Austrian Church crisis calls for bishops to become missionaries, says Francis

February 17, 2014

VATICAN CITY – A sharp decline in the number of practising Catholics "must not find us inert, but rather must motivate our efforts for a new evangelization," Pope Francis told the bishops of Austria.

"To be Church doesn't mean to manage, but to go out, to be missionaries, to bring the light of faith and the joy of the Gospel to men and women," the pope said in a message he handed to the bishops Jan. 30.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna told Vatican Radio Jan. 27 that 1.8 million people live in Vienna and "only two per cent of them frequent Sunday Mass."

"Where do the others live their lives? What moves their hearts? What are their hopes and concerns and fears?" he asked.

When the pope talks about the need for Catholics to open church doors and let Jesus out, he's talking about reaching that 98 per cent of the population, he said.

Pope Francis said he knows this is "a difficult phase for the Church" in Austria, one that "has various causes and has been going on for decades."


Schonborn said that from the 30,000 responses the bishops have received to a questionnaire prepared for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family, it is clear that the majority of Catholics' "desires, hopes and expectations coincide more than you'd expect with what the Bible and the Church affirm in matters of matrimony and family life."

Most people, he said, want "a successful relationship and a healthy family."

"The reality very often does not correspond to this vision, and creating a bridge between what is desired and what exists is the great challenge we are facing," the cardinal said.