In their relationship to the men and women in the pews, we find a common…
In secular Europe, a bright light of faith gone too soon
For a long time, the words “secularized Europe” have been a too-comfortable couple. So it wasn’t altogether shocking to read a recent report in The Guardian that stated that, for the next generation at least, things continue to look bleak for Christianity abroad.
According to the report titled “Europe’s Young Adults and Religion” — compiled by Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religious at St. Mary’s University in London — religion in Europe is “moribund.”
“With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practicing religion,” Bullivant told The Guardian. “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good — or at least for the next 100 years.”
Poland, with its strong Catholic identity, was considered the most religious country, with only 17 percent of its young adults defining themselves as “non-religious.” In contrast, the Czech Republic is the least religious, with an astounding 91 percent of young adults saying they have no religious affiliation. Several articles alone could be written on these troubling statistics. But instead, I’d like to focus on a bright light of the Faith in Europe that was extinguished all too soon.
If you haven’t yet heard of Arnaud Beltrame, a practicing Catholic devoted to the Church, here are a few things you should know. At his last birthday, he was 44 years old. He was a lieutenant colonel in the French police. He was preparing to have his civil marriage blessed by the Church. And he recently sacrificed his life for another when he volunteered to take the place of a hostage during a terrorist attack in a small town in southern France.
The testimony of Father Jean-Baptiste, the priest who was preparing Beltrame and his wife for their June 9 marriage in the Church, spoke of the heroic and faith-filled spirit of the man who gave his life for another.
“Intelligent, sporty, voluble and lively, Arnaud spoke readily of his conversion. Born into a family with little practice, he experienced a genuine conversion around 2008, at almost 33 years old,” Father Jean-Baptiste wrote. “It seems to me that only his faith can explain the madness of this sacrifice, which is today the admiration of all. He knew, as Jesus told us, that ‘There is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends’ (Jn 15:13). He knew that if his life began to belong to Marielle [his wife], it was also to God, to France, to his brothers in danger of death. I believe that only a Christian faith animated by charity could ask for this superhuman sacrifice.”
Beltrame’s actions gained praise from French leaders and even from Pope Francis himself, who called the man’s sacrifice “generous and heroic.”
Europe as a whole may be losing its Christian identity. But Beltrame’s sacrifice is a reminder that the faith of one individual can outweigh even the direst of statistics.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of Our Sunday Visitor. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.