IN the last days of May, Vienna’s cosy, stately streets and cafés were suddenly filled with ardent young “evangelists” from all over the world attesting their Catholic faith and proclaiming the Gospel message. For 10 days, from 23 May to 1 June, the Austrian capital hosted a “city mission”, the first concerted attempt to re-evangelise an old European capital. Under the motto “Open the Doors to Christ”, some 5,500 “missionaries”, 1,500 of them from abroad, gathered in Vienna to take the Gospel message out to those in the city who have forgotten or never known about it, or who have become estranged from it yet yearn to find a deeper meaning to their lives.
The idea of re-evangelising Europe’s ancient metropolises was conceived by the French charismatic renewal movement Emmanuel, founded by the French film critic Pierre Boursat in the mid-Seventies. The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, brought the movement to Austria in 1987. He put the idea of the city mission to the cardinal archbishops of Malines-Brussels, Paris and Lisbon when they met in Vienna two years ago, together with bishops, priests and lay people from other large European cities. After Vienna, Paris is next in 2004, followed by Lisbon in 2005 and Brussels in 2006.
The city mission in Vienna was organised jointly by Emmanuel and the Austrian Catholic Youth Movement, which is a part of Catholic Action. It was certainly a “mega-event”: more than 1,000 conferences, workshops, concerts, lectures, discussions and “encounter sessions” took place not just in St Stephen’s Cathedral in the city centre but in parishes (110 out of Vienna’s 176 joined in), convents and monasteries throughout the city.