Hello everyone - I am a bit settled down now after weeks of travel through Europe around the celebration of WYD... Some of you may have been keeping tabs on me through my other blog for my travels (Roamin' Roman
if you're interested).
Anyway, I am in Nantes, France now for a couple of weeks at a friend's home, and I thought I might throw something up on this blog now from Pope Benedict.
You see, I love to read, and for my upcoming year in Rome I packed almost an entire suitcase just for books! However, I went to Rome briefly when I first got to Europe, to drop off "extra" luggqge, and when I did that I set aside a few books (including my Bible and breviary...) to take with me through Europe - alas, when I left Rome I also sadly left them behind too!! For most of my journey then, I have not been able to read much, not altogether a bad thing, as I have been "forced" to immerse myself into more silent prayer and reflection (I do have my Magnificat monthly, thankfully, so I have been able to follow the liturgical readings).
In Paris, however, in the heart of the Left Bank, known for radical thinking and the study of philosophy (with the tombs of both Pascal and Descarte within minutes of each other) I happened to find an Anglo bookshop - mostly liberal/leftist books and New Age spirituality, but then I found a gem of a book on the life and writing of Pope Benedict, edited by Robert Moynihan.
Here is one quoted section of Pope Benedict's:
Holy Saturday, the day of the burial of God-is that not in an uncanny way our day? Does our century not begin to become one large Holy Saturday, a day of God's absence?
Benedict is speaking here to the modern culture's decision to leave behind any need for God, or any god other than the glories of human progress and discovery. In much of the modern world, God is not protested or hated any longer - instead, He is utterly ignored and abandoned. Benedict sees in his native Europe in particular this problem, this "absence" of, not God Himself, but of the awareness of God by His people.
As I read Benedict's words on this subject, as I have been journeying through the lands of absence themselves as a lone American woman committed to Christ (in many ways I think travelers like me are the epitome of what is incomprehensible to much of Europe - both American and devoutly Christian, even Catholic!), I see both the truth in his words and the hopeful reality that the future may yet bring to the Old World.
I see the truth of the absence of God everywhere in Europe that I have been - from Rome to Cologne (the average people of Cologne were very puzzled by the "event" of WYD, I think that many of the city's residents considered it merely an anomoly and something to put up with. I pray that there were many fruitful encounters between pilgrims and the people, but I did not see much acceptance in my time there) to Vienna to Paris and now to the town of Nantes, it is the same everywhere.
For all of the cultural disdain for America (not blatant, I must add - I have not encountered any "anti-Americanism" personally, but it is clear that there is a kind of silent discomfort with America generally in the population), there is also a cultural disdain for religion. All the pretty churches in the world do not make faith if the hearts of the people are shadowed and hardened by worldly concerns and are thus unable to respond to the call of God's grace.
I have walked through, and prayed in, so many gorgeous Old World churches; churches of the effort and sacrfice and beauty that I long to see built again in America to replace our gymnasium parishes that do nothing to lift the heart to the transcendent reality of God. Before coming to Europe, I thought that in some way the church building itself would be an "answer" to the problems of faith in America. Now that I have witnessed firsthand the unconcern with the faith of their fathers in Europe, in spite of the beautiful churches and rich Church history, I realize that I must leave behind that notion, or at least temper it.
The people of Europe are culturally proud of their churches, and know many theological details about them - and yet, in the end to many of them the entire point of the church and its beauty is lost to them, God is considered irrelevent, or nonexistent entirely. And so, this is one example of the emptiness of the cultural "Holy Saturday" as Benedict has described it.
But - even with this reality of a lack of general faith or hope in God, I have personally witnessed much that has encouraged me and shown me that the future of Christianity in Europe does show some light and life. The many young people and beautiful families I have been fortunate enough to stay with and be hosted by have allowed me to have a personal glimpse of the "Catholic underground" of Europe. They are not underground in the persecuted sense (at least, not yet), they are underground in the sense that they are unknown and ignored by the world. I think that even the Church does not realize the building enthusasiam and zeal for finding the Truth of Christ and the answers that He provides that is developing in the cities of the Old "dead" World. Rome is quietly teeming with youthful groups and communities, who live unnoticed by the global media coverage of Roman fashion and trends (except during the time of JPII's death however). In Cologne, a million young people converged as a joyful witness to the youth of the faith and the Church. In Vienna I found many pockets of revival, of growth in the faith, in spite of a very secularized atmosphere - under the guidance of Cardinal Schonborn I can foresee much future growth in Austria. In France, in Paris, the parishes that I visited were not dead! Daily Masses see the coming of many youthful faces, and there are many movements that are thriving in the city, the Emmanuel Community in particular that I have been a part of.
In America we love to use the phrase "springtime of the Church", and I do believe that America (at least parts of it) has more buds emerging, more new growth springing up. The ground for evangelization is softer and easier than it is here in Europe I think, because in America fewer people have lost the sense of spirituality entirely - there are far more atheists in enlightened Europe I think. But, there is growth in Europe too! There are new shoots, there are blossoms here too. I have met many wonderful young priests here in Europe, they suffer from vocations crisises here too for obvious reasons, but just like in America, the number of seminarians and newly-ordained priests may be small, but they are REAL vocations. It is the same with the religious orders I have met - just like America, it is the orthodox orders, the habit-wearing orders, that are drawing youthful life and vocations.
Pope Benedict may speak of our era as a time of Holy Saturday, but we must not forget that Holy Saturday ended, and Easter Sunday dawned! The Pope believes that there will be much harder times facing the Church before she becomes stronger. This is true, but even if it is we can still see the light of Easter ahead of us.
Pray for Europe, pray that the saints of Europe may intercede on behalf of their people. Pray also for the many faithful Christians struggling to keep the faith alive in the midst of so much chaff!