Primate of Hungary on New Evangelization in Europe (Part 1)

Interview With Cardinal Peter Erdo

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ROME, NOV. 24, 2005 ( Cardinal Peter Erdo says that total ignorance of Christianity — rather than a rejection of the faith — is what is perceived in many people in large cities.

That problem, says the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and primate of Hungary, points to the urgency of a new evangelization.

The 53-year-old cardinal took part in the International Congress for the New Evangelization, held in Lisbon, Portugal, from Nov. 5-13.

In this interview with ZENIT, conducted by Viktoria Somogyi, Cardinal Erdo indicated some of the keys for evangelizing the Old World. Part 2 will appear Friday.

Q: The postsynodal apostolic exhortation «Ecclesia in Europa,» of Pope John Paul II, highlighted the grave spiritual situation of the Old World. The latter, in fact, is «now one of those traditionally Christian places which, in addition to a new evangelization, require in some cases a first evangelization.» The experience of the International Congress for the New Evangelization … must be seen against this background. What topics were addressed to understand the present situation?

Cardinal Erdo: This congress of course was not at all, nor did it intend to be, a scientific congress, but was inserted in a series of events of a different character: in Vienna there was talk, in fact, of Stadtmission, in Paris, of city mission. Therefore, it is about a special mission in the great European cities.

We met to analyze the same problems in all these large cities of Europe with the intention of finding a solution to the problems. With the help of the different movements of spirituality and in an atmosphere of mutual collaboration there is a desire to renew the missionary impulse in our cities.

It is really a question of a new sociological situation. Therefore, if we speak of new evangelization we don’t do so because, perhaps, the Gospel should be renewed. The Gospel is always the same, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the circumstances change and they have also changed in our continent.

Q: On the occasion of the congress, as already occurred in Vienna in 2003, in the homily of the opening Mass, Cardinal José da Cruz Policarpo, patriarch of Lisbon, launched the urban mission by opening wide the doors of Lisbon to an intense missionary endeavor. Renewing St. Paul’s teaching, the cardinal explained that «to be able to evangelize one must learn to love.» Why is a new «mission» increasingly necessary in the large metropolises?

Cardinal Erdo: There is intense anonymity in the large cities. A great multitude of people don’t know Jesus Christ at all.

It’s not that they have rejected the Church or Christianity, but that they have not yet received the proclamation of the Gospel.

In the same cities, considerable Christian communities exist which must renew both their life of faith as well as their missionary action. There has been much reflection on this during these congresses and the urban missions can be of great help in this respect.

Q: Paul VI had already understood that «modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses» [see «Evangelii Nuntiandi,» No. 41]. A mature, adult and convinced faith, far from any worldly or secular fading, must be the steering wheel of every Christian who witnesses with his life his belonging to Christ and his Church. There is need, therefore, for a course of preparation and formation on the «beauty» of the Gospel and its everlasting teachings. How is the Church preparing herself to open to the outside?

Cardinal Erdo: It is necessary that parish communities, religious, and ecclesial movements existing in the various cities become aware of their duty to open to the world around them, to nonbelievers, to those who are in need of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Also on this occasion we spoke, for five days in the famous church of St. Jerome, about the different types of problems and of the activities of the Church, among which was the spiritual care of the dying, the dignity of the person and of the patient.

There were many important testimonies during the works of the congress. I remember with pleasure the testimony of a person who for many years had been working among the needy in Brazil, where sickness, poverty and death abound, but where there is also great openness to love and to the Gospel.

Other topics were also addressed. There were art exhibitions, several cultural events, among them colloquiums in the Catholic University of Lisbon, of which Cardinal Patriarch Policarpo has been rector.

Many motivations for a fruitful dialogue between our faith and culture can come from the Catholic university.

The media world was also very interested in the event with interviews and services. In addition, there was a series of meetings with people and parish programs such as three parishes’ Via Lucis, in which I was able to take part personally.

At the end of the works there was a prominent moment: a pilgrimage, a very beautiful procession across the city with the image of the Virgin of Fatima which, after 50 years, was taken again to Lisbon, specifically so that the people could express their devotion.

At the end of the pilgrimage, the patriarch consecrated the city of Lisbon to the Virgin of Fatima. This moment was perhaps the most solemn of the whole week, in the presence of at least half a million people. Therefore, we have witnessed a manifestation of very strong faith.

I think perhaps that this negative picture that we have of European cities in regard to the faith isn’t completely true. The people of today have a hunger and thirst for Christ; the world is in need of hope: of the hope of Christ.

Of course, there are thousands of problems: from marriage to public safety and social solidarity, etc., but the «good message» must never be lost. This good message is the person of Christ. He it is who teaches us the full truth on the human person.

Therefore, to humanize a city, a society, means to put it in contact with Christ. And Christ himself can also change, truly and radically, the cities of our age.

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