By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — If objective truth does not exist, “there is no compass and we won’t know where to go,” Pope Benedict XVI told members and almost-members of the College of Cardinals.
An awareness of the truth of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ makes life “rich and beautiful” and is essential for sharing the Christian faith with others, the pope said Feb. 17 at the end of a daylong meeting of the College of Cardinals.
The pope thanked Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who gave the day’s main presentation on missionary activity and the new evangelization. The pope said the New York prelate’s talk was “enthusiastic, joyful and profound.”
In his morning address to the group, which included most of the 21 other churchmen who were to be made cardinals with him Feb. 18, Cardinal-designate Dolan said secularism has had an easy time spreading through many traditionally Christian cultures because so many Christians do not know their faith and do not grasp the truth it teaches.
While the New York prelate did not downplay the challenges the church faces in reviving the faith of its members and bringing the Gospel to those who have never heard it, he delivered his assessment with his characteristic smile and broad gestures, telling Pope Benedict and the cardinals that evangelization requires joy and love.
“When I became the archbishop of New York, a priest told me, ‘You better stop smiling when you walk the streets of Manhattan or you’ll be arrested,’” he said, but he still believes Christians must show the world that faith is saying yes “to everything decent, good, true, beautiful and noble.”
The meeting was attended by 133 prelates, including at least 20 of the 22 who were to receive their red hats from the pope the following morning.
During the morning session, Pope Benedict did not address the assembly and was not one of the seven participants who commented on the presentation by Cardinal-designate Dolan, although the pope did laugh when the New York archbishop made fun of his speaking Italian “like a child.”
The morning session also featured a brief presentation by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, on plans for the 2012-2013 Year of Faith.
The pope spoke at the end of the evening session, after another 20 cardinals and cardinals-designate had taken the floor to speak.
Pope Benedict told the assembly that the teachings of the Second Vatican Council were important for “rediscovering the relevance of Jesus and of faith” today, and he echoed Cardinal-designate Dolan’s call for a true renewal of catechesis to combat what has been defined as “religious illiteracy.”
In his morning presentation, Cardinal-designate Dolan said that when Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, asked him to be the main presenter, he hinted that he did so because New York “might be the ‘capital of secular culture.’”
“New York — without denying its dramatic evidence of graphic secularism — is also a very religious city,” he said, where even those “who boast of their secularism” exhibit an openness to the divine and have questions about God.
While secularism “is invading every aspect of daily life,” the New York prelate said, it also is true that most people, on some level, still question the ultimate meaning of life and still ponder the idea of God.
“Even a person who brags about being secular and is dismissive of religion has within an undeniable spark of interest in the beyond, and recognizes that humanity and creation is a dismal riddle without the concept of some kind of creator,” he said.
The cardinal-designate said those people don’t want to be considered objects of missionary activity, but Christians have an obligation to help them maintain their search for meaning in life.
Humility, joy and love are key to the success of the evangelization efforts of the church and its members, he said.
“Triumphalism in the church was dead” after the Second Vatican Council, he said, but “so was confidence.”
Catholics recognize that they and their church need conversion, too, he said. And, they must be convinced that what they are sharing with others is not a doctrine, but the person of Jesus.
At the same time, because Jesus is the truth, Catholics must make a commitment “to combat catechetical illiteracy,” he said.
“True enough, the new evangelization is urgent because secularism has often choked the seed of faith, but that choking was sadly made easy because so many believers really had no adequate knowledge or grasp of the wisdom, beauty and coherence of the truth,” he said.
Cardinal-designate Dolan said that on the eve of receiving his red hat from the pope, he also had to speak of the fact that Christians are called to love and serve the church and their neighbors, even to the point of shedding their blood if necessary.
The cardinals, he said, “are but ‘scarlet audiovisual aids’ for all our brothers and sisters,” who also are called “to be ready to suffer and die for Jesus.”
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, did not release the names of the 27 cardinals who intervened in the discussion, but he summarized the points that were made. Several of the cardinals, he said, spoke about the difficulties evangelizing in their specific countries or cultures.
Mention was made of the growing number of Christians in China, “despite the difficulties,” presumably with government control over religion; about interreligious dialogue and the fight against poverty in India; the important role of popular religious devotions for evangelization in Latin America; and about secularism’s attempts to marginalize religion in the West.
Participants insisted on the importance of ecumenism for fostering a common Christian witness to the faith, on the continuing relevance of the Second Vatican Council as a guide for the church today and on the value of Christian joy and holiness for evangelization, he said.
PHOTO: Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York talks with Italian Cardinals Carlo Caffarra of Bologna and Renato Martino, special Vatican envoy to Myanmar, as they arrive for a vespers service with Pope Benedict XVI in the synod hall at the Vatican Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)