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