Senior clergymen from across the Catholic world gathered in Rome yesterday for what is being billed by the church as a crucial attempt to roll back the "tsunami of secularisation" in Western Europe and North America.
Hundreds of bishops, archbishops, cardinals and specially appointed lay members have travelled to the Vatican for the start of a three-week conference on "new evangelisation". During an open air Mass held in St Peter's Square yesterday, Pope Benedict said the campaign was "directed principally to those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to Christian life".
Pope Benedict views the "re-evangelisation" of once Christian countries in the developed world as one of the goals of his papacy and has set up his own panel of specialists to advise on how it can be achieved.
The meeting, known as a synod, coincides with the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, the landmark conference which radically modernised the Catholic Church with initiatives such as giving people the right to celebrate mass in their local language, instead of Latin. At the time Benedict XVI was a brilliant 35-year-old up-and-coming theologian called Joseph Ratzinger who was strongly in favour of liberal reforms to the Catholic Church. But over the decades he came to view the liberalisation of the church as a mistake.