reading, and when I bring the liturgical calendar into our family activities. When we engage in spiritual and corporal works of mercy, they see our faith put into action. As a family, we witness to the other families in our community when we go to great lengths to make sure we make it to Mass every Sunday. We do not allow our secular activities to keep us from our weekly worship. By unabashedly letting our faith direct our political, social, professional, and leisure activities, we offer an example of what it means to lead a Catholic life.