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How can Pope Francis fill those empty European cathedrals?

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Friday, August 9, 2013, at 8:13 p.m.

Grace, authenticity attract many

The Rev. Justin Hoye, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Kansas City, Mo.: “Keep doing what you’re doing.”

Due to style or tone or perhaps just grace, Pope Francis has captured the attention of many. A portion of the world that might only have looked at the church intermittently or critically are now letting their gaze fall upon the church with more regularity and openness. His Holiness’ election has enticed many to look at the church … again. This is important.

The “new evangelization,” a call extended through our last three pontiffs, is an effort to reintroduce the fullness of Jesus Christ to those who have become disengaged from the life of faith.

It entails creating ways of presenting Catholic teaching by which the truths of faith can resonate in human hearts. A life of faith as a disciple of Jesus sets us free. The new evangelization urges Catholics to repropose the gift of Jesus Christ, because it is in him alone that we find our true identities and fulfillment.

This pope has drawn many eyes to the Catholic faith once again, giving the church an opportunity to propose her teachings and purpose with renewed vigor.

If Pope Francis continues to convey a sense of authenticity and true love for God and others, more and more eyes and ears will fall – one more time – on the church’s proclamation of the Gospel, and find the truth that sets them free.

Hope is the answer

The Rev. Perry Sukstorf, Redeemer Olathe (Kan.) Lutheran Church: My advice to Pope Francis would be to give the people what they need so sorely: the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

To this Martin Luther would ask the question, “What does this mean?” To which I would say that the reason churches – even the great cathedrals of Europe – go empty is because they drift from the core of Christianity; that sinful humanity needs a Savior to forgive them. And that forgiveness is found in the word of God and his sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

Empty churches, whether in Europe or here in the United States, need to show people that the church cares for them as individuals first. If I’m not a churchgoer, mosaics, statuary and stained glass won’t feed me, help me deal with shame and guilt, or comfort me when I am sick. These are all cold, impersonal artifacts, never intended to be viewed apart from relationships with other sinners saved by the body and blood of Christ on the cross.

And that’s what the church in Europe needs to become alive once again; sinners saved by faith in Christ, eager to share the joy of their salvation with others through word and deed.

I have heard that in churches where this law/Gospel dynamic is preached by pastors who know their parishioners, the pews are full. Where the church is institutionalized (largely, the cathedrals and state churches), the church has become just another old building for tourists to traipse through.

Fill hearts with hope, and the cathedrals will likewise be full.

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