One of the most successful Catholic evangelists of the digital era, Robert Barron, discusses with a papal biographer and communications expert the different approaches he and Pope Francis take to closing the gap between contemporary culture and the Church
When we spoke recently, Los Angeles auxiliary bishop Robert Barron – whom Pope Francis has called “the bishop who makes the airwaves tremble” – had just taken up the chairmanship of the US Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis to which they had elected him last year. So, first question: What happens now that the creator of the epic Catholicism series of DVDs, founder-president of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, and the Archbishop Fulton Sheen de nos jours, is in charge of the US Church’s national evangelisation strategy?
The answer, it seems, is focus. “Brothers, you know this is problem number one, and we have to concentrate on that,” Barron tells me was his message to his fellow bishops. By problem number one he means the “Nones”, those who identify themselves as irreligious. There are more than 56 million of them in the US, outnumbering both Catholics and Protestants.
Barron has long parlayed with the Nones and speaks about them with the confidence of a missionary who knows his tribe. He wants the bishops to get behind a “new apologetics” that will tackle head-on the big issues for this group: religion and science, the idea of God, plus sex, violence and the Bible. He goes into all these topics in his new book, To Light a Fire on the Earth, based on conversations with the veteran Catholic journalist John Allen. Allen calls Barron “the best English-language evangeliser of the early twenty-first century”. The book describes a theological journey that took Barron from would-be academic to airwave-trembler, and reveals the strategic and theological thinking behind the book’s subtitle, Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age.