We should care for the future of Christianity in the East-central Europe

ks. Rafał Pastwa ks. Rafał Pastwa

publikacja 09.05.2017 13:18

There is no room for complacency because of the packed churches since we are facing the process of ‘creeping secularisation’. The situation will not improve unless the churches in the East and Central Europe propose a qualitatively new offer for the believers.

We should care for the future of Christianity in the East-central Europe Przemysław Strzyżyński, Pavel Hošek, Tomáš Halík, Dariusz Wadowski ks. Rafał Pastwa /Foto Gość

From 25th to 26th of April 2017, the Christian Academy Prague venued a third colloquium on the future of faith. Representatives of the Czech Republic, the Republic of Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Hungary, reinforced by a two-person delegation from the Netherlands, took part in the intensive work. The participants of the colloquium named: ‘The Future of Religious Faith from Central Eastern European Perspective’ organised by The Rev. Prof. Tomáš Halík as part of the project realised by the John Templeton Foundation – developed guidelines and recommendations for leaders of ecclesiastic life, communities and the clergy.

The first step was to indicate the specificity and dynamics of certain churches in the East-central Europe by studying sociological data of the so called ‘White Paper’. The following step was to present the data and an attempt to understand the differences concerning faith and religiousness in the individual countries. The third step was a colloquium in Prague during which all delegations contributed for the creation of recommendations for the future.

- It’s a grassroots activity, engaging sociologists, philosophers and theologists. The subject of the project springs from the fact that we have observed that the Church drifts apart from the modern culture. It understands it decreasingly, and thus has progressively smaller abilities to get an offer over to the modern man – said Prof. Pavel Hošek from Charles University in Prague.

The Czechs, according to Dana Hamplová Ph. D., present low participation in the institutional life of the Church, but those who participate in it are, in turn stable in decisions. Czech secularism indicates individual, private forms of religiousness. There is also a broad category for ‘the believers’ without unequivocal definition of one’s affiliation. Another category for people often referred to as ‘independent Christians’ should also be noted. They are affiliated to non-institutional Christianity. Especially, the youth don’t want to have a brush with the Church as institution.

Given this context Dana Hamplová mentioned the following three categories of people: dwellers, seekers and apatheists. According to the statistics over 40 percent of the Czechs believe in transcendence, whereas only 10 percent identify themselves with the traditional, Christian tradition of personal God. She also presented possible scenarios for the future of religious faith: 1) continuation of the crisis process 2) modernisation and liberalisation of the teachings of the Church 3) appearance of revival movements within Christianity, based on the gospel and oriented on the popular culture.

- We are facing two extremes: fundamentalism and liberalism. The Church should however, show different perspective, offer new context to be in the Church – emphasised The Rev. Prof. Tomáš Halík.

Prof. András Máté-Tόth from Hungary based his speech on the thesis that restoration is necessary, but only if it includes the heritage of the bruised post-communist society. Before 1945, the Hungarian Church was strong. Communism caused a breakdown of both faith and the trust in Church as an institution. A revival of religious life has been observed since 1978, but the number of people traditionally appurtenant to Church is constantly dropping. The Hungarian delegation highlighted that the crisis of faith and religiousness in their country had always been incident to the Church being treated instrumentally by governments, and the political involvement of the clergy. A similar trend can be observed now. – Priests should be autonomic – emphasised the Hungarians present in Prague.

– Numerous, small countries, also Hungary, have dreamt about autonomy for years. And since we recovered it, we need to restore solidarity in the times of independence - stressed Prof. Máté-Tόth. He referred to the idea of solidarity coined by John Paul II in ‘Solicitudo rei socialis’. – We should attempt to understand, within modern Christianity, that the resurrected Christ, who is stronger than what we are surrounded by, is the centre of our faith.

The Hungarian recommendations included necessity of internal restoration of Christianity through deepened formation of priests, nuns, catechists, leaders of religious life, and communities. It was also noted that the Church should be in the very centre of society, not in the superior position. It should also be solidary with people, especially with the ones from the margins. The recommendations also included an indication to change church language so that it was more dynamic and authentic. Education of new leaders of religious life shouldn’t be just ‘copying of masters’.

The leader of the Polish delegation Dariusz Wadowski Ph.D. from the Faculty of Social Sciences at The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, emphasised that according to the 2014 CBOS (Centre for Public Opinion Research) research over 89 percent of polish society claimed Christian association. People referred to as unreligious or without defined religious community constituted for approximately 3 to 5 percent. According to his presentation, Christianity in Poland is a completely dominant religion. Faith is relatively strong, but the process of ‘crawling secularisation’ is also present. The fact is that those, who claim to be believers tend to doubt in the existence of God. They believe in reincarnation or don’t believe in the eternal life. The Polish religiousness is also based on the participation in religious ceremonies associated with family and social life. – A growing rift between the moral teaching of the Church and the everyday practice of the believers is observed – Wadowski said.

Przemysław Strzyżyński from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland - indicated the necessity to change the current functioning of certain Polish parishes. They should become communities and not anonymous gatherings of people who leave the Church’s building straight after the service and aren’t connected to each other in any way. – The parish should be a place for integration and construction of a community, which can provide answers to difficult questions, support its members in difficult times. Another postulate of the Polish group was a necessity to change theological and church language. Also at the level of education in seminars. – We need a new form of apologetics in order to legitimate and explain the meaning and sense of Christianity – Strzyżyński stressed.

The representative of the Polish church leaders suggested that we should put an emphasis on the understanding of the importance and influence of the media, which to a great extent create religiousness and affect faith. – If we talk about cultural and religious faith, then we should indicate media influenced faith – he noted. His another indication was the need for departure of the leaders and church communities from direct political involvement towards social activity. – Despite the fact that young people go to church, they don’t trust institutions. We shouldn’t fear the diversity of faith forms, both in Christ and individualities. He added that the actuality of Christ’s message means that we often forget about his teachings.

Tatiana Podolińská Ph. D. and Pavol Bargár Ph. D. from Slovakia highlighted that the religiousness in Slovakia was also diminished by the influence of communism. Nevertheless, some growing tendencies within non-institutionalised faith do occur. Religious landscape of Slovakia is diverse. Only 32 percent of people constitute for traditional Christianity. Around 40 percent stands for post-traditional Christianity, whereas about 10 percent represent atheists and the uncommitted in faith. Traditional Christianity in Slovakia is shrinking. Individualisation and secularisation of the society rises. Numerous people focus on political and social references of the Church. The pastoral discourse is verbal and the society needs a more pictorial and attractive message. The young generation needs new message of the Bible and Christ. Traditional way doesn’t work anymore. The image of Christianity as a religion of pression, judgment, fight against sin and monologue has no future. We need to show the Church as a place of dialogue, giving hope, faith and Christ – the Slovakians added.

According to them, there are two main streams for the future of Christianity. The first one, restrictive – without dialogue, with monologue, where the Church says, and the believer listens. If we follow this stream the number of believers will continue to fall and it will be to late to solve all the problems. The second way is to follow the Chris and accept the reality, in which not everyone wants to be his students. An opening for seekers and for the faith, which also lies in other places than the Church. – Surely, we should seek for reality and an indirect way. But we all have the feeling that the time for reaction is running out – they highlighted.

In turn, the rector of Archbishop's Seminary in Prague explained that trust towards the Church is the key role. – I am also aware of the fact that sometimes people have too excessive demands towards priests. Another thing is that we should learn how to talk with people, who have different attitude to faith. I have noticed that nowadays we have far more possibilities to reach people than we used to have 20 years ago. I meet the same people in the seminary that I meet in the society: dwellers and seekers. The generation of my students was born in a free and chaotic world. It is hard to insert these individualised people into the structure of community life – he explained.

A Catholic Minority Church in a World of Seekers. A Sociologist’s View– was the topic touched upon by Prof. Staf Hellemans from the Netherlands. He remarked that some time ago we could talk about a sheepfold of believers, today we are facing individualisation of faith. He pointed out that the people, who name themselves ‘seekers’ contribute today for a much numerous group inside the Church. He also implied that the religious offer should be developed by hierarchic structures. According to his beliefs, more autonomy should be put on individual approach towards believers. The Church take care about its attractive offer itself. The offer for people who can be happy by finding God. According to Prof. Hellemans we should also resign from concentration on uniformity within the Church. Catholic communities will become smaller, whereas in some European countries they will even become a minority. Certain churches should take care of the offer, just like the others ( Buddhidm) do –the professor form Tilburg University stressed.

On the other hand Prof. Peter Jonkers from the Netherlands focused on the issue of the future of the Church from the perspective of needs in the era after Second Vatican Council. – How the Church should become a mediator between God and the World – is today, from my perspective, the key issue. Especially in the context of seeking for ‘the demanding’ people – he said, in reference to the breakthrough brought by the constitution of Lumen gentium. He remarked that we should drive away from European theology and to notice the necessity for broader perspective. He believes that restoration of the Church shouldn’t be carried out only on the level of language and symbols, but primarily on the level of authentic revitalisation of communities. It cannot end at institutions and national denominations.

In reference to the lack of vocations Prof. Jonkers claimed that theology of vows should be thought over again. It should be done in a way that contemporary man had consciousness that fidelity doesn’t mean contradiction to the joy and freedom of life. We should offer strong identification for the future generations, but also discover it for ourselves – it should be deeper than what is offered by any external sign, such as habit or soutane.

The Rev. Prof. Tomáš Halík claimed that the work carried out in the Prague meeting will be significant for the future, because we need to reflect on the formation of the better world, and development of indications. – We want to find something extraordinary, something that the Church could give to the society, because we know that it cannot answer all the questions asked by the modern man. We want the Church to give an impulse for the people who create free society. The Church has pragmatism and nostalgia for the times, when it constituted for great strength and when its voice, as an institution, was respected. Today, unfortunately the Church has lost its vision. We don’t search for defence and consolidation of the Church as an institution, but we are here in the name of the seekers, to contemplate on how to open people for dialogue –the prominent thinker concluded.