'I see immense numbers of young people looking for meaning.' &ndash Charles Taylor | McGill University


'I see immense numbers of young people looking for meaning.' &ndash Charles Taylor | McGill University

March 23, 2015

As the second anniversary of Pope Francis' election approached, an international group of philosophers, sociologists and theologians gathered to discuss how to renew the Church in a secular age.

Many said that is exactly what Pope Francis is doing.

"I think the Church had gotten into the stance of defending itself against its critics and trying to convince them, but that's not a stance of dialogue," said Charles Taylor, professor emeritus of philosophy at McGill University in Montreal.

"Pope Francis is going out and reaching out."

Taylor was one of the main speakers at a conference, Renewing the Church in a Secular Age, March 4-5 at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University.

While criticizing the ideology of secularism, which with varying degrees of hostility seeks to remove religion from the public sphere, Taylor sees secularization as a fact generated by a complex series of cultural, social, political and economic events.

In a secular age, he says, the Church must find new ways to reach people and new ways to promote harmony within its communities.

Rather than whining about how "we in the Church have been misunderstood and people don't like us and why don't they like us," Taylor said, Pope Francis is living the Gospel and reaching out.

Much of the conversation at the Gregorian University event focused on Taylor's idea that with regards to faith, there are "seekers" and "dwellers."

The seekers – baptized Christians or not – continue to question. The dwellers have found a home in a church and may have a tendency to nest there so thoroughly that they seldom reach out to others and only accept those who believe exactly as they do.

"God is present in the seekers and in the seeking," said Msgr. Tomas Halik, a Czech professor of sociology and winner of the 2014 Templeton Prize.

"We cannot be just arrogant owners of the truth," Halik said. "We must be seekers for the seekers, with the seekers."

Pope Francis, he said, is calling all Catholics to reach out to those seeking meaning, truth, beauty and justice, he said. At the same time, however, the Church should be willing to learn more about God from the seekers' questions and experience.

In addition to its two traditional tasks of providing pastoral care to Catholics and missionary outreach to those who have not heard of Christ, the Church needs to add a third task: "accompanying seekers."

Taylor agrees. "I am a teacher," he told reporters. "I see immense numbers of young people looking for meaning" and convinced that someone can help them become better people and build a better world.

With young people and the Church, he said, you see "great hunger on one side" and "great treasures on the other side."

But there is an increasing inability to bring the two sides together. "There's something deeply perverse or stupid or wrong about that," he said.

The Church needs to talk to the seekers, listen to their concerns and figure out how to connect with them, he said.

"The big, big issue," Taylor said, is how to "accompany the seekers without shocking the dwellers."

The first thing, he said, is to ensure that as Catholics reach out to nonbelievers, to seekers and to members of other faiths, they reach out with the same amount of energy, understanding and compassion to other Catholics with whom they do not agree.