Friday, October 26, 2007

Identity and willingness to defend faith keys to culture war

~by Maurizio Crippa of Il Foglio via Papa Ratzinger Forum on the roundtable discussion about media reporting on Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate. Notice again the observation about Catholic identity
"It is true that the presence of the Pope in the international press is less compared to that of John Paul II, but we must also acknowledge the communicative gains that Benedict XVI achieves every day in using language that is very clear even if he speaks about complex issues."

Those were words from Diego Contreras, professor of communications, at a roundtable discussion in Roma-3 University deidcated to Pope Benedict and the mass media.

The issue of 'how (well or not) the Pope communicates' and in parallel, or at times subordinate, how and how much the Church communicates, is decidedly a polestar in the minds of the Catholic intelligentsia, and perhaps even more, of the hierarchy, to judge from the volumes that have been said about it in Italy and around the world, and the media dedicated to reporting Papal and church events.

In the press and on TV, from traditional news agencies to independent ones and new online services like ZENIT, from traditional media like radio to the new ones [the swekly diocesan newspaper of Taranto has just inaugurated the first experiemn of TV on demand by Internet yet attempted by any Catholic organization], there is a vitality in reporting that is not disputed.

But the question is: what are they reporting? What is the core of this religious reporting which should be addressed towards the lay world, ad extra, rather than to the Church itself, ad intra.

Indirectly, a decisive response came from Benedict XVI himself a few days ago, with the interview he gave in November 2006 which constitutes the preface to a book by the German theologian, the late Cardinal Leo Sheffzyck, which was previewed in Corriere della Sera.

Recalling the years of agitation following Vatican-II, Benedict XVI says, "We became aware that we were together fighting for the vitality of the faith in our time, for its expression and comprehensibility by the men of our time, staying faithful to the profound identity of that faith."

To make understandable the 'profound identity' of the faith - for Joseph Ratzinger, that is the cultural battle that must be waged. And the then 40-year-old Bavarian theologian understood that 40 years ago.

The problem today is the kind of 'reception' - to use a term dear to Vatican-II - by the Catholic information media of the reasons inherent in this cultural battle which the professor-Pope is leading against contemporary secular thinking.

Beyond the conclusions they may draw from it, many opinion makers see that this is the crucial point, one that is no longer understated but rather confronted with all its implications...

...In this search for an adequate 'grammar and syntax', Jesus published an interview last July with Cardinal Angelo Scola in which the Patriarch of Venice said a rapprochement was timely and appropriate between the teaching of theology and the state university system in Italy.

"One must acknowledge reality - that there is a massive comeback of the 'religious', no longer falsely and merely as a discipline discarded from so-called 'human sciences'," Scola said. "This cultural challenge must be accepted - and it could constitute the sense and even the fascination of a Christian presence in the universities."

Beyond theology, Marras notes that the question of relationship with lay culture is still marked by "an aphasia, that we have often lamented, on the part of Catholic intellectuals."

"But we understand that it depends on us, on our ability to listen or not to the prophetic voices in the Church itself."

Marras says that the cultural confrontation "should come within evangelical logic, about the Church as salt and yeast, which does not mean spreading salt all over the earth. Rather it means that Christians should be among other peoples in sympathy."

But on the part of believers, this also means having a better knowledge of the Gospel, of scriptures, of the roots of the faith. "It requires full awareness of one's identity, but identity is by nature a dialog with others [affirming one's identity to others who do not have the same identity]."

Marras cites Mons. Gianfranco Ravasi, newly named president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and one of the closest collaborators of the San Paolo publishing family, who has said "Dialog does not mean duelling."

Marras advocates the 'Ravasi model' of dialog for the Church - a capacity to disseminate information with rigorous adherence to the identity of the faith. At the same time, he says, secular laymen need to pay more attention and be serious, because "all the contemporary talk about religion and God means there is a strong spiritual demand."

This demand and the need for the Church to respond to it clearly has also been articulated by Roberto Righetto, edtior of Avvenire's cultural section Agora, as well as coordinator of the Catholic University of Milan's journal Vita e Pensiero, a major player in the culture wars.

"Today, Europe's clergy are exhausted, they tend to practice a widespread conformism, and are impoverished of projects, ideas and ideals. Consider the 'isolation' of Norberto Bobbio in the last years of his life....

..."This overturns the secular stereotype," Righetto continues. " It is often the secular world that lacks the power of argument using daring thought, as though even secularists who do not fear to search for truth lack any points of reference."

So, what should be the role of an 'aggressive' Catholic media?

"We should be able to emerge from an inferiority complex which for years Christians have suffered from, with the result that one hardly finds prominent Christian thinkers taking part in the main forum of cultural debate.

"In part, that is due to the arrogance of the dominant secularist culture, but on the part of the Catholics, it is also due to their inability to appreciate the power and the originality of Christian culture. Having a definite cultural identity is not a handicap, not something to be regarded as a condition of inferiority. It is something that should confer strength, given an ability to know how to communicate with others, even those most remote from our identity."

Perhaps, the paradigm of the relationship between Catholics and secularists is changing more profoundly in the world of information and publishing than in academe, in the sense proposed by Righetto.

Identity and a willingness to defend it, to cite Ratzinger, are the new key words in the cultural war....

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