Pilgrims of hope amid crisis: Archbishop Fisichella on the 2025 Jubilee

Andreas Thonhauser

Andreas Thonhauser

National Catholic Register

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangeli­zation, presents the logo for the 2025 Jubilee Year, June 28, 2022. (Photo | Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

By Andreas Thonhauser
Vatican bureau chief for EWTN

Archbishop Rino Fisichella is the pro-prefect for the Section of New Evangelization of the Dicastery for Evangelization.

He recently discussed in an interview with Andreas Thonhauser, EWTN’s Rome bureau chief, the preparations for Jubilee 2025 and why it is important to prepare for the jubilee in prayer as a pilgrim of hope.

Fisichella, 72, also explained the challenges amid a decline of Christianity and a crisis of faith in the West and the hope that is springing from the Catholic Church in Africa and Asia.

Thonhauser: Your Excellency, you are responsible for preparing and organizing Jubilee 2025. How are things progressing?

Fisichella: Things are well. We have a few weeks to wait for the first official event of the jubilee, but I should say that the preparation is at a good stage. It’s complicated because I would like for more people to be engaged, that it not be just something coming from the dicastery since the jubilee is a popular event, something of the people. It is our people who love to have a spiritual experience like this. For this reason, my desire is to have people of different associations, movements, parishes, priests, bishops, laypeople all engaged in the preparation.

There are more than 700 people involved for this jubilee working with you. It is a pretty important yearlong event, also for the city of Rome.

Yes, you don’t have to tell me that, because this is a very involved moment. I can say that almost every day, I contact the Italian government and the city of Rome. That is important because we are expecting about 32 million pilgrims in Rome. And then, first of all, you should be able to give the possibility of a welcome in the city guaranteeing security.

We know that this is a special moment throughout the world, but Rome is perceived as a safe city because it really is a very complex machine that is able in the organization to provide a safe city. And then with transportation, this is a big problem for the city of Rome. We are studying the best way to facilitate transportation from one side of the city to the other. Then health, the assurance for health. There are so many things when you think about the welcome of pilgrims for an entire year. Just imagining how the organization can be makes you more or less crazy.

Our new estimates also show how many pilgrims will come for the whole year.

This is not my study, so when the Italian government asked me how many people would be able to come for the jubilee I was not able to answer. It was also, for me, a question without an answer. I asked the faculty of sociology in the city of Rome to prepare a projection of how many people should come.

They said 32 million. Also from the U.S., we are expecting about 2.5 million people to come for the jubilee.

Some media commentators said early on that Rome might not be prepared. There is fear that it’s not a good experience if people come here. Why would you encourage people to come to Rome in person?

No, I absolutely disagree with this comment. Rome will be ready and will also be a safe city. That is for sure. As the one responsible for the Holy See in this regard and as the one responsible for participating in all the meetings with the government and the city of Rome, I can assure you that from the moment of the beginning of the jubilee, and throughout the Holy Year, the city will be ready to give the best welcome to everybody.

You have often repeated that we are all “pilgrims of hope.” That’s also the motto of the jubilee year. Could you explain that a little bit more? Why is “la speranza” (hope) so important, especially today?

I think that Pope Francis has a really good insight into this. In two words you can put a matter that is very important for everybody, not just believers: “pilgrims” and “hope.” Pilgrim, because this is the symbol of our life. We are walking, and from the beginning to our end, it is a walk. We should understand how and where we are going because the pilgrim knows where he is going. Otherwise, it’s not a pilgrimage; it’s something else. He’s someone walking on the street, but he’s not a pilgrim. To be a pilgrim, you should walk and you should know the goal of your walk.

And, then, hope. People today need hope. We are used to speaking about faith and charity. In our catechesis and our homilies, our proclamation is essentially about faith and charity. And we forget hope. And this is really a risk for evangelization. 

There is a very interesting story written in the last century by a French author, Charles Péguy. And Charles Péguy wrote about the two major sisters: faith and charity.

It seems that people, Christians, are just looking at faith and charity. They don’t observe that there is another child, the third sister who is hidden, because no one is looking for her. She’s the most important because she takes the hand of faith and charity and allows us to go to God. I think that a reflection on hope is very important, because we have many questions we are unable to answer if we don’t have hope.

For instance, there is life after this one. What does eternal life mean, if we don’t hope? I think we also do not have enough love to explain our faith. The challenge today for me is to speak about faith, to announce the content of faith, but with the language of hope.

You have often said that the Jubilee is, first and foremost, a spiritual event.

It’s not only a spiritual event, but first and foremost, it is a spiritual event. In a period like ours where technology enters forcefully in our life, even if we don’t want it: when you need to call someone, when you open the door. Everything in our life is determined by technology, everything. 

When there is such a strong presence of technology, everybody needs to have a different experience: an experience of humanity, experience of brotherhood, experience of spirituality. To enter inside in the deepest parts of yourself and to understand who you are and where you are going. The answer comes only if you have a deeper spiritual experience, and this means an experience of conversion.

The jubilee is conversion. The most important thing in the jubilee we cannot forget is one word: indulgence. Indulgence is a very strange word we don’t use anymore, but it is the most important. From the beginning, already in the sixth and seventh centuries, mercy, pardon, indulgence were the same; they were synonymous. For this reason, when the Holy Father opens the Holy Door and gives the jubilee indulgence to our people, it means that this is a spiritual experience of mercy, of pardon.

But it needs your conversion, recognizing that you are a sinner and that you have the possibility to come closer to God, nearer to God, and to understand how his love is so great that it can forget everything of your past life.

We’re in the middle of a year of prayer in preparation for the jubilee. Pope Francis has called for this, as well, and there are books written to help with that. There are eight books in Italian, and some are also translated in other languages, by renowned authors such as [Cardinal Angelo] Comastri, [Cardinal Gianfranco] Ravasi, Father [Gerard] Murray. How important is that also, this preparation for the jubilee in prayer?

Since the jubilee is a spiritual experience, we need to find a coherent method in order to prepare for it. What other method is there than prayer? For this reason, the Holy Father, in January, officially opened this year of preparation as a year of prayer.

You mentioned some books. These are just instruments, but they are written with very simple language so that everybody might understand them, whether priest, bishop, catechist; they are for everybody. But they are just instruments. We need to once again understand what prayer is and how we can pray.

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Usually, we think that prayer is participating in the holy Eucharist on Sunday, and this is true, but this is the summit of your prayer because it is with the community. There is also your personal prayer; there is your capacity to understand that in every moment of your life, in every moment of your day, you can be in the presence of the Lord.

This is the most important thing: To pray is to recognize that you are in the presence of God. And in each moment, God is beside you. He’s inside you. He’s right there in front of you. You should not have any problems; you should not be afraid to understand how beautiful a moment of silence is for you, for your life. A moment in which you listen to the voice of God speaking to you; and this is prayer. It’s not just that we multiply our words to God. He knows already what we need, but it is to listen to his voice, to listen to his word, and to perceive that we are in his presence.

Another side of the preparations for the jubilee are also cultural events. And I think you personally organized wonderful works of arts to be presented in Rome; there’s also a film festival and other initiatives. Why is culture an important aspect as well?

As a spiritual event, spirituality is not just prayer; spirituality is also an experience of the contemplation of beauty. This is very important for me. The way of beauty is one of the privileged ways to announce the Gospel today. I am convinced that this is possible even through the beauty of a concert or the beauty of an exhibition. Contemplation of this beauty becomes a spiritual experience.

To give you an example, last September, we had an exhibition of three pieces of El Greco’s art in a beautiful church, not in a museum, because to enter a museum one has to pay. We shouldn’t have to pay in order to contemplate beauty. Beauty should be free, beauty should be immediate. In the beautiful Church of St. Agnes in Piazza Navona, we had an exhibition of three pieces of El Greco’s art.

Never had these three pieces of art come to Rome. In one month, in just the 30 days of September, there were about 300,000 people coming to contemplate the face and the expression of Christ in the painting of El Greco.

We are in touch with another museum in the U.S. to bring a very important piece of art to Rome for the first time, to express once again that music, painting, literature, everything can be an expression of faith and they can challenge you to a spiritual experience.

Together with media outlets and EWTN, you are preparing the Jubilee of the World of Communications, which will be at the beginning of the year in January. From a perspective of evangelization, what role does the media play today?

Media is important for communication.

I continue to be convinced that the most important communication is a personal communication. We need to look one another in the eyes, and that is the best way of communicating. But we also need to understand how the world is today, communication is coming from technology, from the internet, from television, from everything.

How can we express a spiritual event if, first of all, we who are called to communicate do not have a personal, spiritual experience? For this reason, we wanted to dedicate at the beginning of the jubilee a moment for the world of communications, so that the men and women of the vast world of communications can personally have a spiritual experience of what a jubilee means.

Then, from that experience they will be able to communicate and give others a coherent and profound sense of this experience.

What are your personal hopes for the jubilee? What will be a successful jubilee for you?

Independent of my desire, I think the jubilee has a goal to reach, that is, to give an experience of the mercy and love of God. I hope that all pilgrims coming to Rome or celebrating the jubilee in their own local Churches can have this kind of experience: God loves me. Because this is the heart of the Gospel.

This is the Gospel! The Gospel is not a book; the Gospel is the person of Jesus Christ, revealing to you the love of God. Nothing else. Everything within the Church should be this experience. The jubilee is an extraordinary moment because we have a jubilee every 25 years. If a jubilee will be able to challenge us to understand more and more that we are in the presence of God who loves us and never abandons us, even in those moments in which we are suffering, or lacking something, or when we feel alone, God never, never abandons us.

You recently visited the Philippines. Can you tell us a little bit more about the new evangelization and the role Asia plays for the Church?

Asia is like a spring, because if you look to Korea, every year, there are thousands of baptisms of all those people coming to the Catholic Church. If you look to the Philippines, they have a very strong Catholic-Christian tradition; it’s their soul. It’s emotional to see how people are present in the Church.

They are proud of their own faith, and then they share it with everybody. This is the way of evangelization. If you look to our Western countries, in our own countries, in Europe, the USA, Canada, and also in Latin America, we can say that there is a big crisis of faith.

We can touch this reality every day. There are also beautiful experiences and positive experiences, but we cannot look away when there is something that isn’t working, like a crisis of faith. Our churches aren’t empty, but they aren’t full.

We have several difficulties. We can see how the kingdom of God is not just the West, the kingdom of God is around the world. Looking to Africa, looking to Asia, we can see the enthusiasm of the new generation growing in faith and enthusiastic in sharing the faith, resulting in new baptisms. This gives us concrete hope, a sign of hope.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

This story was first published by the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, and is reprinted here with permission.

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