How can the Church boost interest in its message?
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How can the Church boost interest in its message?

Three priests offer their solutions

Empty pews have become a far more common sight. Photo: Shutterstock

Empty pews have become a far more common sight. Photo: Shutterstock

The census on Sunday Mass found declining attendance that could go as low as 10% in 20 years’ time. How is the Church to react to this trend? Three priests with popular masses were asked what they offer their congregations and what could make the religion more meaningful.

Read:Church targets poor to tackle Mass attendance

Fr Martin Cilia

People come from all over Malta to the Mass celebrated by Fr Cilia, director of the MSSP Oratory in Birkirkara.

 “As people come because they want to come that helps the atmosphere to be one of expectation, of involvement and commitment,” he says.

“We offer a sense of community; people come to know each other and share not only the ritual of the liturgy but their own lives.

“We offer a well-prepared homily as we believe that the Word of God needs to be explained in a simple yet profound way and in this regard we have quite a good feedback.

“We offer children’s ministry as we try to create a safe space for them and explain to them in their own way, sometimes through clips, paintings, songs or games, the gospel of the day. This also gives parents the time to listen to the homily in peace.

“We also offer a renewed space which is inductive to communion and which gives a modern and contemporary dress to the faith that we try to live.”

He said the Pope spoke about priests being closer to the people, knowing their language and being closer to their pain. With even non-church goers wishing for the presence of a priest in difficult moments of their lives, this could be a “real entry point”.

The Church also needed to move from the legal and moral language to offer more of “the freshness of the life and teachings of Christ”.

Fr Hilary Tagliaferro

Fr Hilary, founder of the Millennium Chapel Community in Paceville, says the chapel offers practical ways of living a Christian life of faith.  

“The Mass on Sunday is not an aim in itself but helps us to live fully our faith by serving others and helping those in need, both in soul and body.  Attending Mass on Sunday is not enough but living the Word of God in the commandment of love as soon as we come out of Mass is most important.”  

He proposed that less clericalism, in the footsteps of Pope Francis, would “bring the Church out to the people”.  

“Space must be given to lay people and to women to take an active part and feel part of the Church as much as priests and religious.”

He said Maltese Christians were still waiting for the Bishops and priests to tell them how to regulate their consciences: “The relationship of the lay people with the Church is still vertical!”  

Pastoral work, he said, was still focused on religiosity and church decoration. “We are missing the boat. Pope Francis has appealed to all priests and lay people to find new ways of evangelisation!

“Why is the sound system in many churches in Malta not good enough? Why is modern technology – big screens etc. – not in use in all Churches? How can the Word of God be heard properly? Is there lack of preparation for the Mass? What is the music and singing like during Mass?” 

He said his chapel has recently installed an electronic screen outside on the pavement, so that positive messages and the Word of God was transmitted to all, day and night.

Fr Rene Camilleri

For Fr Camilleri, a professor of theology and the former Episcopal Vicar for Evangalisation, says the Church offers its congregations by and large what it has been offering for ages, but the problem is that audiences are today much more complex than they used to be.

“We have mixed audiences with very mixed motivations. It is difficult to cater for personal needs in a big church where the right motivated would want mainly to reconnect with themselves and go back home with some more inner peace and harmony.

“That explains why parallel with what is happening in our parishes, there are so many other sacred spaces where people feel they belong. It is because there is a sense of belonging that ‘ritual’ makes more sense. So the issue is belonging, perhaps a remedy for stress, solitude, and other charateristics of the age.”

And little can be done to make religion more meaningful to the ordinary person if the starting point is the Sunday congregation, says Fr Camilleri, a weekly contributor to this newspaper’s Christian Spirituality page.

“The main issue with religion is not Mass attendance on Sunday. That can only make sense in a context. As long as religion remains a question of obligations, the decline will be guaranteed.”

In his view, what is needed is a “rebranding of religion and a re-inventing of the Church”.

“Religion is about the heart, not the mind and doctrines. The more we address the heart, the more meaningful it becomes.”

“Besides, unfortunately we continue to dish out to grown-ups and intelligent people the same they used to have in childhood. For many, religion stopped with the basics they received in childhood and adolescence and that is really a major drawback. Religion is about interiorising what they are participating in.”

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