Preaching and/or Testimony?

Holy Cross to Host Seminar on Communicating the Faith

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

ROME, MARCH 6, 2012 ( On March 12-13, the School of Theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome will host a Conference on a topic of particular interest for 2012, as preparations begin for the Year of Faith and the synod of bishops on the New Evangelization.

The overall theme is «Communication of the Faith,» which will be examined from a specific angle: the connection between word and witness.  

ZENIT spoke with Paul O’Callaghan, professor of Theological Anthropology at the Holy Cross, and president of the Conference’s organizing committee.

ZENIT: Professor O’Callaghan, why was «Communication of the Faith» chosen as a theme?

O’Callaghan: It is one of the great challenges of our times, and the Holy Father Benedict XVI has made great efforts to address it in his teaching. We know well how throughout his pontificate, Blessed John Paul II committed himself to the evangelization of the world, of culture, and of all spheres of society. The Second Vatican Council was convoked with this same specific goal of being able to communicate the faith effectively. In an age where cultural changes are so fast and strong, the challenge of «communicating the faith» has become critical.

ZENIT: The Conference will address the idea of witness…

O’Callaghan: The role a witness has in communicating the faith is vital: faith is communicated through witness. The fact is that starting with the Council, witness has often been talked about. Everyone knows the quotation made famous by Paul VI: «Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.» You might even say that a witness is the greatest guarantee of the authenticity of the faith communicated. A witness’ life and presence becomes an appeal to the human person as a whole, with each of his faculties and sensibilities. It calls upon the other person directly, entirely, and authentically. It is thus an anthropologically integrating category.

ZENIT: Can’t one run the risk of applying the idea of «witness» too broadly?

O’Callaghan: It is true that a witness can lose its specifically Christian character. Every witness is a participation in Christ’s own testimony. He is «the faithful witness» as the Book of Revelation says (1:5). In reality it is Christ who renders the Christian a witness of the Father’s love. Consequently, the witness points to a truth that can’t be identified with the person who witnesses: it points to God, to the Truth. It would be a contradiction if it only referred back to the person offering testimony. In reality, the witness should disappear–in some cases, as with the martyrs, it can even die–while it communicates the truth.

ZENIT: The theme of the word will also be addressed in the Conference…

O’Callaghan: According to Christian tradition, Divine Revelation is communicated through the word, the word of God, which is present in creation, in the words of the prophets, and especially in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made man. The «word» is therefore essential to evangelization. Yet, the great emphasis on witness over the last few decades has sometimes been made at the expense of the word. In the Church’s apostolate the word was often set aside, allowing witness to work, one could almost say, «anonymously.» 

ZENIT: How was that possible?
O’Callaghan: The hope–legitimate, perhaps even desirable–was to avoid the danger of intolerance found in communicating faith with words that have restrictive meanings. It was thought that witnesses possessed a more penetrating, effective, and respectful dynamic for communicating the faith, in comparison with the hard and naked word.

ZENIT: It would seem then, that the two concepts of word and witness should be placed together. 

O’Callaghan: Exactly. There are often complaints about witness without words–which is thus unintelligible–and of words without witness, that is, without the support of a life that is humanly complete and attractive. Neither the one nor the other is convincing.

ZENIT: How will the conference be organized?

O’Callaghan: We like to joke that on both days the morning will be dedicated to words, and the afternoon to witnesses. Let me explain this. The mornings are filled with presentations of a more theological nature–they will address the theme from the perspectives of anthropology, history, Scripture, fundamental theology, and pastoral care. We have further received several requests from professors who would like to present short papers on different aspects of the theme. In the afternoons on the other hand, there will be two round table discussions dedicated to Christian «witness» in different spheres of life. On the first day, following an introduction by Msgr. Salvatore Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, the discussion will center on Christian witness in the fields of art and society. On Tuesday, it will be about Christian testimony in the political field. For both discussions we have invited prominent figures from Italian public life.

ZENIT: What are the expectations for this initiative?
O’Callaghan: With this conference we want to stress an essential element of the Second Vatican Council’s message: the apostolate of all Christians, an apostolate made of words and witness for the evangelization of the world. 

— — —

On the Net:

For information and Registration:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation