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The perils of losing your religion

In the media, reference is frequently made to the fact that church attendance in traditionally Christian countries has declined alarmingly, vocations are scarce and Christian values, especially those regarding sexual morality, seem to grow less and less in importance. All this is, of course, true.

The old continent of Europe, which owes its roots and its identity to Christianity, seems to be doing its best to see that Christ and His Good News are banished, hopefully never to return.

Let it first never be forgotten that it was the Church which, after the barbarian invasions of the first millennium, saved the devastated continent from annihilation when she took over the judicial, administrative and social structures of the now-defunct Roman Empire and, thus, enabled Europe to survive.

Today, this sadly ageing continent of ours continually prides itself on its ability to do away with its Christian past.

Considering all this, Christians naturally feel despondent, wondering whether their cherished faith has any future at all in Europe or in other western nations. The answer lies in two very telling episodes in the Gospel.

One is the parable of the vineyard, which Christ narrated to show that, since the chosen people had refused to accept Him as Lord and Saviour, the vineyard, that is the kingdom, would be taken away from them and given "to those who make fruit". This is indeed what happened because it was the pagan world that accepted Christ's teachings while the majority of the Jewish nation did not.

The other is the Lord's severe words to His followers when He told them that they should shake the dust off their feet as they walk out of a house or town if their words are not heeded. He even continues to say that "on the day of judgment it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom and Gomorrah as with that town" - Matthew 10-16.

In its blind arrogance, western society has come to believe that Christianity will cease to exist unless it conforms to the current vision of life it proposes. This is fallacious for one very simple reason.

Christ never tied the survival of His teachings or of His Church to one continent or to one type of society. He never promised that Christianity would survive in Europe, in the rest of the western world or in Malta, for that matter.

Let us remember that till the advent of Islam in the seventh century, the southern part of the Mediterranean, even up to Turkey, was all Christian. The great Fathers of the Church, Augustine, the two Cyrils, Athanasius, John Chrysostom and a host of others, all came from that region and monasticism thrived in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. Yet, today there is hardly a Christian presence in these countries. Christians living there face harassment and injustice and nearly all the communities that St Paul founded are no more.

On the other hand, in other continents, in Latin America and especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the Church is witnessing a wondrous growth and over the years millions have converted to the faith. There, believers walk for miles on dusty, untracked roads to attend Mass which often takes two hours to celebrate and they frequently suffer persecution in order to bear witness to their faith.

Let us not also forget the great untapped continent of Asia where the Lord Jesus is still largely unknown. Here, therefore, lies the hope of the Church and in the not-too-distant future missionaries will certainly be sent to re-evangelise the old continent and to remind us of the dire consequences that the rejection of Christ has wrought on us.

The most notable of these are the emptiness that seems to engulf men and women living in opulent societies and the despair of not knowing where we come from, why we are here and where we are going. All this is compounded by lack of hope and inability to give any meaning whatsoever to the inevitable vicissitudes and sufferings that accompany us at every moment of our lives.

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