Time for accelerated evangelisation?

Fr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Fr Tom Forrest, CSsR.

Fr Ireneusz Skubis: – We celebrate the Pauline Year. You are a precursor of new evangelisation. And the Year of St Paul is not only the time for new evangelisation but also the time for accelerated evangelisation.

Fr Tom Forrest: – You would like to add, a new year of courage. St Paul was an unbelievably courageous man. Today priests, both priests and bishops, need such courage.

– John Paul II supported the idea of new evangelisation very much. What does this issue look like in the Church today?

– I think that certain power have been lost. What was done before is not sufficient today. We have the chance to do threefold, fivefold more because there are decisively more things to do. The jubilee year 2033 is approaching – a wonderful occasion to mobilise one’s efforts. The great challenge of John Paul II to new evangelisation focused on the Jubilee Year 2000 and ahead of us we have the biggest jubilee, not only of Christ’s coming to the world but of his death and resurrection, establishing the Eucharist and ascending to heaven… And our own birth as the Church when he sent the Holy Spirit upon us. I think that what is best lies still ahead…

– Could you characterise the Year 2000 from the contemporary perspective…

– Many good things happened. Impressively many. For example, 100 million pilgrims visited Rome. Then the Holy Father convinced us that if we used that big occasion the Church all over the world would experience a new springtime. However, he was realistic and he added that not all people would undertake the work. And even not all people would hear about the Pope’s appeal. I admit that for me it is the main problem in the Church. Perhaps too many priests, bishops when they speak about the Church they speak about their presence in it, i.e. where and at what time they are and what they do. And the Church is the whole Body of Christ. And if the whole Body of Christ had taken up the challenge of John Paul II to new evangelisation wonderful things would have happened. We would have seen a new springtime for the Church. But we must not lose hope. It is never too late. I am convinced that now the Holy Father is calling us again, not from Rome but from heaven. ‘Go forth! Now there is another chance! This chance is the jubilee of the Church’s existence – the year 2033. Therefore, my appeal is: let us continue this work!

– I will return to those important days when John Paul II was passing away, giving a testimony of holy dying and holy death. How do you see this event with reference to faith and evangelisation?

– I think that pain was not the biggest cross for John Paul II who hung on the cross with Christ then. Since the Holy Father spent all his life proclaiming that Jesus Christ was the Saviour, the biggest suffering at the end of this life was for him the loss of this possibility. I remember him standing at the window and looking at the crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square. The words were in his heart, in his mind, but unfortunately, he could not utter them. I am not sure whether his eyes were full of tears but I am sure that tears were in his heart. John Paul II should be an example to follow. He did not live to eat, drink, wear fashionable clothes, collect money – he lived to evangelise! John Paul II was a Paul Apostle of our times. In Poland this obligation to continue his teaching should be especially vivid.

– How can you see the evangelisation connected with the Pauline Year so that one could claim it to be an accelerated evangelisation?

– I do not agree with the word ‘accelerated’. This word causes that many things happen but not sufficiently many. We must make Catholics themselves begin evangelising. Many of us do not understand the word ‘evangelisation’ and feel no obligation to evangelise. If I had 10 million euros would I put it into my pocket or to a bank and would be glad that I have the money? Jesus Christ is not 10 million euros. He is like 10 billion! He is the treasure. But most Catholics have not understood yet that they have the treasure; that they must share it. What are people talking about? About films, TV programmes, politics but they do not talk about the biggest and most important blessing that is Jesus Christ. I accept the word ‘accelerated’ provided that we mean huge acceleration. If someone came and said that he would take Christ from my life I would tell him – you’d better kill me. I am exaggerating! No! I would rather die than lose Christ. Because if I lost him I would see no sense to continue my life. I would not know that I live at all. I would be like some famous people who when they lose the sense of their lives they begin drinking, taking drugs. I do not need these things since I have Christ! I want to share my experience with other Catholics. I want to tell them that it is not enough to follow Christ. One must show him to others. With passion! Perhaps, that’s why when I talk I wave my hands and shout ‘Do this!’

– Speaking about acceleration I also meant evangelisation in the media, e.g. the Internet. Today we can catechise the Chinese. The technical means we have can accelerate the mission of evangelisation to a considerable extent.

– Technology gives us a brave way to transmit news. But we need another kind of creativity. Let us think about millions of people who express their thoughts in blogs. How to make internauts read our words? I am for it if we accelerate evangelisation using technological means but I am even more for a creative way of proclaiming the Gospel. Jesus was a genius as far as the way of speaking is concerned, ‘Man went to the field to sow…’ ‘A father had two sons...’ and his other parables. We, contemporary people, need such an inspiration of genius from the Holy Spirit so that people can hear what we are to tell them. We can call this gift in a different way: creativity, communication skill. Hollywood has this gift; some papers have this gift. But I am convinced that the Church does not sometimes use this gift. We do not pay attention to the way of communicating. Therefore, I always begin by saying ‘Come, Holy Spirit! I beg Jesus to send his Holy Spirit upon the Church so that we can have a real acceleration, success in proclaiming the Good News by finding creative ways to proclaim the truths of faith, methods that will reach young people…

– ‘Niedziela’ has a big circulation. Our editorial board has quite a big experience, which shows that thanks to the media many good things happen. Take, for example, the Internet. Several hundred thousand people read our web page every month.

– This is very good. I pray that even two million people visit your web page… I am convinced that John Paul II would have certainly been glad having heard how ‘Niedziela’ uses the Internet nowadays.

– As Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz says – which is written in his book ‘Testimony’ – the Holy Father John Paul II used to read ‘Niedziela’. This year the motto of our pastoral work is the Pauline Year. How do you see using that time for evangelisation?

– During the premiere of the film ‘The Passion of the Lord’ in Washington I got to know Mel Gibson. If I met him now I would try to convince him to make a movie about the life of St Paul. I know that many films have been shot about the life of St Paul but I would like to see a film about St Paul that Mel Gibson would make. How much can we learn from St Paul the Evangelisator! I would like to point to one of his principles: Never stop! Never give up! In Gibson’s film there is a flagellation scene, which according to many people is too realistic. But Paul was whipped five times, once he was stoned and he almost died – the torturers left him thinking that he was died. But he raised and went to another town and evangelised. He even returned to the town that wanted to stone him and he continued evangelising. Can we understand such determination, the fact that there was no thought in his mind to give up? You can do it if you live for that idea. I think that in the Year of St Paul we can learn this from him. We have a task and we cannot escape from it regardless of who we are…

– In what way do you think the evangelistic courage in the spirit of St Paul should be presented?

– Let us look at contemporary priests. They need the passion that St Paul had when he proclaimed the Gospel. I travel all over the world. I have flown some 2-3 million miles. Someone can think that it is a big effort. And I think that it is easier to cover so many miles than to be whipped, than to go on foot around Israel like St Paul did. Undoubtedly, he was a hero. We all need the inspiration of heroism. And we must proclaim Paul’s heroism so that other people can realise how little they actually do and how comfortably they live. Did you notice that John Paul II never dined alone? He did not ask to have some moments of quietness, solicitude. He invited people to be with him. The Holy Father worked even when he was dining. He constantly gave himself to others. He had no temptation of comfortable life. And neither did St Paul. We all should follow the example of these great people. You undertake the big work of evangelisation through the weekly, through the radio, the Internet. And I challenge so that all priests can be involved in this work. Benedict XVI tries to do it by announcing the great Year of St Paul. I have been in love with St Paul for years. Once I visited the three fountains near St Paul’s Basilica – the place where his head was cut. I thought that he must have had a strong head. When they cut his head it as if ‘bounced’ and when it hit the ground it made water spring from there. Even now St Paul produces springs of water.

– Coming back to temptations. The most serious one is consumerism. The temptation of consumerism is not alien to contemporary people, including priests…

– I remember reading an article about people who called themselves yuppies – well educated, earning big money, people who live to buy. They have no place to gather their goods. Consumerism is the simplest way that leads to the loss of sense of life. Seeking ‘comforters’ such as alcohol, drugs, and violence. Those who live modestly are courageous today; those who try to do good, do charitable works – do not spend money on pleasures. I know that you need courage to give away your money. Christ will tell you what to do with it. One of the richest men in the world Bill Gates has done the following thing: he has given 40 billion dollars to the needy. This is courage in the manner of St Paul!

– What do you think about the philosophy of supermarkets? Every Sunday thousands of people go to supermarkets instead of going to church. Shopping centres are more and more often said to replace churches. In Poland trade is allowed on Sundays.

– People do not worship the Creator because they are too busy. They worship objects.

– After the visit of Benedict XVI to France we can observe that the French are more interested in faith…The French left wing parties are even horrified by the reaction to what the Pope said.

– I think that he scared them. It was good what he did. The left wing parties speak about evolution but they cannot find any evidence; they cannot prove that God was not in it… I am happy that the let wing parties were shaken. Nobody was courageous enough to discuss with Benedict XVI. Then we would have seen that the Pope could answer all questions he was asked. I think that the French leftists would have been defeated trying to answer the Holy Father’s questions… At the end of our conversation let me reflect briefly on Poland. I came here some 25 years ago for the first time. Poland was a communist country then, a poor country. I lost my gloves. When I was travelling around Poland the people who were my guides tried to buy me a pair of gloves. But they could not find any gloves. Some woman said that she would make me gloves if she had wool. But you could not buy wool in Poland, either. There was only vodka in shops. In some street I saw a small stand with sausages. People queued to buy them. I was invited to dinner. I felt guilty when I ate small peaces of chicken… But God made a miracle in Poland. I can see resurrected Poland, prosperous Poland. Sometimes I fear that Poland should not lose her faith for this prosperity. And may God give you strength to proclaim the Gospel powerfully. With the power that reaches the ends of the earth. Many good things have come from Poland to the world. Remember that you gave John Paul II to the world. Therefore, I thank God for Poland. May God constantly bless Poland…

"Niedziela" 51-52/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl