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Fighting the New Paganism

Quinn Dombrowski

Jeremy Dela Cruz - published on 03/03/14 - updated on 06/08/17

At a recent Notre Dame speech, Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, talked about the healing of our culture.

Within a crowded lecture hall at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella delivered his thoughts on the role of the Church in contemporary society. The warm rhythm of his Italian accent rendered his speech almost musical in quality, endearing the Notre Dame students and faculty with each stumble over the phonetic clumsiness of the English language. Unsure of the pronunciation of the word “justifiable,” Fisichella welcomed a lone whisper from the audience and breached the barrier between podium and pew with a smile.

Serving as the founding President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, Fisichella is prudent to concern himself with language, arguing that the Church must address the challenges of the “new paganism” – a humanism that threatens to corrupt the traditional meaning of concepts such as equality and freedom. His discourse on the relationship between Catholicism and culture was sponsored by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies as a part of its Terrence R. Keeley Vatican Lecture series, and comes in the wake of a recent meeting between Pope Francis and a delegation from Notre Dame. The Pope had reminded the visiting scholars of the essential nature of “the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching and the defense of her freedom.”

Fisichella says that the imposition of the primacy of the individual over society, the loss of institutional credibility, and the progressive loss of religious sense are problems that should not be considered “a second-order concern” for the Church. He believes that Christians are called to make a positive witness of the faith in order to defend the viability of Western society and transform the people they encounter with the Word of God. “Our principal task is to bring the Gospel to all.”

Comparing the secularism of the current age with the Roman persecution of Christians, Fisichella reminded his listeners to never compromise with the ethical relativism and utilitarian conception of the person which attempt to divorce faith from the public square. Such a separation is akin to a type of societal “schizophrenia” and a “mutation of the paradigm of thought.” The Archbishop attributes the historical development and thought of the Western world to be rooted in Christianity, “a living patrimony of culture and values.” Without the Church, a different society will be engendered, but “such a civilization would be born blind and maimed.” Fisichella suggested that the emergence of new laws based on redefinition will bring about a new culture destined to poverty, limitation, and weak social solidarity.

Echoing the Holy Father’s message to Notre Dame, Fisichella identifies the vital role of Catholic higher education in the formation of people who are willing to discern the purpose of their lives and in defending against the prevailing culture of social indifference. “A university first of all has the responsibility to give witness to what we believe.”

Fisichella emphasized the preferential option for the poor and the protection of the unborn in his talk, contrasting the absence of the objective value of human dignity and mutual respect in the New Paganism, which views tolerance “as a one-way street.”

“The challenge that awaits us is an authentic project for a culture of life.”

Jeremy Dela Cruz is an intern at Aleteia.

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