The Church in Europe seen from Oceania
By Fr. Victor Roche SVD
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands (CBC)
Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania (FCBCO)
Dear Secretaries General of Bishops Conferences of the Countries of Europe,
It is an honour to be invited to such a meeting of the Secretaries General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Europe. I am asked to present a paper about the Church in Europe as seen by other regions of the world. It is good that we reflect together.
My personal background
I was baptized by a French MEP priest and given a French name ‘Roche’. I had a German Rector in the SVD Seminary; had an Irish Novice Master; had many European Lecturers in Philosophy and Theology. A Hungarian priest introduced me to the Mission life in Papua New Guinea and served for the past 32 years with missionaries who are from Europe.
I come from Tamil Nadu from India where family values are of great importance. I work in Papua New Guinea where Community Values are respected.
Europe is culturally very rich
Europe can boast of a culture which is thousands of years old. Many of these cultural traditions have gone with migrants to North and South America, Canada, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand etc.
Europe’s contribution in the field of Sciences
Europe’s contribution in the field of Education, Physics, Mathematics have influenced the rest of the world. Great inventions of Electricity, Phone, Computers etc. have changed the lives of the people.
Europe’s Contribution in the field of Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology
Europe has contributed greatly in the field of Philosophical thinking, Psychology and Sociology. It has also contributed to the rest of the world in the field of Political systems: Democracy, Capitalism, Communism etc.
Europe’s Contribution to Religion
Great Religions of the world have originated from the East: Judaism, Islam and Christianity from the Middle East; Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism from the Indian Subcontinent; Taoism and Shintoism from China.
Christianity which originated from Bethlehem, Galilee and Palestine spread very fast in Europe. Many monasteries were places of rich spiritual traditions. Orders like Benedictines, Cistercians, Franciscans, Carmelites etc. were flourishing throughout Europe. Many men and women religious orders such us Dominicans, Franciscans, Capuchins, Jesuits, Salesians, Sacred Heart, Divine Word sent missionaries to the rest of the world.
Christianity was an official religion of some countries until the recent past. France was the cradle of the Catholic Church until the Cultural Revolution. Parish Churches and Catholic Schools were in the centre of a ‘village’. A parish priest, respected as a spiritual leader, was also a community leader who had a ‘say’ in every aspect of life of the people of his parish. Spiritual, Cultural and Social celebrations were done within the parish community.
Those were the good old days! What a change we can see now! What are the causes?
In my opinion, the following are the causes:
The Church in Europe is influenced by the present culture of the world
Europe is characterised by individualism: ‘I’ and ‘my interests’ are very important. In the name of human rights of the individual, the family and community values are sacrificed.
Europe is characterised by ‘money’ and ‘economy’: greed for money has destroyed families, financial institutions and even countries. Political parties which promise a good economy are elected to the government.
Europe is characterised by the decadence of family values: 60% of the marriages in Europe end in divorce. Many prefer to live as ‘partners’ where there is no commitment to marriage or children. There are gay and lesbian marriages. Some people would prefer to live alone rather than get married. Family values are really under threat!
The Church in Europe is tired
The church in Europe is tired of living a life of faith for so manywas a hectic life; full of structures and demands. The West wants a break. It wants a break from its faith in God and the Church. It wants to be free from all the influences of the Church and its structures.
Church in Europe in recovering from its wounds
The Church is recovering from the wounds of scandals of abuse of children; abuse of power and money.
Church in Europe is not handing down its faith to its children
For generations, the Christian faith was handed down from parents to children. The families were the places where the parents taught the children how to pray and how to grow in faith. As family values have dwindled, faith in God and in the Church have dwindled too!
A ‘sending Church’ has become a ‘receiving Church’
The church in Europe had sent many missionaries to the rest of the world. People had large families and each family considered it a blessing to have at least one priest or a sister or a brother in the family. Better still, if one of them could be sent as a missionary to the far ends of the earth. But now this sending Church has become a receiving Church. Many parishes in Europe have parish priests who are from Asia and Africa. The Churches in those countries were receiving missionaries from Europe but now are sending missionaries to Europe.
I do not intend to give suggestions. But it is good to reflect also on some of the positive aspects.
People who come to church are strong in their faith
Although there are empty churches in Europe, the people who come to Church want to be there. They have strong convictions about their relationship with God. These people have to be shepherded well.
There is a small but steady increase in vocations
Many congregations have closed their houses in the recent past. Vocations had gone down. Very few Missionaries are sent to other parts of the world. But there is a small but steady increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life in some congregations. More funds and efforts have to be directed to formation houses. There is a hope!
Many people have lost faith in the Church. But Pope Francis has brought hope to the Catholic Church and to Christianity. His pastoral letter, “The Joy of the Gospel” is a call to return to God and to His church. In humility, the Church in Europe has to heed to his call and to a relationship with Jesus.
The Church in Europe is generous
The Church in Europe has always been very generous in helping developing countries through agencies such as Missio, Church in Need, Miva and many more. When there are natural disasters or man-made calamities, such international agencies are there to help. The poor and needy are helped.
I believe, the Church in Europe will find its vocation again. The Church in Europe will rise again. Its children will start to believe in their God and the Church. The Church is built on a rock. I believe in Jesus’ words: “I am with you till the end of the world” (Mathew 28: 20).