The Church is Burning. What Can be Done?
The fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019, is a symbol of the church that burns in secularised Europe and, more generally, in the globalised world. Andrea Riccardi’s book, La Chiesa brucia: Crisi e futuro del cristianesimo (The Church Burns: Crisis and Future of Christianity) (Bari-Rome: Laterza, 2021) opens with the evocative image of the burning Notre-Dame. Riccardi is well-positioned to present his analysis, being professor of Contemporary History at the University of Rome III and a biographer of John Paul II.
As a Catholic scholar, Riccardi discusses the crisis and points out some ideas for a different future. He takes up the argument of the French sociologist Hervieu-Léger that Roman Catholicism has characterised itself as a ‘cold religion’ (top-down and moralistic) and should melt, learning to become ‘warmer’. This means, for example, living in the contemporary world with ‘multiple ecclesial presences, capable of charismatic, diversified, close encounters, and in dialogue with the people’ (p. 207).
The analysis of the crisis suggested by the book is honest and without reticence. And yet, the proposed way out remains within the intangible framework of the theological pillars of Roman Catholicity. For all churches and for all Christians, the turning point is not a greater pastoral attention or a new missionary strategy (however important these factors might be), but a return to the Word of God accompanied by repentance from sin and a response of faith ready to call into question all the compromised structures built over time. The ultimate issue is not to switch from a ‘cold’ to a ‘warm’ religion; it is to faithfully respond to the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ in truth and love.
Leonardo De Chirico, Rome