Seeing Hope in the Young of Scotland

Interview with Archbishop Conti of Glasgow

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ROME, MARCH 11, 2003 ( On the occasion of his five-yearly visit to the Holy See with the Scottish bishops’ conference, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow spoke with ZENIT about evangelization efforts in his diocese as well as recent developments within the Church in Scotland.

Q: In the wake of Sept. 11, is religion a «harder sell» in Scotland because of religion’s perceived connection to fanaticism and violence?

Archbishop Conti: I would want to question the relationship between religion and fanaticism altogether. I think there are fanatics and people who claim membership in religions and will go to war as something of a holy endeavor.

Intelligent people of our faith, in fact, people of other faiths, such as Muslims, will see that in the present conflict, religion has got very little to do with the violence that is being perpetrated, and it is other matters that are involved.

I think with the case of Saddam Hussein it is aggression and aggrandizement, a bully among his own people wanting to be a hero in the Arab world, attacking Israel and using any label possible to promote himself and his own cause. He is not a defender of liberty and the values that the world holds dear today, and is in fact a menace to free society.

Q: How has the Catholic laity in Scotland responded to the Pope’s call for a new evangelization? What is the Church doing to promote and support these efforts on behalf of the laity?

Archbishop Conti: I have seen over the last year a response of the young people, especially. We have a full-time officer in the Archdiocese of Glasgow who fosters the initiatives of young people, and led a group to Toronto for World Youth Day, where I was as well. I spoke with the leadership of that group and they were recently matched by another group that I met in Lourdes, and that gave me great hope.

These comparatively small groups have great potential. You can see what can be done through peer-group pressure, which so often leads people away from the faith.

Those groups I mentioned can then lead young people back to the faith and cooperate in the work of evangelization. This is something I would like to make as one of my priorities. In fact, I am inviting the youth to celebrate the Holy Week triduum with me at the cathedral.

My predecessor gave a lot of his time and attention and considerable energies to a pastoral plan that had a lot of missionary drive and a very evangelistic agenda. We are presently reviewing that, because, sad to say, it has not been as successful as he had intended.

There are those who say we need to give it more time, but a lot depends on an analysis of the actual situation in which you place a plan. In other words, the plan has to match the society in which it intends to affect.

I think probably that there has been a dislocation, and it is somewhat out of gear because it was a plan that was taken from elsewhere along with an attempt to adopt it in a Scottish environment. The situation in Scotland is one today in which plans need to be adapted rather than adopted.

Q: To switch topics: Your predecessor in Glasgow, Cardinal Winning, had set up pro-life centers to help unwed mothers. How has that project fared?

Archbishop Conti: The project has fared very well. Archbishop Keith O’Brien was able to tell the Pope that well over 500 babies have been saved as a result of that initiative.

I met the sister in charge of the program who said that very few of the women who sought care and counsel from the center had opted for abortion at the end of the day. Even when they did opt for abortion, the center continued to help them because of the need for counsel after the abortion.

From previous experience she recognized how important that need is once a woman has had an abortion. It is so unnatural for a mother to give up a baby that it affects her psyche quite deeply, and that is something that has been ignored by the pro-choice lobby.

Its success is due to the fact that there is an agency that is ready to be nonjudgmental as far as the individual is concerned, and offer practical support by being able to assist them as they tell their parents or their school, something very difficult for them to do and often something they want to run from.

It also extends to practical help as far as baby clothes and working with the public authorities to find proper housing. It really tries to give them a sense of dignity in a situation in which they feel like they’ve failed and want to escape from. It is there to help them realize the beauty of being a mother no matter how the baby has been conceived.

Q: Can you discuss some of the ecumenical developments in Scotland which were discussed with the Pope during your visit?

Archbishop Conti: Ecumenical efforts have gone on for many years, especially since the Holy Father’s visit to Scotland in 1982. In his visit, he exhorted the various churches to walk together hand-in-hand in the future. That caught the imagination not just of the Catholic community, but other Christians as well. The Church became increasingly involved after that moment in an ecumenical journey.

I have, because of my position as president of our Catholic Commission for Christian Doctrine and Unity, as well as being a member of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity here in Rome, been involved in that inter-church process whereby we work for the creation of suitable instruments that facilitate the engagement of the individual churches with one another and work together in common mission to bring Gospel values to society.

We have to ensure that the dialogue between us does not weaken the structures of any of the churches that are part of the dialogue. A weakening of the structures of the independent churches represents a failure to recognize the charisms of these churches, and is not the way forward. Rather, the way forward is a mutual strengthening of faith.

We concur with Cardinal Kasper in the need for the development of a truly ecumenical spirituality, which will be the theme of an upcoming plenary of the [Pontifical] Council for Promoting Christian Unity this autumn. So perhaps it’s a case of deepening the engagement, deepening the dialogue, rather than having it simply at the level of theological dialogue, which sometimes turns into a theological debate. Or, in fact, it is emphasizing the importance of our common social action.

Q: What do you see in the future of the Catholic Church of Scotland? How can the Church speak to Scots in an increasingly secularized and global world?

Archbishop Conti: The Church in Scotland must be strengthened and encouraged by living and remembering its history. For a thousand years, there was nothing other than the Catholic Church in Scotland, and those were the years when Scotland took the shape that it did, until very recent times.

It has to take encouragement that it has a place a Scotland, a traditional place in Scotland. It is not something foreign to Scotland, and it can speak with a Scottish voice with a sense of history behind it that has served Scotland well.

Now there is another opportunity as the Church emerges from the period in which it was restricted in the post-Reformation period. Its mission is that of any Christian body, which is to bring the insights of Revelation, to bring the gifts of the Gospel to bear, and contribute to the formation of public opinion and the creation of new law.

It is not against the other churches that we are struggling, but rather working together against the secular, post-Enlightenment, post-modern attitude of relativism in ethical matters. The debate is at a philosophical level, but it is an engagement that is very challenging and very exciting to those that are engaged in it.

Q: What issues are important to Scottish Catholics?

Archbishop Conti: Within the Church, a major issue is providing a development of the fait
h of adults, so many of whom have not developed their faith and understanding, or have not increased their appreciation of the content of the faith and what flows from it, since primary or secondary school.

I am not alone in this, and am setting up means by which adults can use modern technology and distance learning to study on their own at a level which can enrich their understanding of the faith and aid in the development of their spirituality.

I am encouraged given the nature of our society, to think that it is a more valuable methodology rather than the method of people getting together in groups and sharing their faith. That is important, but the sharing should happen when they come to the worship of God.

The sharing that can come about by an engagement with the truths the Church has presented by competent teachers, as presented by reading Scripture under guidance and by studying the catechism brings one to a different level, and that is very important.

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