The decline of Christian belief in the West is accelerating – last year a survey revealed that for the first time less than 50% of people in the U.K. now identify as Christians. And those brought up as Catholics are not exempt from this loss of faith. Why is this happening?
World Youth Day arose from the “Extraordinary Holy Year” 1983-84. Many Catholic associations, fraternities, groups of Catholic Action and other pilgrims came to Rome for its celebration. They were impressive. So members of new spiritual movements got the idea to invite the youth of the world to meet with the Pope. It was Massimo Camisasca of the Italian community “Comunione e liberazione”, nowadays Bishop of Reggio Emilia, who made this suggestion to me. At that time, I gladly gave my consent. But it was quickly contested. Immediately voices were strongly raised against it, saying that in the Holy Year of 1975, a similar idea ended in disaster.
Has a “golden age” for the Church ever existed? Certainly not in the 4th century. The life of St Gregory Nazianzen bears witness to that. Gregory was born in 329 AD to his mother, Nonna, and father, Gregory senior, on the family estate in the village of Arianzus in the province of Cappadocia, south of modern-day Ancyra. His mother was a committed Christian from a Christian family.
Many people are unaware of his devout Catholic faith – he was a daily communicant – and even fewer are aware of the fundamental importance of his faith on his creative work. I am aiming here to show that – even though it can be enjoyed without any knowledge of Catholicism – his work is deeply imbued with a ‘sacramental’ vision, ie. that throughout the stories a metaphysical and ethical framework is consciously employed which is deeply Catholic.
Bishop Philip Egan’s greeting is cheerful and conversation with him is easy. His style is an encouraging blend of goodwill and thoughtful reflection. He doesn’t waffle, and he likes to discuss concrete projects and useful ideas. He is a busy man, but relaxed and unhurried in conversation, with easy humour. We met at St John’s seminary, Wonersh, where, along with other bishops and a large gathering of students past and present, he was taking part in the celebrations for its 125th anniversary.