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New Evangelization: Bell Towers vs. Houses


Continuing our coverage of the first-ever OFM Congress on Mission and Evangelization, communications manager Bridget Higginboham shares some thoughts on the presentation Br. Enzo Biemmi, of the Brothers of the Holy Family. Biemmi was an expert observer at the 2012 bishops’ synod on the New Evangelization.  

Bell at San Damiano in Assisi

If you’ve ever been to Italy then you know that it chock-full of churches. For centuries these sacred structures were at the center of communities and every day life.

In recent decades, however, the bell towers of Italy have metaphorically fallen, says Br. Enzo Biemmi. As secularism takes over, they are no longer the focal point of the landscape.

Like St. Francis in the 13th century, we today are called by God to “Go and rebuild my Church.” So, as we rebuild, should we construct more bell towers?

No, says Biemmi.

He warns that if the Church fixates on its past and the shadow of the bell tower, then it will become a pillar salt. We must not be distracted by the dust wind of broken bell towers.

The Church, instead, should be reconstructed as a house in the midst of houses, says Biemmi.

I love this analogy because when I think of a house, I think of a home: the space where you and your family live and a space where you can invite others in to join you. As nice as an iconic landmark might be, a tower is lofty and distant.

I think that the Church as a house instead of bell tower relates well to Franciscan Mission Service’s style of ministry. To be a “house among houses” is to be a neighbor, which is exactly what our missioners strive for as they live in solidarity with the marginalized and impoverished communities with whom they serve. Rather than clamor like a noisy bell, they are called to throw open the doors and windows of their hearts so others can see God residing there and feel invited in.

Biemmi said that reforming the structure from bell tower to house demands pastoral change. We are constantly called to go out. Similar to Pope Francis’ cry that the Church should be like a field hospital for the wounded, I see a house as having many ways to tend to the needs of people: kitchens for nourishment, bathrooms for cleansing, bedrooms for rest, living rooms for fellowship. A house – a home – is a place where you can celebrate, heal, grow, learn, belong.

Drawing from the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and his time at the Synod, Biemmi says that in conversion to personal holiness, we need conversion and holiness of church structures. Reforms of structures without personal holiness doesn’t work either.

As we aim to be New Evangelizers, I think it is important to ask ourselves what spaces we should be creating in the houses that are our parishes and faith communities. Our Father’s house has many rooms, but which rooms are missing from ours? For whom do we need to prepare a space and extend an invitation?

Check out Bridget’s other posts on the Congress. 

Bridget Higginbotham came to Franciscan Mission Service as a Nonprofit Leadership Program associate volunteer in 2011. She went on to serve as our Communications Manager and the inaugural chair of Franciscan Service Network until July 2016. Originally from Orlando, Fla., she is a proud Girl Scout alumna and graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.