The vague dream of the bishops of France

Source: FSSPX News


Excerpt from the allocution of Cardinal Lustiger to the Holy Father, on February 20

What is justly described as ignorance of Christianity, detachment from religious practice, collapse of morals, destructuration of the family unit, confusion of young people, etc., far from leading us to nostalgia for what once was, but is no longer, in fact arouses our courage. In this situation, we dare to discern an appeal from the younger generations to discover in the Gospel their reason for living, and through that, the greatness of the human condition received from the hand of the Creator. For many, profoundly catechized by a hitherto unheard of religious pluralism, it is the call to let themselves be “taken hold of by Christ” who will carry them. They will learn to follow Him, who is the unique Savior of the world, in the way of love, and in the service of this Gospel of Truth.

This new situation, where evangelization which is not measured according to any reference to the past, but according to the call of the future, is the reason for our optimism, all the more resolute since it is built on the grace of God, at work in this new world. Even if we are accused of dreaming, it seems to us that, if we are dreaming, we do so in the company of Paul, when he saw the Macedonian in a dream, who said to him: “Pass over into Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16, 9). That Macedonian is Europe, our old Western world, our Country….

Excerpt from the address by Mgr. Lacrampe, Archbishop of Besançon, to the Holy Father, on February 27

The religious situation

The population of the Province of our eight dioceses ( in the East of France) is very predominantly Catholic. The other Christian confessions are present, however, notably the Lutheran or Reformed Churches in the dioceses of Metz, Strasbourg and Belfort-Montbéliard. The number of Orthodox is limited, as is that of the Jews, with the exception of Alsace. That of the Muslims has not stopped increasing due to immigration. Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue take place every year, at various meetings: meditations and the week of prayer for the unity of Christians can intensify this.

As in numerous French dioceses, and in spite of a still Christian heart, regular religious practice has fallen in the course of the last decades, especially among the young. If the great majority of children from families of Christian parentage receive baptism, we know that it is not inevitably followed by catechesis. On the other hand, an increasing number of requests for baptism from schoolchildren has been noted.

At present there are around 2,500 priests, of whom 1,730 are in active life, that is, one priest for every 3000 inhabitants. Their ecclesial spirit, their fellowship and their pastoral charity must be emphasized. The large number who die each year is not offset by new ordinations (60 deaths of diocesan priests in Nancy, for 2 ordinations in 4 years, 63 deaths at Saint-Claude in 8 years without a single ordination). The result of this is that the pastoral burden for the priests is becoming heavier and heavier. The youngest of them, a very small number, run the risk of feeling isolated. There are only two large seminaries, at Metz and Strasbourg (1st and 2nd cycles); what is more, some young men destined for the priestly ministry are going to Lyons, Paris or Rome for their preparation. If the number of those who prepare for the priestly ministry does not stop diminishing in several dioceses, we are still not holding back on our efforts to support the vocations pastoral.

The Province has about 180 deacons, most of whom are married. The permanent diaconate constitutes a richness for the Church. It is a route which the Church must take more and more. The permanent deacons contribute to rendering our Church more of a servant and pauper.

The religious life has a very strong presence in our Province. Some congregations have merged, which has led to a new spiritual dynamism. However, in several places, monasteries have had to close through lack of recruits. We must continue our efforts to support calls to the apostolic and contemplative religious life.

Our dioceses have supplied many missionaries to the universal Church. We are continuing to invite our dioceses to broaden their horizons and have “solicitude for all the churches” (2 Cor 11: 28).

In a number of dioceses the parishes have been regrouped on a human geographical basis, passing, for example, from 771 to 67 in the diocese of Besançon, from 450 to 53 at Saint-Dié, from 649 to 140 at Metz. There remain only 20 in the diocese of Verdun. The faithful now realize that their parish priest can not do everything in the vast territory which has been entrusted to him. They understand that when a priest has to serve 30 or 40 villages, it is necessary to find other modes of organization. Therefore, the laity accept the mission to collaborate on the pastoral responsibilities of priests, but also to receive a formation, adapted to the tasks they take on: the acquisition of a know-how and a savoir-être in relation to the priests, whether they be resident or non-resident. This has repercussions on the priestly ministry.

The present and the future of the priestly ministry, of the diaconal ministry, of the teams for pastoral activities and those responsible for serving the Church, have all our pastoral solicitude.

Training centers have been set up in all the dioceses. Many Christians are seeking to deepen their faith. Less numerous, it seems, are those who perceive it as having to be announced, in order that the communities remain significant. It is as big a worry for each one of us, as it is for the faithful.

Also, a bishop writes, “the celebration of baptisms and marriages, not to mention Sunday Masses are going to be more and more of a problem”, while another underlines the necessity of “reflecting with all Christians, obviously not on the possibility of doing without priests, but on that of situating the priest differently at the heart of Christian communities, in which the laity would have important responsibilities”. Where will we be ten years hence? In 2010, writes a bishop, there will be less than 40 priests responsible for a group of parishes in the diocese of 250,000 inhabitants, as well as for the spiritual attendance at services and with groups.

Current challenges and hopes for the future

The challenges we are confronted with bring questions and anxieties, but also opportunities for the future. Globalization, secularization, uncertainty, solidarity, mobility, immigration, secularity, ethical and cultural problems, are to be found with us, just as in French society as a whole. They call all of us to a new declaration of the Gospel of hope (Ecclesia in Europa, c. III).

If the traditional indicators of ecclesial life (Sunday Mass attendance, level of catechesis, numbers of baptisms, confirmations and marriages) continue to fall, or at best to stabilize, we nevertheless can see real signs of vitality, if by chance we care to look.

Many are the lay people who, feeling responsible for the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Church, take on this mission with fidelity and generosity. Thus, they enable the provision of catechesis, preparation for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and marriage, the celebration of funerals in certain cases, or even the Christian formation of adults. These services become places of Gospel proclamation and deepening of faith.

Generally speaking, if the young are not very present at the heart of Christian communities, they are not, however, absent from the Church. With many of them there is significant thirst for giving meaning to their lives. One can only propose Christ to them by doing all we can by giving them an education adapted to their culture, marked more by the joyful and generous undertaking of timely actions, than by a long term engagement. Many adults are involved in this and work alongside young people.

We are seeing, here and there, a tentative renewal of certain movements, even if the numbers are small. Catholic Action, The Christian Movement for retired people, Rosary groups bear witness, for example, to a genuine apostolic concern.

We feel generally, the need to go from a pastoral of welcome to a proposal of the Faith, such as the Plenary Assembly of the Bishops of France have wanted for several years.

To repeat the phrase of one among us, “Our Church is leaving the well known shores on which she has lived for a very long time, in order to head for other shores, whose features still remain vague, but which we have to try to define, with the help of the Spirit”.

With your blessing and your support, Most Holy Father, each one of us is firmly resolved to “move forward towards the open sea”, as our Lord invites us.