Presentation of the Instrumentum laboris

Concrete Pastoral Proposals for the Response to Atheism and Indifference

by Mr Richard Rouse

11 March 2004, Palazzo San Calisto

            My tasks are to outline the third chapter of the instrumentum laboris entitled Concrete Proposals to Aid the Church face the Challenges of Unbelief and the New Religiosity, and, in concluding this introductory presentation, to set the stage for your discussion and enrichment of the concrete pastoral proposals presented therein.

            The major source material for this third chapter was taken from the responses to the questionnaire. Therein expressions of joy and hope lie side by side with expressions of grief and anxiety. The Church's very involvement in the full range of human emotions permit it, as expert in humanity[1], to share not only in the world's gaudium et spes but also its luctus et angor[2], but not for this should it be pervaded by the negative and hopeless mentality common to the so-called dominant cultures, a mentality which fixes a sombre preamble to every pastoral proposition. Hence, this third part of the instrumentum laboris has, as much as possible, evaded slinking into repeated berating of the status quo, and has instead simply sought to propose tried and tested methods to resolve the situation; the current task is not that of further studying and analysing the situation, (and adding to the endless volumes describing and perhaps incrementing it), but of responding to it by setting out for the benefit of the Universal Church concrete pastoral proposals.

            The concrete pastoral proposals contained in the responses, then, have been brought together, added to and put before you in this third chapter. As you will note from the index, there are two main sections: personal dialogue with non-believers, and dialogue with cultures marked by unbelief and indifference. These are accompanied by an introduction, a section on love, fundamental characteristic of the faith, and finally the confident conclusion in verbo tuo laxabo retia.

            Section two introduces the topic of dialogue with non-believers and has been set apart in order to emphasise that personal element which is essential to apologetics. Each non-believer remains a person, so for that alone must be respected and approached with that humane tenderness and delicacy which are the fruits of the Spirit and which will help express, or give an account of, the faith, hope and charity that is in us. Human contact, prayer, a disposition marked by welcoming, listening, respecting, openness, courtesy, trust, friendship, politeness, graciousness, appreciation, sincerity, credibility, admiration and affection are just some of the foundational aspects of such a proposal. The more demanding Truth and Justice of the Gospel build on such an attitude, and can only be presented in a style and language which breaks down the obstacles and builds bridges over the divides and challenges which are often of a merely cultural nature. Such are the characteristics that will contribute to an effective method. Far from it the aggression implied by imposition which is so unfamiliar, alien, and simply unacceptable to people brought up in some of today's cultures.

    In this section a paragraph is contained on the content of such dialogue; certainly, the theological content of the new evangelisation remains the same, but the vocabulary, the methodology, the expression, the ardour and the intensity need to be relevant to that person and hence person-centred. It would be helpful and profitable if you were to share your own pastoral experiences and ideas on how one can transform friendship and intimacy with non-believers, so common in today's cultures, into an explicit proposition of the faith.

    The lift of denominations for the person being addressed seems endless: "militant atheist", "practical atheist", "indifferent", "miss-believer", "believer-without-belonging", "disaffected", "disaffiliated" or "disenchanted", the list goes on such that it is surely easier to speak to a non-believer than it is to talk about them. However we wish to define the non-believer, our dialogue partner, the final object of all pastoral activity, is the same, a single person with his or her own story and problems, doubts, hopes, joys, griefs and anxieties. Each is just a simple person - nothing more and nothing less, and to each such person we present another person: Jesus Christ, Son of God and Face of the Redeemer's Mercy.

            The third section continues the list of pastoral proposals under the heading "the evangelisation of cultures marked by unbelief and indifference". The basic themes and ideas of the previous section are herein expanded upon under a list of the privileged places, methods, people, topics, ideas, themes and opportunities to enter into that dialogue, along with the characteristics that must mark it, spread under seven subheadings all of which are of course interdependent and hang on the very transversal nature of the pastoral approach to cultures marked by unbelief and indifference. As you will have noticed, they follow to a certain extent the format and content of the document Towards a pastoral approach to culture.

            The seven headings are: The Presence of the Church in the Public Forum; Religious Education, The Family, The Pathway of Beauty and Cultural Heritage, A New Language to Spread the Gospel: Reason and Feeling, Catholic Cultural Centres and Religious Tourism. Under these are found a series of proposals which vary in tone, size, style, target, place et al., but which together seek to respond to the various needs of today's non-believers, offering ways to enter into dialogue with them, whether it be concerned with or marked by intellect or beauty, respect or patience, listening or loving, and be it bold or risky, prayerful or radical. As a potential resource for the Bishops of the Universal Church, and indeed the priests and all who are involved in evangelisation and education, up to and including those parents who see their children drifting away from the faith, these suggestions and proposals seek to be a catalyst for the missionary task to teach all nations (Mat. 27:19) and to let Love touch every Being.           

            Particularly dominant among the responses to the questionnaire was the call for credibility. The problems associated with image and spin are well-known. Hence the first sub-heading underlines the need for the Church not only to take its place in the public forum, but to be seen to be there, and to do so in a manner that is credible. Another of the worrying statistics is the growing number of those who consider themselves "believers without belonging". The role of educational institutes and the family and the themes to be addressed therein are of paramount importance to stem this trend. The Church's Cultural heritage and the use of all things beautiful to convey a sense of the divine are worth considering, as well as the language used to express the Church's love and concern for the world - if the comments of the vast majority of the English language responses to the questionnaire are to be heeded, the emotional nature of the faith needs to be refreshed and brought to the fore. Cultures marked by materialism, secularisation, and the encroaching globalisation share that innately spiritual need, which the New Age and the Sects have so far captured well: the need to contact people on an emotional level. Catholic Cultural Centres are privileged places for such contact, as well as many other things.  Religious tourism is but one way of pragmatically steering the people along paths that are culturally relevant to today's people and that can lead to a fuller evangelisation of the world.

    In slightly more concrete terms, the document seeks to spread the word about various endeavours such as the prayerful commitment of the group "incroyance-prière", the dedication of those in the teaching and catechetical professions, the bravura of the public advertisements of the Edinburgh Redemptorists, the homeliness of the welcoming pastor, the intellectual brilliance of certain academics, the attempts to support artists in their search to give us a new epiphany fit for an age where contemplation and rational speculation are handmaids each of the other, the selfless love of those involved in charity work, the meaningful relationships set up between those within the Church and those without, the affective listening and respect fostered by Catholic Cultural Centres, and the clear, precise and relevant proposals of faith to transform cultures. It is by these concrete pastoral proposals that the Church seeks to calm anxiety and to qualm the yearnings of the men and women of our day, to fix anchor points for the preaching of the Gospel and to propose the Gospel as a response, so offering each person the chance to live the fullness of the Christian, and hence human, vocation.

            The concluding remarks of the document rest on the theme of hope, which has recently been repeatedly stated as the Church's most important gift to the world[3]. Our hope has its source in Christ, and it is the desire of this Dicastery to respond to the command of article two of the motu proprio Inde a pontificatus, which calls on this Pontifical Council for Culture to provide adequate support to the Church's pastoral activity in evangelising cultures and inculturating the Gospel. To do so, its Members and Consultors are called on to move on from a simple reading of the signs of the times, and together in "a new creativity in charity"[4], to put before each other and the Universal Church your tremendous experience of bringing the good news to those of us who live in cultures marked by unbelief and indifference.


[1] Paul VI, Discourse to the General Assembly of the United Nations, 4 October 1965.

[2] Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World, Gaudium et spes, 1.

[3] Cf. John paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa.

[4] John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis 73.