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Rediscovering the mother tongue of Europe

· Cardinal Winning Lecture at the University of Glasgow ·

For almost 600 years the University of Glasgow (Scotland), founded by the Papal Bull of Nicholas v, has proclaimed to all who visit it the motto “Via, Veritas, Vita”. Although it is now a secular university, the original motto remains visible across the campus. The motto was recently translated into practical ideas when academics, school leaders, university students and young people gathered on 14 February to hear Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, give this year’s Cardinal Winning Lecture.

Cardinal Thomas Winning, Archbishop of Glasgow from 1974 — 2001, was a strong supporter of Catholic education. This annual lecture, which takes place during the national Catholic Education week in Scotland, marks Cardinal Winning’s robust contribution to Catholic Education. The lecture was organized by the St Andrew’s Foundation for Catholic Teacher Education of the University of Glasgow.

During the lecture, Archbishop Fisichella discussed the many challenges facing the Catholic Church in a society driven by the search for novelty. He pointed out that New Evangelization is an opportunity for all the baptized to carry out what should be their primary mission: the proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ. Setting his key themes within the context of the traditional Christian countries of Europe, the Archbishop quoted Goethe’s observation that Christianity is the ‘mother tongue’ of Europe. As the Christian faith of Europe seems to fade away, how can the Church re-engage with her children?

Archbishop Fisichella made special mention of two areas. First, critical thinking on what ‘New Evangelization’ means cannot remain isolated within universities. It is necessary for the Church to transform this way of thinking into a firm culture of humanism — a culture which can meet the hopes and expectations of all people. In this way, the Church acts at the service of humanity.

A second issue is the Christian response to the phenomenon of the ‘new media’. Few people today can live apart from the influence of the various forms of communication clustered under the heading ‘new media’. Yet, it is not enough, argued the Archbishop, simply to use them as tools in the mission of evangelization. What is needed is a radical thinking on how the Church can evangelize a culture which has been shaped by the new media and, thus, transmit a culture rich in humanism to a culture where technology reigns supreme? So what is the meaning of faith to the ‘digital’ person? Christianity has always been the communication of an event and an experience: how can we render faith intelligible to one whose needs are met, it seems, online?

After the lecture, Bishop John Keenan of Paisley, chaired a question and answer session which proved to be an engaging conclusion to the morning. Archbishop Fisichella spoke passionately of the need to tell people about Jesus, to encounter them in the street and to raise our eyes away from the touchscreen of new media to meet the eyes of those who pass by. Only in this way will we evangelize culture and turn the motto “Via, Veritas, Vita” into a way of life for those living in the 21st century. 

Leonardo Franchi

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