In his Oct. 11, 2011, Apostolic Letter Door of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year of Faith from Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013. The Year coincides with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
This is not the first Year of Faith the Church has seen; Pope Paul VI declared 1967 a Year of Faith to commemorate the martyrdom of Ss. Peter and Paul. Pope Benedict has declared this Year of Faith, however, as “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord” (Door of Faith, #6). It is an opportunity for Catholics to walk once more through the “door of faith” opened at baptism and to encounter a new, deeper relationship with Christ and the Church.
In order to “rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed,” (Door of Faith, #9) Pope Benedict asks Catholics to return to or study for the first time the documents of Vatican II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the words of the Nicene Creed. He also encourages Catholics to live out their faith through works of charity.
As he prepared for the Year to begin, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham sat down with the Sun to discuss the meaning of the Year and how Catholics can work to celebrate it “in a worthy and fruitful manner” (Door of Faith, #8).
Q – Why do you feel the Holy Father has called for a Year of Faith?
A – The Holy Father called for a Year of Faith on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In his document Door of Faith, the Holy Father calls for all of us to deepen our faith, to re-energize our faith. He thinks that, certainly, the way to do that is to study the faith. I think the Holy Father also realizes that there are many people who have not been well-formed catechetically or who haven’t grown in the faith. So he asks us as adults to re-examine our faith and to study it. These documents can help us do that.
Q – In Door of Faith, Pope Benedict cites a “profound crisis of faith that has affected many people” (#2) as one of the factors that led him to announce the Year. Could you speak to that?
A – The Holy Father sees that faith influences the culture. Our culture today, in many cases, is not as open to the faith as it once was. So, although I’m not sure this is one of his terms, he would want to evangelize the culture. I also think the Holy Father would see this as part of the New Evangelization, in which we’re not only evangelizing people outside the faith, but also people within the faith.
Q – Pope Benedict has asked the faithful to deepen their understanding of the Nicene Creed. How can we do that?
A – Sunday after Sunday at Mass, we profess our faith through the words of the Creed. This is the synthesis of our belief. The Creed comes from the Council of Nicea in 325 and is a compilation of the beliefs of the people of the time, which we’ve held now for 1,700 years or more. Sometimes we can take things for granted. We become so familiar with our surroundings, we fail to see things we pass every day on the street. Sometimes it takes a person to call our attention to things, so we can know and appreciate them. It is the same with the Creed. We know it, we recite it, we pray it, but have we stopped to really think about it? Have we stopped enough? We need to get back and concentrate on it more deeply. What do the different articles mean? Can we try to understand them, study them, pray them with meaning?
The Pope also asks that all Catholic groups and organizations use the Creed during the year and publicly profess it to show their beliefs.
Q – The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite extensive. Do you have any suggestions for how people might best study it?
A – The Catechcism is not something that you read from cover to cover. It’s a wonderful reference book if you have a question about a particular article of faith or a particular moral teaching — you can find the answer in the Catechism.
In addition to the Catechism, there’s an edition for adults in the U.S called The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. It is perhaps more a readable version.
If you’re interested in a particular teaching, look in the index and read on that area. I think different people have different questions, so they have to determine what their big question is, but you could always start with the Church’s teaching on say, the Trinity or the Assumption or the Commandments. The Holy Father is anxious for those of us who call ourselves Catholic to know what we believe and what we teach, and for us to be able to explain what we believe. The Year of Faith is a great catechetical opportunity.
Q – Pope Benedict has called on Catholics to “intensify the witness of charity” during the Year (Door of Faith, #14). Why is it important to link faith with works?
A – In his very first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict spoke about the three constitutive elements of the church: preaching the gospel, celebrating Mass and the sacraments, and reaching out in charity and service to brothers and sisters who are in need. Charitable acts are part of who we are as a Catholic people. We learn those lessons from the example of Jesus and in the scriptures. We know that through the long history of the Church, there’s always been an emphasis on serving those who were in some sort of need. Being charitable is part of our nature. It’s not just to make us feel good; it’s to make us fulfill the commandments of love of God and love of neighbor.
Q – Do you have any personal plans for observing the Year of Faith in a special way?
A – I think it’s time to read again carefully the documents of the Second Vatican Council. As they like to say in the Office of Faith Formation, “Faith formation is lifelong and ongoing.” That’s true for all of us, even the bishop. I think we, through reading the scriptures, the council documents, the lives of the saints, have to grow in our knowledge and love of the faith. I don’t think the Year of Faith is meant so much to do something new and splashy, but rather to know and understand what it is we believe. Faith is a gift that requires nurturing. If we don’t nurture it, we lose it.
Q – What are you hoping to see as a result or outcome of the Year?
A – My hope is that the Year of Faith will help us draw closer to the Lord. That it will reinvigorate people’s faith, in personal or individual ways that only they can determine. I hope the Year of Faith will help strengthen them for the journey of life and faith.
Bishop Cunningham will mark the opening of the Year of Faith in the Diocese with a Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse at 12:10 p.m. on Oct. 11.
Resources to help parishes, schools, families, adults and individuals experience the Year of Faith can be found on the diocesan website at