The Church can offer Gospel responses that are no longer known

Newly created French cardinal discusses the Catholic Church’s crisis and emphasises returning to Gospel values, addressing societal issues, and building relationships outside traditional Church settings.

Oct 13, 2023

Cardinal François Bustillo (Pascal Pochard-Casabianca/AFP) Read more at:

At 54, François Bustillo, Bishop of Ajaccio in Corsica, was created cardinal by Pope Francis during the consistory, September 30. He had been noticed by the Pope for his work, which encourages religious men and women to rediscover the prophetic dimension of their commitment by bearing witness to the intense and overflowing love in ministering in today’s ever-changing world. Pope Francis had asked that Bustillo’s book, entitled Witnesses, Not Officials that offers ideas for pastoral ministry and calls attention to old and new challenges, be distributed to all the priests of the Diocese of Rome.

For Conventual Franciscan Cardinal Bustillo, the path to restoring the Church’s credibility involves a return to “the basics”. “I’m concerned about the violence in our society”, he says in this interview with La Croix’s Loup Besmond de Senneville and Céline Hoyeau. “I believe the Church can provide an answer.” Cardinal Bustillo also underscores the significance of being present in the lives of contemporary society. He shares his personal commitment to connect with people who might not attend Mass.

LCI: Many people say that the Catholic Church is in crisis. An internal crisis, with abuses, declining vocations, and a loss of credibility. Do you share this assessment?
Cardinal François Bustillo: I agree on the crisis part. But life itself is a crisis, and it shouldn’t paralyse us. Since its inception, the Church has been persecuted, and it has always survived. From the Roman Empire to the 1960s, through the modernist crisis, crises remind us of the paschal dimension of our spirituality: we go through death to reach the light. It’s not about being naive or denying the problems, but we do have significant human and spiritual potential. What do we do with it? We need to try to be creative and bold.

How can the Church regain its credibility?
By getting back to the basics. When you ask some Catholics what the Church means to them, they might complain about declining vocations, a decrease in practice, or negative media coverage. But who sees the soul of the Catholic Church today? In other words, who knows the Gospel today? I’m concerned about the violence in our society. I believe the Church can provide an answer. If our politicians are so tough and uncompromising among themselves, how can they call for calm? The Church can offer Gospel responses that are no longer known.

Is this your way of evangelising?
It depends on the perspective we have on the world. The fact that we have a society that is distant from religion, even indifferent, is an opportunity to seize. We won’t conquer society with new communication or seduction tactics, but with what is uniquely ours. Young people are asking existential questions about death, the afterlife, and love. More and more people who are distant from the Church will challenge us on our values, principles, and the backbone of the Church. How do we respond to that? People who are not Catholics are often in churches for baptisms, weddings, or funerals, in honour of their friendship with their loved ones. In these existential moments, we have a unique opportunity, but we must be very good at it. It would be irresponsible to have 400 people in front of us and serve them a bland, generic, and overly sweet message. Without trying to seduce, this is where we need to convey the message we have about life, the afterlife, and hope... And perhaps in the assembly, five out of 400 people are questioning their lives, and we can awaken their consciousness.

And outside of the churches?
The whole question is how we can be present in the lives of our contemporaries. When I attend sports events, it’s not just because I love it, but also because it’s a way to meet people I wouldn’t have seen at Sunday Mass. I’m there to create a relationship, a connection, and to give visibility to the Church.

But are you avoiding talking about Jesus?
If I show up in the stadium stands dressed as a Franciscan, I’m quickly noticed. But my goal is not to make people feel guilty by saying they should go to Mass. I will focus on the quality of relationships. I’m interested in people and what they’re going through. And maybe they will become interested in me. We live in a society where there is so much distance between people that before we move on to a direct message, as the Romans used to say, we need to create captatio benevolentiae ? a field of trust. And when that foundation is in place, we can go further.

Today, Catholics are a minority in most Western countries. Is that a problem?
Is there anywhere that says we have to be powerful? Nowhere. At the same time, we have a powerful and significant heritage for our world. It’s this overlooked heritage that we should bring, without complexes or arrogance.

Do you think the Church should be less moralistic?
It is important to rediscover a spirituality of incarnation that is neither soft nor vague, one that speaks to modern man. We talk a lot about having, power, knowledge, and doing in our Western society, but who speaks of being? Perhaps psychologists and coaches, but in a commercial logic as well. Who cares for people in our society in a selfless way? We need to bring a quality of being to Western people who have lost their inner GPS, whose deep being is without density and unhappy. LCI (https://

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