"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Monday, February 20, 2012

From Vatican to Toronto, Catholic clergy plan ‘rekindling of faith’

Sandro ContentaFeature Writer

ROME—The day Catholic cardinals met to discuss “re-evangelizing” Western culture, the butterfly tattoo of showgirl Belen Rodriguez was the talk of Italy.

The tattoo’s location — the upper groin area — had everything to do with the excitement. That, and the fact that Belen, as everyone here calls her, flashed it during the annual Sanremo song festival, one of the most watched TV events in the country.

She did it by wearing the highest slit ever to grace a flowing dress. It flapped as she walked onstage and the butterfly, in a sense, took flight. It was followed by TV replays, a national discussion of whether Belen wore the flimsiest of underwear, and slow-motion web videos to debate the case.

What didn’t follow was impassioned finger-wagging about whether the slit revealed more than a prime-time TV audience should see. This, after all, is the country where the defining features of television are kitsch, titillation and long-legged showgirls — standards set at channels owned by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who seemed to live by the criteria during his many years in power.

It was a different story a couple of days earlier at the same Sanremo festival. When Adriano Celentano, a popular actor and singer, lightly criticized priests and a Catholic Church newspaper — basically for not doing what Celentano considered a good enough job — a top official at state-owned RAI TV, which broadcast the festival, demanded he apologize.

Some saw the demand as an example of the powerful protectors that the church still has in Italy, despite declining attendance. But others noted the underlying hypocrisy, particularly after the Belen stunt.

Pope Benedict XVI once described secularization as displacing God with a “prevalent hedonistic and consumerist mindset.” It’s a good bet Belen’s butterfly would have struck him as another example — a hard-to-miss one if he looked at an Italian newspaper during the consistory weekend, when he created 22 new cardinals.

It’s also not known whether New York Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan saw the now-famous image. But he did refer to the Pope’s description of secularization when he gave the keynote address to cardinals Friday on how to re-evangelize cultures.

Declining church attendance is a reality in much of the Western world, partly due to sex abuse scandals and the Vatican’s rigid position on issues such as divorce, contraception and the ban on women priests.

Dolan, whose speech caused Vatican experts to suddenly include his name among the list of possible future popes, told his colleagues that priests could start by walking the streets looking happy.

“The missionary, the evangelist, must be a person of joy,” he said. “The new evangelization is accomplished with a smile, not a frown.”

It was the only concrete suggestion in a lengthy talk about “the rekindling of faith in persons and cultures where it has grown lacklustre.” Cardinals and bishops have been told to return to Rome with concrete plans for a major conference in October.

Belen’s butterfly would likely remain cocooned on Canadian prime-time TV. But the head of Toronto’s archdiocese, Cardinal Thomas Collins, said the challenges of hedonism and consumerism are every bit as pervasive in this country.

The diocese is working on plans for each of its 225 churches. Collins, who Saturday became the fourth cardinal in Toronto’s history, often describes his initiative as reaching out to “the gathered and the scattered.”

For the gathered, those who still attend mass, plans include improving their churchgoing experience.

“What we need is that every time people come, they will get solid (spiritual) nourishment,” Collins said in an interview.

Immigrants and new Canadians have kept church attendance strong in the suburban GTA, where the archdiocese has built 13 new churches in the past decade. But Catholic churches in the old city of Toronto are, on average, half empty, according to the archdiocese’s figures.

Collins says the dioceses will be training priests to be better preachers and confessors. Preachers, Collins said, must be immersed in the Gospel and involved with the lives of people. And they should know what makes a good homily.

“The key is not to give a razzle-dazzle rhetorical masterpiece,” Collins said. “You stick to one point that’s practical for the people so that in the end they have something to chew on, something that will help them in their life.”

He also wants more choirs and music in churches, and has nine priests being trained to make that happen. He points to the mass the Pope served Sunday, where trumpets, cantors and the artistic beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica helped make the Gospel resonate.

As for attracting the scattered, Collins’ ideas include mailing out an archdiocese newspaper to all residents — something he did as the archbishop in Edmonton.

But he falls back on a central theme: Make the church a better place, and eventually they will come.

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