Traveling to Spain is on the bucket list for many people, whether it be for vacation, study abroad, cultural excursion or pilgrimage. It’s been one of the daughters of the Church until the 1930s when the Civil War broke out and persecution on the Catholic Church began, leaving the faith broken and the Church struggling.

Spain is a country of religious contradiction. It is the birthplace of St. Teresa of Ávila and St. Josemaría Escrivá, yet has fewer than 20 percent of Catholics attending Mass regularly. Despite this, the Holy Spirit has retained a vestige of faithful which supports international pilgrims who regularly come to Spain to walk the Camino Del Santiago.

With a vibrant interest in Spain prospering, will it ever regain the heart of the faith it once had?

“The question we should be asking is how to bring Christianity back” said Dr. Edward Mulholland, associate professor in the Department of World and Classical Languages and Cultures at Benedictine College, affirming that Spain is not the only country facing these battles.

By recognizing two factors that contribute to the breakdown of the faith, we can approach this ultimate question.

 

Public opinion inside the Church

We are habitually hounded with public opinion that questions the Church, but how does the public opinion inside the Church affect the breakdown of the faith?  Norberto González Gaitano, professor of Public Opinion at Santa Croce University in Rome, elaborates in his article, Public Opinion in the Church: A communicative and ecclesiological reflection, that “internal discussions and indoor Church affairs are inexorably linked to the shaping of public opinion regarding the Church.”  

Gaitano discusses three levels of opinion: the level of faith, the level of Church government and the level of the contingent. First, he notes, it is difficult to have an opinion within the Church at the level of faith because it’s a supernatural experience. Faith cannot be put into formulas. It must be discussed with delicacy in order to root out heresy and develop dogma, which “requires competence, theological formation and erudition, among those who debate.”

Second, the bishops should use their power to promote the ecclesiastical common good, not for personal gain or convenience. When the power is corrupt, it affects the public opinion of the contingency, in other words, the faithful, as well as those outside the Church. On the other hand, “the faithful cannot break the communion by publicly dissenting on disciplinary decisions,” Gaitano writes. Both pastors and laity bear the responsibility for the integrity of Church government.

Lastly, we as faithful also influence public opinion about the Church in how we dialogue, either with calumny or respect. We should feel the liberty to criticize and question the Church in order to increase our personal and Church formation.

Gaitano concludes that in practice, always be educated in the faith, study communication in the Church, adapt the language to the public and attain a unity of life so to be “the testimony of evangelical example” and not “be dragged along by the dominant stereotypes of the culture in which they live.”

 

Lack of a personal faith encounter

Spain’s strong dominant stereotype of being a free-spirited culture is clear, as seen in Catalonia’s fight for independence from Spain, where the Independence Movement is strongly anti-Spanish and anti-Christian. However, Fr. Julián Lozano López, Director of Mass Communications in the Diocese of Getafe, Spain, believes it is the same crisis of faith that is affecting nominally Christian nations worldwide. “The experience of faith has decreased enormously [in Western culture],” he says.

In contrast, the movements are pockets of faithful in the Church that help keep Christianity alive with new methods of living and sharing the faith, López says.  Some include Communion and Liberation, Opus Dei, Neocatechumenal Way and the Focolare Movement. Two of these movements started in Spain and have been an avenue for the Spanish youth to live the faith in community amid moral decline and anti-Catholic sentiment.  

“There was no Catholic community for college students or young adults and my Spanish friends thought the Church antiquated and irrelevant, only an accessory to their lives,” said Olivia Martin, an expatriate religion teacher at a private school in Asturias, Spain. She found a reawakening of Christ through participating in a movement herself, an important element to her life in Spain.

Regardless of country or culture, López advices to be free-spirited but within the truth of one’s life and faith. “It is indispensable to search a live community of faith to preserve it.”

Bringing Christianity back to cultures, like Spain, may be found by forming the public opinion inside the Church and searching for an experience of faith, thus enhancing one’s formative development. Personal formation may be unknown, uncomfortable, or may feel trivial at times, but for Christianity to awaken, you have to start with yourself.