Decline of Catholicism in Belgium troubles Pope
During a meeting with the bishops of Belgium, Pope John Paul II described the decline of religious practice in the country as "particularly troubling."
"Real and serious concern cannot be hidden," the Pope said, as Mass attendance and vocations to the priesthood and religious life continue to decline. In his weekend meeting with the Belgian bishops, he also pointed to an unsettling decline in use of the sacraments of penance and even matrimony.
In his report to the Holy Father, on behalf of the visiting bishops, Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels said that there are "lights and shadows" in the picture confronting the Belgian Church.
"There is scarcely any area in the ecclesial life of our country in which positive and negative factors are not mingled, marking out the nature of our task as pastors," he said.
Pope John Paul, however, took a more direct approach, citing the problems of "a society that loses track of its traditional points of reference, promoting relativism in the name of pluralism." In those circumstances, he said, the most important task of the Church is "to introduce Christ" to the people and the society.
The Pope praised the Belgian hierarchy for their success in promoting the involvement of lay people in the life of the Church. But he stressed that the Church must be careful to preserve a clear understanding of the different roles assigned to laymen and to priests.
Meanwhile neighbouring France is planning to scrap the traditional Pentecost public holiday as a way of providing better healthcare for the elderly.
It has been estimated that abandoning one of France's 11 public holidays would generate $A3.54 billion in extra tax and social security revenue, and as other days such as Easter Monday and Bastille Day have already been ruled out for religious or patriotic reasons, Pentecost Monday is seen as the prime candidate, especially as a recent poll suggested only 4% of citizens currently celebrate it.
Bishop Michel Dubost of Evry said he agreed Pentecost, commemorating the Holy Spirit's descent on the Apostles, was "no longer a Christian festival", and should be abolished along with the 8 May Victory Day marking Nazi Germany's defeat. However, plans to scrap the holiday have been attacked by union leaders.
Decline of Catholicism in Belgium "troubling," Pope says (Catholic World News 24/11/03)
France to pull Pentecost day (The Universe 17/11/03)
Visite "Ad Limina Apostolorum" des évêques de Belgique: Rencontre avec Jean-Paul II, samedi 22 novembre 2003
Catho.be: L'Église de Belgique on-line | Les évêques de Belgique reçus en audience par le Pape
Pope doles Belgium's penance (Expatica News 24/11/03)
Catholic Church in Belgium (catholic-hierarchy.org)
France reaches out to its elderly (Christian Science Monitor 7/11/03)
25 Nov 2003