The archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, said he wants to renew adult faith formation in his archdiocese to reach more people and deepen relationships in the period following the coronavirus pandemic.
In a pastoral letter published last week, Cardinal Zuppi said “after the pandemic, it is necessary to start again with simplicity and confidence from the many questions that have emerged: the meaning of life, spirituality, fear, limits.”
He criticized Christian formation which keeps adults “at infantile levels” of knowledge about their faith. “We must help fight superficiality and ignorance because they do not help to address the great issues that affect the life of humanity today, near and far,” he urged.
“Many adults were initiated into the faith but remained in an initial faith; they know Christianity, but in an insufficient way,” he claimed.
“We must not waste any encounter,” Zuppi stated. “It is about helping ‘Christians’ (more or less practicing) to rediscover the profound newness of the Gospel, not to take it for granted, to grow in the awareness and security that we all need, to constantly return to the first spark of faith in Christ that opens up to amazement and joy.”
The Bologna archbishop’s pastoral letter, published Sept. 3, is called “Behold, the sower went out to sow” (Mark 4:3).
The Archdiocese of Bologna is in the second year of a five-year pastoral plan, the theme of which is “Seeing, Growing, Changing.”
Zuppi’s letter for 2020-2021 focused largely on the effects of the pandemic and how the Church should respond.
“We face the challenge of responding adequately to the thirst for God of many people, which has increased with the pandemic!” he said.
He noted: “In this year, in which the Church of Bologna intends to resume and renew Christian initiation for adults, the active attention of Christian communities and ecclesial groups and organizations is needed to consolidate the maturity of adults.”
Zuppi said the method of “adult catechesis” which is made up of a few meetings per year, on “fundamental themes,” with those already on a faith journey, have less effectiveness today.
“There is a risk, within part of our pastoral efforts, of contacting and reaching a small number of adults, those who most visibly show a fragility that must be welcomed with affection, often forgetting a large majority of adults,” he argued.
He urged Catholics not to judge those who are far from the Church.
People may “say they believe, but they have a partial, confused, if not distorted representation of faith. Other times they are far away but we realize, in some moments, the question of meaning, of truth which they carry in their hearts,” he said.
“Many Christians live a faith of habits; others limit themselves to a few gestures and rituals, others have moved away and keep their distance.”
“It is not a question of judging, but of loving,” he said.
Zuppi also emphasized the importance of human relationships in helping people to encounter the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“I would like us to resume our meetings with a new style, one of conscious friendship, showing the joy of finding each other again,” he said, “because we understand the gift that is the bond with Jesus and with our brothers and we want it for many, not virtual but real.”
“I would like in these months -- because the reconstruction will be a long period that requires perseverance and patience -- we all try to sow with words, with smiles, with visits, with participation, with availability the seeds of that mutual love that Jesus asked us and above all gave us,” he continued.
“If the virus isolates, love unites. If the pandemic scares us, love gives us strength.”