VATICAN CITY — When cardinal electors met at the beginning of the 2013 conclave, they received a sober warning from their fellow Cardinal Prospero Grech. The non-elector cardinal told them that the Church needed the New Evangelization more than ever in the face of Europeʼs loss of faith and a pope who could keep the Church together in the face of crisis.
“In the West, at least in Europe, Christianity itself is in crisis,” Cardinal Grech told the 115 cardinal electors in the Vaticanʼs Sistine Chapel March 12. “There is a rampant secularism and agnosticism which has diverse roots.”
“You feel, therefore, the urgency of the New Evangelization, which begins with the pure kerygma (Gospel proclamation) announced to nonbelievers, followed by a continuing catechesis nourished by prayer.”
Cardinal Grech delivered the meditation in Italian to the cardinal electors on the problems facing the Church, and he spoke of the need for discernment “concerning the grave duty incumbent on them, and thus on the need to act with right intention for the good of the universal Church, having only God before their eyes,” according to the document that governs the conclave process.
The text of his meditation was recently released in Italian in the Acts of the Apostolic See, the Vaticanʼs official journal of record.
Question for Pope: ʻDo You Love Me?ʼ
He noted that the conclave is a “strong moment of grace” in salvation history, but added that it is also a moment of “the maximum responsibility.” The nationality or race of the man to be elected pope is unimportant, he said.
“The only thing of importance is if, when the Lord asks the question ʻPeter, do you love me?ʼ that he can respond in all sincerity, ʻLord, you know everything; you know that I love you.ʼ Then the sheep entrusted to him by Jesus will be safe, and Peter will follow Christ, the Chief Shepherd, wherever he goes.”
Cardinal Grech said he was not there to “make a sketch” of the next pope, “and much less to present a working plan for the future pontiff.”
His prefatory remarks focused on the proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the scandal of the cross — both Christʼs and the Churchʼs.
He called the Kingdom of God a “moment of grace and of reconciliation,” brought through Christ and the Church. He warned against the temptation, since Vatican II, to give into religious “indifferentism” and not stress the necessity of baptism for salvation.
The proclamation of the Kingdom of God, he said, is “the proclamation of ʻJesus Christ and him crucified.ʼ” The scandal of the cross, he said, “humbles the hubris of the human mind and elevates it to accept a wisdom which comes from above.”
Christʼs cross, he said, must not be relativized, but regarded as the one universal way to salvation, offered to “the modern world, which suffers from an existential depression.”
Christ crucified, he told the cardinal electors, is “intimately tied to the Church crucified” and the persecution of the Church for proclaiming truth.
“Persecution is a constitutive element of the Church, as is the weakness of her members,” which he called a “cross which is to be embraced.”
He noted the sex-abuse scandal and the acts of Benedict XVI to humble the Church and to remove the evil at all costs. In light of this, Cardinal Grech called for a greater “transparency,” because the Church can be “obscured or hidden.”
He called for courage in the face of the scandal and to “trust only in God,” rather than placing faith in political solutions.
Godʼs Will for Unity
Cardinal Grech moved to discuss Godʼs will regarding the Church. Christʼs “highest desire” is “the unity of his body,” he noted, in a plea for Church unity, both within and without the Catholic Church.
With regard to ecumenism, he said that “to desist from dialogue would run explicitly contrary to the will of God.” He also said the future pope would face the problem being able “to hold onto the unity of the Catholic Church herself.”
“Between extremist ultra-traditionalists and extreme ultra-progressives … there will be always the peril of minor schism,” he said.
“Unity at any cost,” he continued. “Unity yes, but this does not mean uniformity.”
Cardinal Grech said that it is “evident that this does not close the door to intraecclesial discussion, present in all of Church history. All are free to express their thoughts on the task of the Church yet which are proposed in line with the deposit of faith, which the Pope, together with all the bishops, has the task of preserving.”
He deplored that both theology and philosophy today are suffering and that “we need a good philosophical foundation from which to develop dogma with a valid hermeneutic that speaks in a language intelligible to the contemporary world.”
Saying this, Cardinal Grech, who had been a priest for 12 years when Vatican II began, noted that “certainly laws and traditions which are purely ecclesial may be changed, yet not every change signifies progress; we must discern whether changes act to augment the holiness of the Church or to obscure it.”
The Threat of Secularism
Having addressed all of these issues, Cardinal Grech then moved on to what he called an “even more pressing chapter,” the secularism and abandonment of Christianity in the West, and especially in Europe.
The roots of this secularism and agnosticism, he said, include relativism, a materialism that “measures everything in economic terms,” governmentsʼ desire to remove God from society, the sexual revolution and scientific advances that recognize neither moral nor humanitarian brakes.
In the face of a culture that is ignorant not only of Catholic doctrine, but of the very “ABCs of Christianity,” Cardinal Grech stated the urgency of the New Evangelization, calling it the most central issue for the pope who was to be elected.
He added, however, that while doors are “closing” in Europe, they are being widened elsewhere, particularly in Asia.
And even in the West, he said, God will “preserve a remnant of Israel that will not kneel before Baal,” adding that the remnant is seen especially in the new movements that “contribute strongly to the New Evangelization.”
“Be on guard, though, that particular movements not believe that the Church is exhausted in them,” he said.
He reassured the cardinal electors that “God cannot be defeated by our carelessness” and that “the Church is his.”
Sense of the Faithful
Cardinal Grech then turned to consider the importance of the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) found among the anawim (the “simple faithful") in whose prayerful hearts the “Logos of God shines.”
He told the cardinal electors this because, while it is common to say that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, the cardinal said they “do not always take this into consideration in our plans for the Church.”
Cardinal Grech stated that God is always greater, that the Holy Spirit “transcends every sociological analysis and historical prediction.” The Spirit “exceeds” all the scandals that obscure Christʼs face in the Church.
He concluded his remarks by noting Michelangeloʼs fresco The Last Judgment, before which the cardinal electors would shortly be casting their votes for the new pope.
Christʼs raised hand in the fresco, he told them, was there “to illumine your vote, that it might be according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh.”
Cardinal Grech stated, “In that way, the one chosen will not be only yours, but essentially his.”