Bologna cardinal Matteo Zuppi has railed against Church “prophets of calamities who confuse conversion with relativism”.

– “The end of Christendom doesn’t mean the end of Christianity”

“The end of Christendom, which is clear… doesn’t mean the end of the Gospel or of Christianity”, Zuppi told Religión Digital in Madrid in the course of a visit to the Spanish capital for a conference on evangelising in big cities.

In his address to that conference, the Bologna cardinal made reference to Pope John XXIII’s condemnation – at the opening of the great modernising Second Vatican Council in the 1960s – of the “prophets of calamities” who see in modern times nothing but “prevarication and ruin”, and say “that our time, compared with the past, has been getting worse”.

In contrast, John XXIII said that his view was that “in the present historical moment, Providence is taking us to a new order of human relations that, by the very work of men but even more above their own intentions, are directed towards the fulfillment of superior and unexpected plans”.

That’s something Cardinal Zuppi said he agreed with, arguing that “you can’t just look at the difficulties” for the Church today, “you have to see the opportunities”.

– “We have to get closer”

But what about the undeniable fact that the Catholic Church is just not attractive at all anymore for the vast majority of modern, secularised Westerners?

Zuppi had an answer for that: to reach people again, he said, the Church has to rediscover its authenticity.

“Problems are challenges, or better, opportunities”, the cardinal affirmed.

“The desert of the big city is a desert of life, of feelings, of true ties, of individualised people, that asks us to be a Church that knows how to transmit love, to attract with love. It’s a great opportunity”, Zuppi insisted.

“That’s why we have to get closer, talk (priests, laity, communities…), talk to everyone and start again. Listen and talk, listen to wounds and talk with friendliness, with real concern for people”, the cardinal continued.

– “Closeness, proximity, Gospel, but not a Gospel reduced to morals”

How to reconcile, then, the Church-as-institution with that Church-as-community with its ear to the ground, close to the people?

Zuppi gave the example of the Church of Santa Cecilia in Rome, his home town – with its big “warehouse” basilica on top of an ancient Christian house church – to insist that “churches always have to be domestic spaces”, at heart.

With respect to the difference between the Church-as-institution and the Church-as-community, “you don’t explain it, you live it”, the cardinal said

“You live it with prayer, with closeness, proximity, living the Gospel, and not a Gospel reduced to morals. It should be an encounter, it should be life, as the Gospel must be. It should be a fact, a homily that speaks to the heart”, Zuppi said of that authentic Christian experience.

– “Some people want to make everything clear. Mercy is the opposite”

This return to the model of the ancient Christian communities is very much in the style of Pope Francis’ reform of the Church, Zuppi said.

Asked if the pontiff has “enemies” who seek to thwart such reforms, the cardinal replied:

“It’s normal that there’s fear to go forth. It’s normal that the temptation arises to set a clear limit when we speak to the crowd, but we must be a welcoming community.

“The best way to get out is to be welcoming. Some people want, first of all, to make everything clear. Mercy is the opposite. It couldn’t be clearer: you are me, he or she is your neighbour. This is the limit that overcomes any limit”.

“I think there are so many prophets of calamities, [that] there are so many that confuse pastoral and missionary conversion with moral relativism”, the cardinal continued.

“I believe that conversion helps us to live well the deposit of our faith, but to live it today, so as not to be left out.

“We want the gospel to continue speaking to people today. Faced with secularisation and its consequences, the Gospel responds to the cry of today’s men and women”, Zuppi concluded.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.