At a gathering of European bishops in Belarus last week, Cdl. Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa blasted secularism as one of the gravest errors of our time, lamenting that Europe risks squandering its soul by abandoning the Faith.
Speaking before the Council of the Bishops' Conferences of Europe, he recalled the words of Bl. Pope Paul VI in his closing address of the Second Vatican Council.
"Secular humanism," Cdl. Bagnasco declared, "revealing itself in its horrible anti-clerical reality has, in a certain sense, defied the council. The religion of God who became Man has met the religion (for such it is) of man who makes himself God."
The Genoese archbishop cautioned his audience that Europe risks losing the very fruits of civilization and culture Christianity has generated over the past 2,000 years. Quoting the Romantic writer Novalis (Georg Friedrich Philipp von Hardenberg), he warned, "If Europe separated itself totally from Christ, then it would cease to be."
Hearkening to the "frequent appeals to Europe" of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, Cdl. Bagnasco repeated the words of Pope Francis who in 2016 said that the continent "has a strength, a culture, a history that must not be wasted."
Across Europe, he noted, the "march of secularism" has produced a dominant culture and singular way of thinking that is alien to Christian culture.
Before the West began its export of secularism to the developing world — an imposed transmission Pope Francis has described as "ideological colonization" — Europe itself had to be "colonized" with this subversive ideology:
In the synods of the last decade, the Fathers have highlighted this phenomenon everywhere, in whatever society and culture. Times and ways can be different, but the intentionality is the same: to live apart from God, often believing that religion is contrary to the happiness of humanity, to freedom, to democracy and to the healthy secularity of the State. ... What are the fruits of this tree? Are men and women perhaps happier today and societies more humane and habitable? In reality, many observers highlight that in people's hearts there is confusion if not even anguish.
Cardinal Bagnasco outlined the solution for Europe's decay, "Christianity, as the soul of the body, has the task of reviving the European roots, ancient roots but still capable of sprouting today. It must give back hope!"
And that, hope, he affirmed, is the Son of God, "Our hope is not human wisdom, it is Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God made Man, the Savior of the world."
Looking ahead at the magnitude of the task before the Church in Europe, Bagnasco drew inspiration from Scripture. He pointed to Christ's words to St. Paul as the Apostle preached in Corinth: "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you ... for there are many in this city who are my people!" (Acts 18:9–10).
"Yes, dear brothers," he continued, "these words are addressed to us, too, so that discouragement does not triumph in the face of the difficulties of the mission, knowing that when our weakness cries out to God, then it becomes the place of the strong God."
The work of reconquering Europe for Christ and His Church will be aided, Bagnasco said, by the very design of human nature — the fact that God implanted men and women with a subtle desire "to meet someone who helps their conscience to be re-awakened, to re-awaken the decisive questions about existence, destiny, the future beyond death, the evil which wounds humanity and the evils which violate life and the cosmos."
Though widely unrecognized, the cardinal observed that people across Europe — and throughout the West — are aching for God and His answers.
"We can say that the Western person appears confused about their own identity and the meaning of their existence," he reflected, "but within this muddle an opportunity presents itself ... men and women cannot live without truth and in radical loneliness."
Though recognizing the enormity of the battle ahead, Bagnasco was undaunted.
"It's not the end," he assured his audience. "Europe has many resources for going forward. ... And the greatest resource is the person of Jesus."
Cardinal Bagnasco called out to the continent to return home to God and rallied his brother bishops to rediscover their mission, "Europe, return to Jesus! Return to that Jesus whom you have said was not in your roots! And this is the work of the pastors: to preach Jesus."