The Year of Faith, which ended Nov. 24, the Solemnity of Christ the King, was a "year of grace" characterized by "enthusiasm and dynamism" that has brought many Catholics back to the faith, says Archbishop Rino Fisichella.
As president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, he has led the Vatican department that was the principal organizer of the year’s events. Archbishop Fisichella sat down with the Register Nov. 6 to share his reflections on the Year of Faith.
From your perspective, what have been the main achievements regarding the Year of Faith?
First of all, it was really a moment of grace — a very evident moment of grace. We cannot forget that. We started the Year of Faith with Pope Benedict, and we continued with another pope, Francis. Of course, this was a unique experience during the Year of Faith, and for many people, it was a concrete act of faith, because we are not used to having a pope resign. Many people were probably touched by this experience.
And then there was the enthusiasm about the election of Pope Francis. This was another experience of faith: two different personalities but, in any case, continuity in the Catholic faith.
So this is, first of all, the experience that we have. But second, I would also say it underlined the enthusiasm and dynamism among our people. We’re now used to stressing that these times are a moment of crisis, but we [in this discastery] don’t think that.
Of course, there is currently a crisis of faith, and we are experiencing a global crisis during this peculiar moment of the world. But while we normally underline this aspect of crisis, we do see, with the same realism, that there is such a great dynamic of faith and enthusiasm for the faith that was experienced this year. Also, I would say we experienced unity in the Church through different experiences, initiatives and events.
Look at the bottle over there. In it is a model ship, the logo of the Year of Faith, and that was made by a man in jail in the Philippines. He sent it to me. So, also in jail in the Philippines, they experienced the Year of Faith. There was a young lady from Niger, a country where Catholics make up just 1% of the population, whose name was Marie Cecile. She said [to me]: "When I go back to my country I feel I will never be alone in my life because of the experience of living the faith together — it was something so profound and unique for me that, coming back, I know now the Church is together with me."
How much effect do you think the year will have had on lapsed Catholics? Do you think we will see many reversions from it?
I don’t know if it was the Year of Faith or the occasion of a new pope, but, certainly, we had, in these last months, a great experience of people coming back to the faith.
We have many personal testimonies from priests around the world — in Italy, France and the U.S., too. That has really been the general reaction. Many people have come back and asked for the sacrament of penance.
Especially during Easter time, we had a really great, great impact, with these people coming back after many years far away from the Church.
How much do you think this has to do with Pope Francis, who has emphasized many times the need to go out to the periphery?
The nature of the Church is to evangelize. At this dicastery, we underline daily that to evangelize doesn’t mean staying in our community, but going outside it. Pope Francis, from the beginning of his ministry as bishop of Rome and as the pope, has said we need to go to the peripheries of life. So I think this is a great help. Probably many people, in their own circumstances, have been waiting to hear this message and will be touched by its continued proclamation.
Looking back on the year, is there anything you might have done differently or any initiatives you wanted to do and might do in the future?
It was such a rich moment of faith, when you think of the young people receiving confirmation. It has been a great moment of happiness and enthusiasm, of such popular piety and confraternity, but also religious piety.
To take the event on Pentecost, when 200,000 people from movements, associations came to Rome, and then a meeting of seminarians, of families and of catechists and all of these meetings: It was so full of experiences: catechesis, pilgrimage to the tomb of Peter, confessions, adoration — moments that pilgrims lived in a very intense way. That was wonderful.
But if I can say one event was, for me, unique, and it was unique because it was the first time it had happened in the history of the Church: For one hour, around the whole world, we were in unity around the Eucharist. That was something unprecedented.
There was an attempt in the last century, but never this. It really was a moment of grace for me. Believe me, it was something great.
I remember the title of a very interesting book from Hans Urs von Balthasar — I am a disciple of his, and so I have studied him all of my life — called This Is the Heart of the World (Das Herz der Welt). During this hour, I said, ‘This moment Christ really is the heart of the world, because never have we had a moment like it.’ No words; just silence and the presence of Christ among us and within us. This was a real unique and enthusiastic moment for the Year of Faith.
(A longer version of this interview appeared at NCRegister.com.)