If you read what our Popes have been saying for the past ten years or so, you know that both John Paul II and now Benedict XVI have shown much concern for our Christian and Catholic faith in Europe. History reveals that this holy faith of ours, founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Land, quickly made its way to Europe, and there found fertile ground for blossoming, even though the fertility of that ground was often irrigated by the blood of the martyrs. Nevertheless, the Church spread and gave rise to what we call western civilization, built upon the theology of the Hebrews, the philosophy of the Greeks, the administrative genius of the Romans, and then the spirituality of Catholicism.
In a special way we venerate the founders of the Church in the various parts of Europe: Peter and Paul in Italy; Martin and Irenaeus and Hilary in France, Augustine and Bede in England, Patrick in Ireland, Vincent in Spain, Stephen the King in Hungary, Hyacinth in Poland, and then Boniface in Germany, whom we celebrate on June 5th.
He was an Englishman who became a monk and then went across the channel to the mainland of Europe where he first worked with Saint Willibrord in what is now Holland. Then he went on into what is now Germany and organized the Church there in a remarkably successful way. As a result of his work and that of many other missionaries, Germany became one of the most fertile cradles of Catholicism not only in Europe but wherever Germans went, bringing their faith with them. We think of New Orleans, my home city, as being primarily French, and yet even before the Civil War there was a parish there of German immigrants, and a German priest by the name of Francis Seelos went there from Germany to exercise the pastoral ministry among his fellow German immigrants. He contracted yellow fever just after the Civil War, and has now been beatified. And that parish in New Orleans, once German-speaking, now has the distinction of being the location of the remains of the Blessed Francis Seelos, perhaps to be canonized one of these days.
There are marvelous buildings and works of art scattered all over Germany attesting to the religious heritage of that nation: the splendid cathedral of Cologne, the other famous cathedrals in Aachen, Speyer, Munich; the delightful popular religious art to be seen on the outside walls of houses and public buildings in Bavaria; the world famous passion play of Oberammergau; the famous abbeys and convents of nuns and monks of Germany, the roadside crucifixes so much in evidence in that part of the world, and even the Bavarian and Austrian custom of saying “Gruss Gott” (Praise God!) by way of greeting rather than the more secular “good morning” or “hello.”
It is no wonder that our recent Popes have been concerned about the erosion of the faith in Europe. Even in the so-called Catholic countries, more people go to soccer matches on Sundays than to Mass. And recently I read that even in Ireland, the number of young couples who are living together in fornication exceeds that of those who are sacramentally married. Let us show our appreciation for our holy Catholic faith by praying for those countries from where it came to us, that there will be a new springtime of faith and devotion there. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.