National Catholic Register


Will He Rise Again In Europe Too?

Something unexpected is happening in Europe. Signs of a re-awakening of the Christian faith are slowly cropping up.

BY The Editors

April 8-14, 2007 Issue | Posted 4/3/07 at 10:00 AM


Something unexpected is happening in Europe. Signs of a re-awakening of the Christian faith are slowly cropping up. We have been reporting on the phenomenon, in bits and pieces, all year.

We covered the increase in female religious vocations in Italy. We summarized an article in the German magazine Der Spiegel headlined “Religion, Born Again.”  The article made its case from a worldwide perspective, but added that “there are signs that faith in God” is growing “even” in the West.

In an astonishing article in the Weekly Standard, Joshua Livestro wrote about the revival of Christianity in thoroughly secularized Holland. He quoted a book by “professional trend-watcher” Adjiedj Bakas and Minne Buwalda, who predict: “Throughout Western Europe, and also in Holland, liberal Protestantism is in its death throes. It will be replaced by a new orthodoxy.”

Christian books are selling well in Holland, and a prayer-in-the-workplace movement has been surprisingly popular. Crucifixes have been re-introduced to Catholic schools, and school Masses which were formerly empty are now packed.

So far, all this shows is that there is significant anecdotal evidence that there is reason to hope. There is no evidence of a massive religious revival. But even signs of hope have been rare in Europe.

So what has happened? What has changed? There are several possible factors.

One factor: the blurring of borders by the European Union and the media revolution. National identity is important to shaping personal identity. Scularized nations produced secular citizens. But with the decline of nationalism in Europe, a new generation has arisen — a generation less tied to national identity, and more open to suggestions about what to believe.

Islamic extremism is another possible reason for a return to Christianity. Violence on European soil may have made the continent view its own future with more caution: The Danish cartoon riots, the Paris car-burning sprees, the Madrid and London train bombings, the violence after the Pope spoke in Regensburg, Germany.

Islam itself isn’t the problem. An extremist brand of Islam is. But as more immigrants fill Europe from Islamic backgrounds, that distinction is often lost on the natives. Many merely see their way of life disappearing. Some may search their own religious roots in response.

But even that is not the major factor.

Any analysis of the growth of Christianity in Europe would have to acknowledge the spiritual leader of Europe for nearly 30 years, Pope John Paul II — and his close friend and successor, Pope Benedict XVI.

It was John Paul’s stated desire to lead the West back to its Christian roots. That’s what he meant by “the new evangelization.”

John Paul left behind him the seeds of a religious revival: The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Jubilee Year, the wildfire growth of the movements he encouraged within the Church, the World Youth Days, the Year of the Rosary (and the growth in personal prayer), the Year of the Eucharist (and the growth in adoration), and, after his death, the Synod on the Eucharist, a roots-up revamping of the Mass.

Instead of delineating and denouncing the darkness, he lit candles whose light is impossible to ignore.

He also had a direct affect on Europe by the way he revitalized the faith of the Polish people.

“In the midst of a continent that suffers from priest shortages,” said one British newspaper, “Poland is the only country in Europe that is overflowing with priests” — priests who, increasingly, are being sent to churches in other countries. News reports show how British churches that were empty a short time ago are now filling up with Polish immigrants.

Even in Germany, which didn’t have Poland’s Catholic background, the fact that the new Pope is dynamic, courageous and German is having an effect.

The success of Pope Benedict’s World Youth Day in Cologne, and September trip to Germany, caught his home country by surprise. A German newspaper called him “The Pope of Hope.”

Is it possible that Christianity could return to secular Europe?

Easter teaches us the same lesson every year: Even the dead can rise.