Nevertheless, you are aware that only a few have gone so far as to question whether there was a need for the changes that took place in the Church. For others, the Second Vatican Council itself is not the problem, but rather certain interpretations of it which are not in line with the spirit of the Council Fathers.
Let me go back to an earlier question, which is, like certain other ones, intentionally provocative. Did the Council throw open the doors so that people today could enter the Church, or were the doors opened so that individuals and groups could begin to leave the Church?
To a certain extent, the opinion you have expressed reflects a truth, especially if we look at the Church in western Europe (even if in western Europe we are now witnessing many signs of religious renewal). But the situation of the Church has to be looked at from a global perspective. We must take into consideration all that is happening in central and eastern Europe and outside of Europe, in North and South America, as well as in mission countries, in particular in Africa, in the vast areas of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and, to a certain degree, even in the countries of Asia, including China. In many of those countries the Church has been built on the witness of martyrs, and on this foundation the Church is growing with ever increasing vigor-as a minority Church, yes, but one that is very much alive.
Since the Council, we have been witnessing a primarily qualitative renewal. Although priests continue to be scarce and the vocations are still too few, religious movements are being born and are flourishing. They arise from a background which is somewhat different from the older Catholic associations, which were more social in nature. These had been inspired by the Church's social doctrine and aimed at the transformation of society, at the establishment of social justice. Several of these movements entered so intensely into dialogue with Marxism that they lost to some degree their Catholic identity.
The new movements, instead, are oriented, before all else, toward the renewal of the individual. Man is the first agent of all social and historical change, but to be able to carry out this role he himself must be renewed in Christ, in the Holy Spirit. This is a direction which holds great promise for the future of the Church. At one time the renewal of the Church took place mainly through the religious orders. This was true in the period following the fall of the Roman Empire with the Benedictines and, in the Middle Ages, with the mendicant orders-the Franciscans and the Dominicans. This was true in the period following the Reformation, with the Jesuits and other similar congregations; in the eighteenth century, with the Redemptorists and the Passionists; in the nineteenth century, with dynamic missionary congregations such as the Divine Word Fathers, the Salvatorians, and, naturally, the Salesians.
Alongside the Religious Congregations of more recent origin, and the marvelous flowering of secular institutes during this century, the years during and following the Council witnessed the birth of these new movements. Also including consecrated religious, these movements are made up for the most part of lay people who are married and have professions. The ideal of the world's renewal in Christ springs directly from the fundamental duty of baptism.
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It would be wrong, today, to speak only of people leaving the Church. There are also people who come back. Above all, there has been a very radical transformation of our underlying model. I have in mind Europe and America, in particular North America and, in another sense, South America. The traditional quantitative model has been transformed into a new, more qualitative model. This also is a result of the Council.
The Second Vatican Council appeared at the moment in which the old model was beginning to cede its place to the new. Therefore we have to say that the Council came at the right time and set about a task that was necessary not only for the Church, but for the entire world.
If the post-conciliar Church has difficulties in the area of doctrine and discipline, these difficulties are not serious enough to present a real threat of new divisions. The Church of the Second Vatican Council, the Church marked by an intense collegiality among the world's bishops, truly serves this world in a variety of ways and presents itself as the true Body of Christ, as the minister of His saving and redemptive mission, as the promoter of justice and peace. In a divided world, the unity of the Catholic Church, which transcends national boundaries, remains a great force, acknowledged as such even by its enemies and still present today in world politics and international organizations. Not everyone is comfortable with this force, but the Church continues to repeat with the Apostles: "It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). In this way, it remains faithful to itself and radiates that veritatis splendor which the Holy Spirit pours out upon His bride.