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Speaking up for the young

13 June 2014

John Wilkins on a cardinal's hopes for the RC Church


Night Conversations with Cardinal Martini: The relevance of the Church for tomorrow
Cardinal Carlo M. Martini and Georg Sporschill
Paulist Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code CT413 )

CARLO MARIA MARTINI, Pope Francis said in one of his media interviews, is "very dear to me". The reader of this little book can see why. In the conversations between Martini and the Austrian Jesuit Georg Sporschill, there is the same emphasis on the poor, an echo of the same question, "Who am I to judge?", the same warning that "You can't make God a Catholic."

There is also the same injunction to go out and disturb the status quo - as Martini puts it, "where there are conflicts, a fire is burning, and there the Holy Spirit is at work." He wants the younger generation to be more daring. He exhorts them and the Churches to take risks. That is exactly what he encouraged the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, to do at a time of tension over the ordination of women.

Martini, who died in 2012, was Archbishop of Milan for 22 years. After his retirement, he could fulfil his childhood wish to live in Jerusalem and "see the footprints of Jesus". There he became more aware of the "clash of civilisations", which burdened him; there also he met Sporschill, who was developing a ministry to street children in Eastern Europe, and the two Jesuits, interlocutors in this book, became friends.

Characteristic of their approach is an openness to others and readiness to learn from them. While in Milan, Martini held sessions for unbelievers in his packed cathedral. He still recalls a contribution from a famous psychoanalyst about how non-believers pray. He repeats his guiding principle, that the first necessity is people who think, whether they are believers or not.

Throughout the book runs an insistence on the indispensable place of the Bible - "my life's work", Martini says. In its pages he finds "the model believer, because she loves to excess" - Mary Magdalene.

The book is designed above all to support and inspire the young. Each chapter is introduced by a question from a young person. One asks about her boyfriend. In response, Martini is outspoken. He commends the young for seeking to work out a more tender, healthy, and humane sexuality, and explains at length how church leaders must find better teaching.

No wonder, he thinks, that most young people do not seek guidance from the Churches on such subjects. Some parishes have no young people at all. Do not look for them only behind, the two Jesuits advise. Look for them also ahead.

John Wilkins is a former editor of The Tablet.

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