By Hannah Brockhaus
According to a longtime missionary in Africa, Fr. Martin Lasarte, one of the biggest threats to Christianity in Europe is the secularism of the culture entering into the Church.
According to Lasarte, “it’s more dangerous when Christianity dies not from an exterior attack but from an illness within its own society, its own Church.”
He also noted the dangers for the Church of “self-referentiality,” which Pope Francis has frequently highlighted as a peril for Catholics.
“It’s a grave danger when this mentality of secularization enters inside us,” Lasarte said. “I think this is the most profound and most worrying question for the Church today.”
A Salesian, Lasarte has been a missionary in Africa for more than 25 years. He is about to return to Angola after five years as part of the Salesian congregation’s missionary formation team.
He spoke to a group of journalists during a Sept. 7 online meeting on the missionary activity of the Church, organized by the Iscom Association.
Today, “mission” does not have borders or geographic boundaries, Lasarte said, noting the interculturality of the Church today.
Every Church needs to give and every Church needs to receive missionaries, he said. “Because even the Churches that have many vocations need people of other cultures, of other Churches.”
The danger, he suggested, is not being able to separate the Church from the culture she is in. “One of the beauties of the Church is how she is the same wherever she is found,” he emphasized.
Lasarte argued that there was a tendency for the Church in Europe to want to appear “normal,” to blend in, to not enter into “conflict with the global society.”
He pointed out that first-century Christians were clear about what it meant to live in a culture but to live the distinct identity of a Christian. They were persecuted precisely for living differently from the pagan culture they lived in, he said.
“That is a dynamic that the Church will live until the end of time. That is, to be a light, integrated into the society, but, on the other hand, to be herself, sometimes assuming those conflicts [necessary] to being a Christian,” Lasarte stated.
He said that the Church today was a good manager, but “too little mother” and “too little teacher,” urging a strengthening of both those roles.
Someone may know how to dialogue, how to listen well, how to confront the culture, but they must also “have a freedom of the Spirit, of joy to communicate the most profound commission of the Risen Jesus Christ,” he said.
This, Lasarte explained, is “the permanent mission of Jesus Christ, who gave the Church to announce the kerygma, to announce his person, and his Gospel.” He added that this was what would give fruitfulness to the Church’s mission today.
According to the missionary, there are three important elements for the re-evangelization of the Church in the West: The renewal of the “first announcement” of the Gospel, Christian community, and personal conversion.
The faith needs to be much more internalized and personal, he said. He pointed to how many young people in Europe know much about movies on Netflix, but nothing about the Church or Jesus Christ, necessitating the first proclamation of the Gospel.
And community is not just an important or “nice thing,” he said. “Communal ecclesial life” is “a fundamental theme of the Christian faith.”
The missionary also spoke about the increase in Christian persecution and the Church’s growth in Africa and Asia.
“According to the statistics, [Africa] is the future of the Church,” he said. “This is something which fills us with joy, with hope.”