Iceta, faced with the increase in religious indifference: “Will we be able to open our way of thinking to new ways of evangelizing?”

It did not take long for the Archbishop of Burgos, Monsignor Mario Iceta, to make a synthesis of how is the diocese that Pope Francis has entrusted to you and how the challenges, not minor ones, that are presented to this historic Spanish Church should be faced.

After the festivities of the VIII Centenary of Burgos Cathedral, which have set the bar very high for those who have to get involved in commemorations, the time has come to look to the future with realism and hope.

pastoral letter

For this process of reflection on the life of the diocese and its capacity to be a Samaritan of Burgos and Castilian-Leonese society, Bishop Iceta has used the recent synodal process and the Diocesan Assembly that his predecessor Monsignor Fidel Herraez.

The joint fruit of episcopal and diocesan discernment is the extensive Pastoral Letter, programmatic, “Church in mission state. Ecclesial subject, pedagogy and spirituality for times of desertification”. A text that is going to stir not a few consciences along the lines of “Evangelii Gaudium” of Pope Francis, widely quoted.

Starting from the story of the vocation of the young Samuel (1 Sam, 3 and following.), Monsignor Iceta points out that “despite the fact that many people seek new forms of spirituality, we could define the current situation as one of spiritual desertification. And it is precisely in this context that God once again pronounces our names, inviting us to the task of evangelization. And our answer can be none other than that of the young Samuel, full of gratitude and availability: «Here I am, speak that your servant listens»”.

sociological survey

The Archbishop of Burgos synthesizes some data from the diocese according to the sociological survey that was carried out in 2021:

  • 67% of the Burgos population declares itself Catholic. But 50% of those under 34 years old declare themselves agnostic, atheist or religiously indifferent (38% in the age group between 35 and 44 years); 60% of the population considers that the Church and its institutions are positive for society (48% for its social work, 40% for the beliefs it transmits and 39% for its values);
  • The pandemic has changed the habits of practicing Catholics: many have stopped attending the Eucharist in person, and follow it through the media or social networks. But the pandemic has also been an occasion for an increase in faith, practice of prayer and exercise of charity;
  • Among practicing Catholics The scant involvement in ecclesial activities beyond participation in the Eucharist is striking. Around 80% acknowledge not belonging to any ecclesial group, association or institution;
  • The people of Burgos value the accessibility, commitment and closeness of the Church. But they claim greater modernity, transparency, austerity, coherence and credibility; Non-practicing Catholics express a lack of identification with some of the Church’s messages, lack of interest, boredom or the perception that the Church is not necessary to pray.

sacramental practice

And he adds some others, certainly worrying, about the sacramental practice: “In the last 10 years the number of baptisms, confirmations and canonical marriages have been cut in half (marriages to a quarter in the last 20 years); first communions have decreased by 30% and will foreseeably continue to decrease, since only 56% of children born are baptized. These data force us to reflect, to pray and to discern the implications that are derived for our evangelizing task”.

Monsignor Mario Iceta also points out that “together with the increase of indifference, agnosticism, atheism or other forms of unbelief, the emergence of a belligerent antitheism with certain traces of religiophobia and Christianophobia. We also witness the presence of a significant religious plurality of great complexity in the diverse ways of conceiving reality. In a panoramic view of our society, we see that in many cases data from empirical science is recognized as the only source of truth, thus giving preponderance, and almost exclusivity, to scientism as a means of knowledge and access to truth. Everything else is forwarded to realm of subjectivity, speculation or mere personal opinion, which, in the case of transcendent realities, leads to their being considered, in many cases, as the result of superstition, ignorance, imagination, fantasy or fantasy. mere poetic creation. All this makes us think that an important characteristic of the current times it is the crisis of truth. It is a topic of special importance that calls for calm reflection. I do not intend, far from it, to address this issue in an exhaustive way.

spiritual desertification

To do? “This situation of spiritual desertification should not lead us to despair or frustration,” says the archbishop. But not unrealistically, he adds that “the «it’s always been done this way»doesn’t usually help. Without hastily abandoning our usual evangelizing activities, will we be able to generate new, attractive, creative ways of evangelization, formation, accompaniment and public presence? Will we be able to open our way of thinking to new ways of evangelizing? These pedagogies and updated methods are revealed as urgent to reach the younger generations”.

Faced with this cultural situation, the Archbishop of Burgos does not ignore some temptations that may arise. “The temptation to camouflage ourselves by the fear of being countercultural, or to remain paralyzed by the fear of criticism, unable to be true salt and light, giving in to social pressure, the influence of ideologies and the position of some media whose postulates contrast with the Christian worldview and anthropology. We must listen to the word of Jesus who, walking on the raging waters exhorts the disciples: “Courage, it is I! Do not be afraid!” (Mt 14, 22)”.

Rural zones

Following the line of realistic analysis, he insists that “our parish communities, with few exceptions, they decrease in the number of their members and grow old. This problem is significantly worse in rural areas. The number of inhabitants of many municipalities in the province is decreasing. Only twenty-six municipalities have more than a thousand inhabitants and three hundred less than a thousand. Some of them have several towns and parishes. We all share to a greater or lesser extent the conviction that we cannot continue doing the same. We need audacity and creativity to rethink the way of pastoral care in rural areas”.

There are no recipes, no miraculous proposals. But from a look at the immediate past, the Archbishop of Burgos recalls that “Pope Benedict XVI spoke on several occasions of the need to transform Christian communities into creative minorities living a deep spiritual life and that arouse a strong missionary tension acting as a leaven in the middle of the dough. If our communities, parishes, groups, institutions, associations lose vigor, don’t they run the risk of worrying more about self-preservation instead of risking reconfiguring themselves and once again going out of themselves in the key of mission? Shouldn’t we face this transformation of our communities into creative minorities? Isn’t evangelizing vigor one of the main signs of the spiritual life of families, parishes, associations, groups and institutions?

Loss of missionary momentum

A reflection, perhaps penultimate, in line with the pontificate of Pope Francis: “self-preservation leads to self-referentiality, to the loss of missionary drive that causes aging and decline. Pastoral structures are not an end in themselves, but rather a means for Christian communities to truly be places of encounter with God, communion and mission. It is a reality that we have to know how to face without fear and see how to generate these creative minorities that live an intense and fruitful communion that makes all its members co-responsible in the mission. In this context, I want to thank the effort that so many faithful, priests, deacons and members of the consecrated life make to make communities a true ferment of Christian life.

Concretize the call to synodality

After having spoken about marriage, the family, the school, places of leisure, young people, the liturgy, the need to change structures, among many other topics, Monsignor Mario Iceta points out that “the The call to synodality addressed to us by Pope Francis needs to be concretized and lived both on a personal and community level. It is said that when Saint Teresa of Calcutta was asked what she would change in the Church, she replied: “At least two come to mind: first me and then you.” The effort to promote the synodal dimension of the Church would be of little use if each one of us does not convert from his individualism to live in communion and co-responsibility. Let’s take care of the relationship between us. Let’s learn to listen, understand and communicate, love and forgive each other. Let us encourage common and shared work, the practice of prayer and community discernment. We cannot speak of synodality and not experience real and concrete communion with those around us. People are often tired of words and good advice, and urgently need actions and real and close testimonies.

Iceta, faced with the increase in religious indifference: “Will we be able to open our way of thinking to new ways of evangelizing?”