Christian evangelism and missionary work is most often associated with outreach in impoverished nations around the world – but growing secularism in Europe is forcing some organizations to focus on the continent where much of the church underwent its early development.
The rising trend of secularism has been well documented in recent times – in a 2005 Eurobarometer Poll, 52 percent of European citizens who responded to the survey said they believe in God. In some nations, like Sweden, that number was as low as 23 percent.
As immigrants continue settling in Europe and changing the demographic and social landscape of the continent, however, new evangelism opportunities are unfolding, and some organizations, such as Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus, an Italian-based group that provides evangelization, education, and advocacy around the world, are looking to develop new strategies to get Europeans believing in God again. The organization was founded in Italy in 1857 by St. Daniel Comboni and is a congregation of priests and lay missionaries of many nationalities.
At a conference in Pesaro, Italy that was held from Feb. 7-17, around 50 Combonian missionaries who have worked for many years in places such as Africa and in Latin America, questioned themselves on their place today in society and in the European churches, aiming to define common lines for a renewed mission project and a more effective presence in Europe, the Vatican News shared.
"If on other continents we are facing a scandalous poverty, linked to phenomena such as hunger, various kinds of social and economic injustice, diseases that reap a heavy toll of victims, shortages of educational opportunities for the young generations and so forth, in Europe there are other forms of poverty that are perhaps even more serious: poverty of values, poverty of the sense of life, an incapacity for sharing, the quest for power and pleasure and the insatiable possession of material goods," explained Father Alberto Pelucchi, Vicar General of the Comboni Institute.
He also expressed hope that new openings for evangelism in Europe might increasingly take shape.
Mary Bertolini, the Communications Director at Comboni Missionaries, disclosed to The Christian Post that this Italian conference provided a venue for discussion of the need, not only to step up evangelization in Europe, but to give it a whole new approach.
"I don't think the Comboni Missionaries have a set plan as to what that approach should be other than that it needs to take into consideration the modern, industrialized, technological, spiritually poverty-stricken Westerners of the 21st century. The Catholic Church is aware of this need to evangelize differently and the Comboni Missionaries are working towards finding a way to do that," Bertolini said.
"The new immigrants coming into and making Europe their home will be an active part of the new face of evangelization there. The Comboni Missionaries in Italy, and on a smaller scale in London, are currently in active ministry to immigrants," added Fr. Brian Quigley, a pastor working with the organization who was ordained in 1977 and has been involved in international evangelization ever since.