After World War I, church changed mission approach, cardinal says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — World War I and its aftermath changed
the map of Europe, but also dismantled the notion of the “state
church” in a way that forced the Catholic Church to discover again the
authentic meaning of mission, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

After the war, Pope Benedict XV “was prompt in indicating
how the missionary world must change paths, abandoning the colonial ideology in
which it had been lulled and promoting autonomy, independence and ecclesial self-governance
in all the areas outside Europe,” said the Vatican secretary of state.

Speaking at a conference July 12 anticipating the 100th
anniversary of the end of World War I, Cardinal Parolin looked at the wide-ranging
impact of the war and its aftermath on the political map of Europe, and how
that affected the fates of peoples in the Middle East and in the countries of
what would become the Soviet Union.

But he also spoke about Pope Benedict’s 1919 apostolic
letter “Maximum Illud” on the church’s missionary activity. In
conjunction with document’s centenary, Pope Francis has asked all Catholics to
celebrate a special “missionary month” in October 2019.

Announcing the special commemoration, Pope Francis had said,
“In 1919, in the wake of a tragic global conflict that he himself called a
‘useless slaughter,’ the pope recognized the need for a more evangelical
approach to missionary work in the world, so that it would be purified of any colonial
overtones and kept far away from the nationalistic and expansionistic aims that
had proved so disastrous.”

“May the approaching centenary of that letter serve as
an incentive to combat the recurring temptation lurking beneath every form of
ecclesial introversion, self-referential retreat into comfort zones, pastoral
pessimism and sterile nostalgia for the past,” Pope Francis said. “Instead,
may we be open to the joyful newness of the Gospel.”

World War I marked the end of the “state church,”
which was particularly strong in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Cardinal Parolin
said in his lecture in the northern Italian city of Aquileia. The government
had power in the appointment of bishops and controlled the seminaries and a
variety of religious institutions, all of which fed into a mentality that
emphasized national belonging over the universality of the Catholic faith, the
cardinal said.

“Maximum Illud,” he said, was “the manifesto
of a missionary and political revolution whose importance still has not been
recognized as it deserves.”

“In the encyclical,” the cardinal said, “the
pope ordered European missionaries to free themselves of nationalism, of the
idea of European superiority over the peoples then seen as subordinate, to
promote local languages rather than the language of the conquerors, (and) to
train and to value indigenous clergy so that ‘one day they will be able to take
up the spiritual leadership of their people.'”

Pope Benedict knew it would take some time to change
mentalities and ensure the proper training of local clergy in view of their
leadership of their communities, Cardinal Parolin said. But he also knew that
the church had to act both out of respect for the God-given dignity of all
peoples and cultures as well as because “the Catholic Church also would
have been shaken by the imminent end of colonial structures.”

Pope Pius XI continued the path dictated by Pope Benedict,
he said, and in the 1930s nominated the first local Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese
and African bishops.

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