Posts Tagged ‘justice’

Secretary of Justice and Peace Council Comments on Benedict’s Message

By Mercedes De La Torre

ROME, JAN. 10, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On the first day of the new year, in which the World Day of Peace was observed, Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, commented on the Pope’s message for the Day, titled “Educate Young People in Justice and Peace.”

Bishop Toso pointed out that the Holy Father trusts young people, because they show hope and are able to receive God in the midst of human history.

ZENIT spoke with the Salesian bishop, professor of social philosophy, former rector of the Pontifical Salesian University and Consultor for 20 years of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, about Benedict XVI’s message.

ZENIT: Why does Benedict XVI address young people in particular in this 45th Message for the World Day of Peace?

Bishop Toso: Benedict XVI wished to address this message in particular to young people who today live in a world of incessant transformation, in a world that sociologists describe as “liquid”: new projects are begun and are not solidified, so that youth live in a reality that changes constantly, and even those points that seem to be the most solid also seem to change.

In this context of swift changes and a lack of solid points of reference, Benedict XVI addresses young people, seeing them as a part of the human family that has great resources of hope. In fact, young people, especially in the World Youth Day that was held in Madrid, but also in other events that we have learned about in the media, are showing — also in reference to the fall of regimes and the need to erect democratic institutions — a young, fresh intuition, which helps adults to accept the fundamental values we must invest in and which can constitute the foundation of a more just and peaceful society.

ZENIT: Why does the Pope have confidence in young people as builders of peace?

Bishop Toso: Benedict XVI’s confidence in young people is based above all on two motives: the first is that young people, in face of life and the great responsibilities of the human family, believe in the possibility of a profound transformation, of the renewal of institutions, and their enthusiasm can be the engine for positive change in our societies, even becoming witnesses and leaders, enabling adults to question themselves.

The second reason is that Benedict XVI believes in the capacity of young people to intercept God, to receive Him in the midst of human history as the One who can help humanity to come out of the dark tunnel in which it finds itself. In reality, the dark tunnels that cause despair are different, disallowing even the possibility of a more just world. They are tunnels represented by the food crisis, the financial crisis, the crisis of appropriating essential resources, the ecological crisis and, above all, the anthropological, ethical crisis.

ZENIT: How can young people help to create a more fraternal society?

Bishop Toso: As the Message for the World Day of Peace acknowledges, young people not only have the task to be involved in the educational process, but they have a mission — Benedict XVI states clearly — to stimulate, to be an example to adults and to one another.

Young people especially have a youthful and genuine intuition in regard to great values and they make every effort and commit themselves enthusiastically in the small daily things as well as those that are important: respect for the environment, the fight against corruption and illegality, the implementation of justice, and dignified and respectful treatment of persons in the field of the economy, in the field of finance. With their example, they have the possibility of offering models of what could be the construction of a new society, and new human relations based on the values of fraternity, solidarity and mutual gift — values in which young people are particularly sensitive.

It is often said that today’s young people are the first generation that think that their descendants will live in worse conditions of life. However, I sincerely believe that young people of the age of globalization wish and know that they can contribute to the construction of a better, more united and solidary humanity, the humanity that Jesus Christ inaugurated with his Incarnation.

“The Most Difficult Moment Was in Cairo”

ROME, SEPT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Though Cardinal Renato Martino wanted to be a missionary, his poor health prohibited him from following that dream. Instead, he joined the Holy See’s diplomatic service and in this way, he says, fulfilled his great desire to evangelize.

Cardinal Martino is now the president of two pontifical councils: the Pontifical Councils of Justice and Peace, and the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers. This summer he celebrated the golden anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, a vocation with which he says he is “still enchanted.”

In this interview with ZENIT, the 74-year-old prelate reflects on some of the milestones of his ministry.

Q: Your Eminence, how did you discern your vocation?

Cardinal Martino: I come from a family marked by faith and Catholic tradition, with a wonderful mother, who was also an artist. The holy card marking my 50th anniversary to the priesthood, with the Virgin and Child, was painted by her. [I had] a strict father and four brothers and sisters. A large family, totaling 56 people at Christmas gatherings; I have 13 nephews and nieces and 26 great-nephews and nieces.

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a missionary. I was fascinated by the Jesuit missionary preachers who came to Naples, to our parish.

Unfortunately, the dream very soon vanished, because I was too frail and the doctors told me clearly that my constitution would not endure in missionary lands.

My desire to carry the Gospel to the world took on another path. Through a number of circumstances, I frequented the Vatican Diplomatic Academy, the oldest in the world and, since 1962, I have worked with the nunciatures of Nicaragua, Philippines, Lebanon, Canada and Brazil.

Between 1970 and 1975, I was in charge of the section for international organizations in the Secretariat of State. Subsequently, on Sept. 14, 1980, the Pope at that time, John Paul II, sent me as pro-nuncio to Thailand, as apostolic delegate, to attend to the relations with Singapore, Malaysia, Laos and Brunei.

In 1986, I was appointed permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York and, in that capacity, I took part in the major international conferences promoted by the United Nations during the 90s, particularly in New York, 1990, at the World Summit for Children; in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992, at the Conference on Environment and Development; in Barbados, 1994, at the Conference on Small Island Developing States and, that same year, in Cairo, at the Conference on Population and Development.

In Beijing, China, 1995, at the World Conference on Women; in Istanbul, Turkey, 1996, at the Conference on Human Settlements; in Rome, 1998, at the Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court; in New York, 2000, at the Millennium Summit;

In Monterrey, Mexico, 2003, at the International Conference on Financing for Development. Also, in Madrid, Spain, at the World Assembly on Aging, and, that same year, in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the Conference on Sustainable Development.

Q: You have had to face many difficult situations, including frequent disagreements with United Nations offices and delegations that, particularly in the 90s, were especially critical of the Holy See, above all with regard to demographic policies, abortion, contraception … Could you comment on this experience?

Cardinal Martino: The most difficult moment was in 1994, in Cairo, during the Conference on Population and Development. President Bill Clinton’s administration, together with a greater part of the developed countries, were determined to get the conference to recognize abortion as an international right.

Some nongovernmental organizations even requested that the Vatican delegation be expelled from the United Nations. But with the Lord’s help and thanks to the support, on that occasion, of Latin American and Islamic-majority countries, we succeeded in rejecting the attempt to approve abortion as a contraceptive method.

As head of the Vatican delegation, I managed to obtain the support of 43 delegations and to ensure that paragraph 8.25 of the final document adopted by the conference should declare that “on no account may abortion be invoked as a family planning method.”

This regulation remains in force to this day, despite frequent and continuous attempts to eliminate it. So far, voluntary interruption of pregnancy, which, unfortunately, is still a dramatic phenomenon these days, has never been approved by any United Nations body.

Q: What mission to you look back upon with most satisfaction?

Cardinal Martino: From May 15 to 21 this year, at the express request and in representation of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, I visited Ivory Coast, a country torn by a long period of strife and bloodshed.

During my stay, I celebrated the Eucharist in several cities and parochial communities; I met with the bishops and highest authorities in the country. Particularly, I attended a meeting with the President, Laurent Gbagbo, who appointed as his prime minister former rebel chief, Guillaume Soro, a brilliant 34-year-old Catholic.

In order to give consistency and solidity to the peace agreements, I invited both of them to the solemn Mass I celebrated in St. Paul’s Cathedral, in Abidjan, on May 20.

The cathedral was crowded with faithful, together with the bishops and civil authorities. I encouraged the people of Ivory Coast to continue along the way of peace and to promote national reconciliation and the participation of all the country’s living forces, without any form of political, religious, cultural or ethnic exclusion.

When the time came to exchange a gesture of peace, I invited the president of the republic and the prime minister to come up to the altar to receive my peace gesture. After that, I invited them to exchange peace with each other: They hugged each other, assuring that this would last — a great gesture of reconciliation, before the applause of several thousand people.

All this was transmitted live by the national television channel. I instructed them never to forget that day, should difficulties arise in the future, because this was a historical gesture, a commitment of peace and concord sealed in the cathedral, before God. To all the people of Ivory Coast, to the numerous innocent victims, to the groups of those displaced, to those wounded, and to so many others, I expressed the spiritual closeness of the Holy Father and, in his name, I offered some financial help toward the primary needs of those in most dire hardship.

This was the most effective way of presenting the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and its practical application.

I have also been thanked for this meeting and for the reinforcement of the peace process by the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who I had met before he took on that position, because he represented South Korea before the United Nations during the same period as my stay in New York, where I attended to a group of South Korean Catholics.

For 18 years, I administrated confirmation to members of this group. I saw Ban Ki-moon in Rome, when the promotion of his candidature had not yet begun, and I told him I was sure of his election. He looked at me in surprise, incredulously. I assured him: We’ll talk about it after your election. I’m sure you will do a lot of good.

Q: On Oct. 1, 2002, John Paul II called you to Rome, to take over the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, but as head of this dicastery, you continued your travels throughout the world …

Cardinal Martino: Taking on the direction of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and, since March 11, 2006, also that of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers, allows me to sustain and prolong the task of evangelization which I wished to carry out from the days of my youth.

The publication and diffusion of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church was a stimulating task. As I noted in the introduction to the volume, “transforming social realities with the power of the Gospel, to which witness is borne by women and men faithful to Jesus Christ, has always been a challenge and it remains so today at the beginning of the third millennium of the Christian era.”

I am fully aware that the announcement of Jesus Christ is not easily swallowed in the world today, but precisely because of that, the people of our time are in need, more than ever, of faith that saves, of hope that enlightens, and of charity that loves.

These are the reasons that move the Church to intervene with its teachings in the social field, in order to help and accompany Catholics in serving the common good.

Q: Is there something that you would like to accomplish but which you have been unable to?

Cardinal Martino: I have no regrets. I am still enchanted with the priesthood. I thank the Lord every day for the grace of the priesthood. I have celebrated more than 19,000 masses, and each one of them has been a real gift to me, because, even if my role had only been that of celebrating the Eucharist alone or for a small community, I would, however, be grateful to the Lord for having had the opportunity to serve him.



Kevin Lee on the Church and Legal Culture

Buies Creek, North Carolina, Aug. 26, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Much ink has been spilled over the supposed implications of having five Catholic justices sitting simultaneously on the U.S. Supreme Court.

But beyond speculation about what results this development may produce in specific cases such as abortion, there has been little discussion of what a uniquely Catholic understanding of American law actually means and how it may apply in the various substantive areas of law.

A new book, “Recovering Self-Evident Truths: Catholic Perspectives on American Law,” (CUA Press), attempts to fill this void by explaining the theological and philosophical considerations that are foundational to a Catholic understanding of the law.

Kevin Lee, a professor of law at Campbell University, and author of the chapter titled “The Foundations of Catholic Legal Theory: A Primer,” shared with ZENIT the contours of a distinctively Catholic understanding of law, and how Catholics may productively contribute to the law’s development.

Q: What does it mean to offer a Catholic perspective on American law? Is it simply a critique of legal institutions like feminist legal theory, or does it offer something more?

Lee: A Catholic perspective must be concerned with what it means to be committed to Christ and to his Church.

So a Catholic perspective on American law means considering what law looks like from within that commitment.

It involves a critique of institutions and theories, but it also requires critical reflection on the patterns of meaning that shape and are shaped by the law and the legal system.

Q: Why is it necessary to ground an understanding of a legal system in a distinctively Christian anthropology?

Lee: It is not “necessary,” in the sense that it is possible to create a legal system rooted in some other anthropology.

Much of contemporary American legal theory, for example, can scarcely be considered compatible with a Christian anthropology.

But I think Catholic anthropology has a contribution to make. It offers a unique understanding of the irreducible dignity of the person and the giftedness of the community.

Catholic thought affirms that human beings are creatures with particular natures, capacities and limitations.

We all have dignity as bearers of the “imago Dei,” but we are also sinful and prone to weaknesses. We form communities naturally, through small acts of love and kindness, but that does not mean that we are not capable of meanness and selfishness.

The Anglo-American legal system could simply abandon its Christian roots as archaic or nonsensical, but doing that would mean abandoning our tradition and denying that tradition has anything to offer.

Anyone who would advocate that position would bear a heavy burden of proof.

Q: A number of scholars are rediscovering the Catholic influence on the formation of Western legal systems — an influence that lasted well into the last century. Does the Catholic conception of reciprocal rights and duties, so long a part of Anglo-American law, continue to govern our legal system, or have individualistic and modern liberal theories such as those of John Rawls transformed American law?

Lee: There is no doubt that the contemporary Anglo-American legal system has been massively influenced by modern liberal democratic theories.

But, I don’t think that Catholic thought is in total opposition to either modernity or liberalism. It is much more complex than that.

Modern liberals, like Catholics, are concerned with rights and justice.

For example, Pope John Paul II’s passion for individual freedom against totalitarian rule found support among liberals.

The critique is more nuanced than a simple rejection of modernity and liberalism.

Q: What role does natural law play in Catholic legal theory? Is the natural law the “self-evident truths” that the American founders asserted governed political life?

Lee: Natural law is based on the belief that nature has rational purposes. It seeks to read moral precepts from such purposes as they are visible in nature.

Citing St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, Christian natural law theorists have held that these precepts are based on self-evident foundational principles. But, it is a theory that is no longer widely accepted.

Modern science opposes the idea that there is any purpose to nature, moral or otherwise.

Contemporary secular philosophy largely denies moral truth altogether, and even contemporary Christian ethicists tend to look to virtue rather than law when speaking about morality.

Nonetheless, natural law theory still offers many insights and poses interesting questions.

For Christians, natural law theory has to be worked out in relation to the creation stories of Genesis. There are of course two antithetical natures for human beings in Genesis: one of eternal innocence and integrity, and the other of the fall and fragmentation.

The fall suggests a limit to our ability to gain moral knowledge from examining nature. It is possible to read the signs of nature correctly only if we understand the realities to which the signs refer.

But the fall impedes our capacity to know the ultimate reality because we no longer read the signs correctly. So a complete reading of the natural law will always elude our fallen, temporal selves.

Catholics typically have been more optimistic than Protestants in assessing the depth of our fallen nature. They have tended to argue that even the fall calls us to salvation because we can remember something of our pre-fallen state.

Protestants are more likely to see the fall as a complete forgetfulness of God that can only be healed by God’s initiative. Nonetheless, Catholics and Protestants agree that we are deeply marked by the fall, and reason alone does not secure our ability to “read the signs” that tell of the purposes of nature.

That is why reason alone offers no sure guide to moral life. Benedict XVI has referred to the “pathologies of reason” to suggest this danger.

Christian moral theory must always be sensitive to excessive claims about the role that nature and natural reason can play in the moral life.

God’s gifts of grace — or example what St. Thomas called the infused virtues: faith, hope and charity — are essential to the moral life, but they are typically discounted in natural law theories because they suggest limits to natural reason, and therefore moral knowledge is not self-evident.

Q: G.K. Chesterton and many other commentators have said that the American Declaration of Independence is a very Catholic document. Why would they make such a claim when all but one of the signatories were Protestants?

Lee: I believe Chesterton was referring to the presumption of equal dignity that he saw in the declaration and in the ethos of the American democracy. Equal dignity is part and parcel of the distinctly Catholic reading of Genesis that I referred to earlier.

Because Catholics affirm that the dignity of human beings is intrinsic and therefore independent of variable traits, it is equal among all persons.

Catholics affirm that human beings have an intrinsic dignity that is not contingent or alienable, that all human beings share equal dignity in the “imago Dei.” That’s a distinctively Catholic view.

It is not found in Locke, for example, who related human dignity to the contingencies of consciousness. I think that’s what Chesterton had in mind.

Q: You argue that Pope John Paul II left an important legacy for those seeking to explore what the Catholic intellectual tradition may offer modern legal systems. Can you elaborate?

Lee: John Paul II was one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the last century.

His thought offers a unique Catholic approach to modernity. His philosophical project sought to be a modern science of human experience.

But, his work is also fully theological. For him, the point of philosophy is to live with divine wisdom. He offers a rich theological anthropology for thinking through difficult questions about matters such as the nature of moral value, the experience of moral meaning, and the scope of human agency and responsibility.

His work strikes out against the modes of human self-creation that are common in scientific and technological thinking. His insights into moral experience, human dignity, freedom, philosophy and wisdom are all hallmarks of the depth and substance of his thought.

I think we are only beginning to understand his importance both as Pope and as scholar. His legacy will continue to grow for a long time to come.




The Vital Role of Spiritual Values

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 29, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The intersection between religion and politics continues to provide ample cause for debate, with contentious issues in the areas of bioethics, family policy and social justice. While some insist that religion should have no place in politics, a book published last year proposed that a pluralistic democratic society is in need of faith and religious arguments in public debate.

Brendan Sweetman explained his position in “Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square” (InterVarsity Press). Sweetman, a professor of philosophy at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, is convinced that attempts to remove religion from politics are based on a misunderstanding of modern pluralism.

Sweetman starts with an explanation of what he terms “worldviews” that underpin our concept of reality, the nature of human persons, and moral and political values. A wide variety of these worldviews exist, some of them purely secular, others that are based on religion. 

Proponents of secularism, the book explains, wish to exclude worldviews founded on religion because they are supposedly based on sources that are not reliable or are irrational. In a pluralistic society is it not sustainable, according to secularists, to introduce religious arguments because this is imposing elements of a religion on others who do not share these beliefs.

Rational

Sweetman quickly points out, however, such a position ignores the substantial part that reason plays in religion. Sweetman, who early on in the book declares his Catholic faith, cites the example of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” which contained a lengthy explanation on rational grounds for opposing abortion. 

“The secularist conveniently ignores the issue of the rationality of religious belief, or superficially denies that religious belief can be rational, or fails to compare the rationality of religious belief with that of secularist beliefs,” Sweetman argues.

It is time, he proposes, that we move away from the view that religion is somehow a synonym for irrational. The religious view of the world in general, Sweetman maintains, has nothing to fear from rational scrutiny.

The book also maintains that religion should not be considered as some kind of threat to democracy; on the contrary it can make a valuable contribution to public debates. For a society to be truly democratic it should take into account the worldviews of its members and allow them to participate by adding their voice, it says.

Religion can also make a valuable contribution to discussions on human rights, political values and the concept we have of the human person, Sweetman adds. 

He admits that religions do not always live up to the beliefs they proclaim, and that there is often disagreement among religions on moral, social and political matters. Moreover, not all elements of religion are suitable in terms of providing guidance for public policy, and Sweetman also explains that he is not claiming that all religious beliefs are rational. 

The religious worldview does, however, have a valid contribution to make and it deserves a hearing. In fact, suppressing a religious worldview without any chance of a public debate being held on the arguments it proposes is a violation of democratic principles.

One objection raised by secularists, Sweetman notes, is the argument that religion introduces division and dogmatism, or even violence, into the political arena. It is true that religion can divide, Sweetman admits, but this is equally true of purely secular-founded arguments. The 20th century provides abundant examples of excesses committed in the name of secular ideologies.

Catholics in action

A series of recommendations over religion’s role in politics came last year in the form of a question-and-answer booklet authored by the Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona. In his pamphlet, “Catholics in the Public Square,” published by Basilica Press, he recommends the faithful to be respectful of the beliefs of others, or of those who have no faith.

At the same time, however, “Catholics should not be afraid to embrace their identity or to put their faith into practice in public life.”

The Church, Bishop Olmsted continues, does not seek to impose its doctrine on others. It is, nevertheless, legitimately concerned about the common good, the promotion of justice and the welfare of society.

There is, unfortunately, he observes, discrimination against people of faith, and especially Catholics when they express their views in public debates. Not only is there misrepresentation of what Catholic view are, but there is also outright hostility to people of any faith.

“Nonetheless, it is our duty to engage the culture, not run from it,” Bishop Olmsted comments. People of faith, like others, have every right to bring their views and beliefs into public.

Basic values

Another recent contribution to the theme of religion’s role in politics came from Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl. On April 13 he spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

In recent years there has been a weakening of support in public opinion for the role of basic religious values as a support for laws and public policy, the archbishop commented. Instead of values that are common to many faiths there are increasing calls for purely secular justifications of governmental policy.

Archbishop Wuerl argued that this tendency is contrary to the prevailing views of America’s founders. There is one common principle in the American political experience, he maintained: “The belief in the binding character of moral law is fundamental to any understanding of American thought.”

Catholic thought is in agreement, the archbishop continued. He noted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the importance of the natural moral law and how the commandments are privileged expressions of the natural law.

“Religious faith has played and continues to play a significant role in promoting social justice issues as it does in defending all innocent human life,” the archbishop explained. Faith, he added, helps us to see our life and to judge right and wrong according to God’s wisdom.

Schizophrenic approach

Moreover, Archbishop Wuerl emphasized, attempting to separate morality and political life, or spiritual values from human values, is “a schizophrenic approach to life,” that only brings “devastation to the person and to society.”

“The secular model is not sufficient to sustain a true reflection on human action capable of giving guidance that is faithful to a life-giving understanding of human nature,” he concluded.

That argument is also frequently made by Benedict XVI. One of his most recent interventions on the need for faith and moral values in politics and society came in his July 5 speech to a group of bishops from the Dominican Republic, in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

It is the role of laypeople to work and act directly in constructing the temporal order, the Pope noted. Nevertheless, they need to be guided in this by the light of the Gospel and Christian love. 

Christians who are active on the public sphere should, the Pontiff recommended, give public testimony to their faith and not live two parallel lives: one which is spiritual; and another which is secular, dedicated to their participation in social, political and cultural activities. 

Instead, the Pope urged, they should strive for coherence between their lives and their faith, thus providing an eloquent testimony of the truth of the Christian message. A coherence only too often lacking among many active in public life.

Interview With Auxiliary Bishop-Designate Elliott

MELBOURNE, Australia, JUNE 10, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A love for the liturgy attracted former-Anglican Peter John Elliott to the Catholic Church, a love which he will carry over into his activities as an auxiliary bishop.

Bishop-designate Elliott, 63, of Melbourne, is the third Australian prelate to have an Anglican background. He converted to the Catholic Church during his studies at Oxford. He will receive his episcopal ordination June 15.

In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop-designate Elliott discusses his new mission as a Church leader, and the challenges of secularization and religious formation in Australia.

Q: As a convert from the Anglican Church, and now appointed as an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, you bring with you a background not shared by many bishops. What influence has your personal history had on your priesthood, and what will it mean for you as a bishop?

Bishop-designate Elliott: As far as I can see, I am the third Australian bishop with an Anglican background. Archbishop Lancelot Goody [1908-1992] of Perth came into the Church as a child, when his family converted. Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore, New South Wales, was an Anglican clergyman until he was reconciled to the Church in 1964.

I came in four years later, halfway through my theology studies at Oxford, where I was training for the Anglican clergy.

But apart from the ecumenical advantages, the Anglicanism in which I was raised was firmly based in the High Church Oxford Movement, so my father, an Anglican vicar, was not anti-Catholic. I could say that I learned the basics of the faith at home.

When I was ordained a priest in Melbourne in 1973, my parents were delighted to be involved in the celebrations. Yet what has influenced my priesthood, rising from this background, was a love of the liturgy, a valuing of the sacraments and a sense of beauty, reverence and awe, which characterized the Anglican tradition at its best. My father also taught me to preach — without notes!

Q: Your work in Rome at the Pontifical Council for the Family, and then in Melbourne as the director of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, meant you were in close contact with family questions. In these times when there is so much debate over the future of the family, what do you think the Church has to offer a secular society?

Bishop-designate Elliott: Working in the pontifical council from 1987 to 1997 was a fascinating experience, especially guided by Cardinal Edouard Gagnon and Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, two leaders I was honored to serve, in our common service of Pope John Paul II.

It was the era of the famous, or infamous, U.N. conferences. I served in the delegation of the Holy See at the Cairo Population Conference, the World Justice Summit at Copenhagen and the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing.

Here I learned in no uncertain terms that the family, marriage and human life itself is under direct attack, and that God’s providence is guiding the Catholic Church to meet the challenge of global secularism in all its aggressive and destructive forms.

The battleground in not merely in international conferences heavy with ambiguous jargon and deceitful strategies, but right here in your family and mine — this is where the struggle for the soul of the human person is taking place.

Yet the Church meets this not with negativity, but by proclaiming the good news of life and love, by saying that babies are beautiful, that the future does move by way of the family, that the great hope for humanity is the living cell of all societies, the family based on marriage.

To put it simply: In a world weighed down by doom-and-gloom postmodern ideologies, we proclaim the virtue word “hope.”

Q: You are also a well-known commentator on liturgical questions. Amid all the worries over changes in liturgy and a lack of respect for Church norms, how do you think we can recover a sense of the sacred in the liturgy, while at the same time making it attractive to a mentality that often sees ceremonies as boring and repetitive?

Bishop-designate Elliott: Sometimes I regret getting into writing books on liturgy. Some e-mails I receive are quite amazing. But I love the liturgy, and it was largely through the liturgy that I “came home” to Catholicism.

That is why I deeply regret the abuses of liturgy or the sheer liturgical laziness found in various places. While these abuses continue, I believe they are less frequent, and I see signs of hope, particularly through the liturgical vision and leadership of Benedict XVI.

He takes us beyond techniques, details and issues, and he leads us deeply into the “spirit of the liturgy.” The wonderful vision of the Second Vatican Council was of a liturgy that linked earth to heaven, the worship of the mystical body.

Our Holy Father understands this well, and interprets it wisely. The sense of the sacred is returning, gradually. Young Catholics bear witness to this trend.

I am delighted at the prospect of real, dignified and accurate texts for Mass in English, and that this reform is being extended to all languages.

Also, I am not so sure that many people see ceremonies as “boring and repetitive.” I think there has been a reaction against that phase when ceremonies were made so “meaningful” as to be performances, a liturgical cabaret approach.

People seek stability in worship, and that is where the fixed liturgical forms of Catholic worship in the East and West come into play in our lives.

Q: Benedict XVI has specifically mentioned Australia, along with some other Western nations, as being one of the countries most affected by secularization and a weakening of the Church. What do you see as the priorities for the Church in Australia to affront this situation?

Bishop-designate Elliott: Yes, secularization is prevalent in Australia. I recently took part in a dialogue with evangelicals and Pentecostals on this question, which is of concern to all Christians.

The secularizing process, and a kind of ideology of secularism, has made great inroads into our families, and into the lives of individuals. But that is just the kind of challenge we have had to face, in other pagan forms, in other societies in the past.

In Australia we need to strengthen the Church by concentrating on two points: formation of priests and promoting vocations, and a radical revision of religious education and catechesis.

I have been involved in that second area since I returned from Rome 10 years ago. Cardinal George Pell made me episcopal vicar for religious education in Melbourne, and editor of a 13-volume set of school texts entitled “To Know, Worship and Love.”

As a bishop, I will continue working in this field with Archbishop Denis Hart, a hands-on leader who recognizes priorities. We now see these texts spreading across Australia because they “put the beef back into the hamburger” — in an attractive, creative way.

Formation and education, these are the keys to family ministry, to parish revitalization, and will be evident at World Youth Day in Sydney next year.

In turn, formation and education lead to a real “new evangelization,” which, putting aside all the debates about detail, really means converting nonbelieving people to Jesus Christ and his Church. By forming better Catholics we can carry out a mission to others.

So many “secular” people are hungering for God, even if they do not know it. But without formation we have little to offer them.

Nevertheless, when it is all said and done, we Catholics still have to respond to the greatest gift of Vatican II, the universal call to holiness. That is how we meet and transform a secularized society, by deeper personal spirituality, by union with the merciful heart of the Lord Jesus.

Q: We often tend to focus on the negative side. What do think are some of the positive steps that the Church and religious organizations have made in recent years in Australia?

Bishop-designate Elliott: Spiritual movements are growing in Australia, with their different charisms, spiritualities and approaches that reflect the variety, and yet build up the organic unity of the Church. None of these movements is the perfect “silver bullet,” yet together they are reshaping large sections of the Church.

Again, that will be evident at World Youth Day. I also see the deep concern for social justice as a major contribution the Church in Australia has made to the life of our nation, and beyond, as in East Timor and the Pacific Islands. Australian Catholicism has a grand heritage of justice work and action based on the social teachings of the Church.

This is another way to penetrate a very prosperous but uncertain — and fear-ridden — society. We bring the balance and wisdom of the Christian cultures of the past to bear on our society today. Australia is a changing multiethnic society, ranging from our indigenous Australians through to new waves of refugees and immigrants who seek a new life in our land.

But this is a land of hope, named centuries ago by Catholic explorers — the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.