E s s a y s
From Catholicism to catholicity
Intervew by Sara Silvestri, published in SIR Europa (Servizio Informazione Religiosa), n.32, 27 April 2005 (www.agensir.it)
Professor of Sociology at the "Charles" University in Prague and President of the Christian Academy of the Czech Republic, Tomas Halik is a Catholic priest ordained in secret in Germany during the Communist regime. Throughout the 1980s he was very active in the Czech "Church of silence", working together with Cardinal Tomášek and future President Václav Havel. Father Halik was also one of the organizers of clandestine seminaries and of the publication of "illegal" philosophic and theological texts. Former secretary of the Czech Bishops' Conference, and expert in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, as well as in European policy, he was recently invited by the University of Cambridge to give the "Von Hügel Lecture". Speaking of the "public role of religion in a united Europe", Halik declared that "Europe is not simply non-Christian or non-religious, but is not even religious in the Christian sense. We cannot realistically expect Christianity automatically to become the exclusive 'common language' of the West. Europe is not devoid of a soul, but we Europeans must understand this soul and foster it".
What are the challenges for Christian Europe in the 21st century?
"Two dangers exist: the first is 'nostalgia' for a 'golden age' of Christian Europe, which corresponds to a romantic vision of the Middle Ages, unrealistic in terms of the contemporary situation; the second is 'secular fundamentalism', which is now even more intolerant of so-called 'religious fundamentalism'. In Europe, however, the Christian tradition and the secular tradition have shown that they are compatible by virtue of their co-existence over the last two centuries. They need each other: secular humanism has a need to learn from and get along with a religious context, while we Christians must learn to live together with people who are not religious and who have no liking for the Church. We must shift from the notion of 'Catholicism' to that of 'catholicity'. Catholicism tends to be seen as a form of Catholic culture that has developed during the modern period as a reaction against modernity and against Protestantism; it too has become an 'ism'. Vatican Council II, and in many respects also the pontificate of John Paul II, began this shift from Catholicism to a more open catholicity, which implies a more ecumenical perspective and the ability to communicate also with those outside the visible frontiers of the Church. Something very important was said in the Second Vatican Council and in particular in ' Gaudium et spes': the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of contemporary man are also the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the Church. The Church has promised love, respect and fidelity to contemporary man. To fulfil this promise, she needs a type of balanced language, able to reach both those far from the Church and those close to her. The Church must retain her own identity but must also be able to communicate with the external world".
How many are ready to accept the message of Christianity?
"Even if so-called 'organized religion' is in crisis in the contemporary world, the fact is that people are still searching for specific forms of spirituality and ethical guidelines to help them find the right answers to many complicated questions of life and science. If the Church is able to offer the experience of spirituality to contemporary humanity and also to participate with her own expertise in the public debate on important questions such as ethics and globalization, there is hope for Christianity in the future."
How is ecumenical dialogue proceeding?
"During the pontificate of John Paul II, due not only to his Slav origins, but also to his profound Marian spirituality, very close to Orthodox spirituality, there were many opportunities for dialogue with the Orthodox Churches. It is a pity that ecumenical dialogue has not developed further. The Russian Orthodox Church has expressed its great anxiety about the influence of Catholicism in Russia and has not accepted the hand of friendship that the Pope extended to her. In the Catholic context, ecumenism sometimes poses a problem, because there are those who concentrate on the continuity of the tradition, while there are others for whom it is very important to communicate with the external world. Both these pressures have priority importance for the Catholic Church, and the new Pope will face the task of reconciling these two tendencies without eliminating the special charism of each. John Paul II perfectly succeeded in doing so: he was able to combine fidelity to the tradition with sensitivity to the signs of the time".