In a first chapter, entitled “The return of the peripheries,” the author tries to tell us of his diagnosis of the present era with its important changes in society, which have also affected the life of the Church. Community life in our cities is no longer the same as before (p. 17). The Churches of the peripheries (3rd World) have made a forceful entry into the world of universal Catholicism (p.19). Yet despite all that, our Church still seeks to keep its institutional character. She has not chosen the peripheries. A fundamental repositioning, a restructuring is essential (p.34). Arising from that, there is the interest in the call of Pope Francis in favour of going out to the peripheries (p. 7 & 22).
In the 2nd chapter, we find Riccardi, the historian. He speaks to us about the peripheries in the history of Christendom. If he mentions that the peripheries were never totally forgotten, he affirms that, “in the long term, an underlying divorce did emerge between the Church and the peoples on the peripheries” (p. 53). Very often, it meant a new start for the Church. He cites the emergence of monks or hermits in the desert as the revealing example of a new effort to go to the peripheries in relation to the institution (p. 60-66).
The 3rd chapter brings us to the peripheries of the present day. The author presents us with a recent history of Catholicism in Europe. For example, he mentions the work of Cardinal Suhard and his effort in founding the Mission de Paris (later Mission de France). From 1943, he saw the necessity of an insertion into the peripheral worlds. “We have to leave our homes and go to theirs” (p. 84). This came back to building up Small Christian Communities from the bottom up, reviving the Church from inside the peripheral world (p. 100-102). Many people have tried this and the author presents us with a few, such as the efforts of Charles de Foucauld, the Sant’Egidio Community (of which he is the founder). Neither does he forget the hard work of a number of women such as Sr. Madeleine of the Little Sisters of Jesus and its international congregation and the work of Madeleine Delbrel in the Parisian suburbs. For all, it was never a matter of leading but of ‘being with’ (p. 128), not to seek to exercise an influence but to achieve a human and evangelising presence (p. 131). It is an apostolate and a presence centred on the Gospel, “read and lived in the periphery” (p. 119). This will result in the manifestation of an “evangelical passion for the peripheries” (p.138). It is the beginning of a progressive advancement from an ecclesial community to a Church of the People (p. 149). This, the author describes as a type of ‘Exodus’ (p. 150).
Professor Riccardi is neither an anthropologist nor a sociologist. We do not get a precise description of these peripheries. He refers to our times as “Covered with a dust of multiple forms of religiosity” (p. 149). It can be seen as an evocation of modern day society with its many different types of religions and beliefs. He only mentions Muslims twice (p. 137 & 150) by challenging our ability to let ourselves be questioned by others.
Many years ago, Fr. Henri Godin co-wrote with Fr. Yvan Daniel a seminal book: “France Pays de Mission”. Today, we have Andrea Riccardi and his book on the peripheries. He challenges us in one of his conclusions, “The regeneration of the Church and Christian life starts precisely with the peripheries and with the people of the peripheries. One could even say that it starts with the rediscovery of the joyful task of living and communicating the Gospel in the peripheries” (p. 151).
Are we going to listen to his cry? Will the young people dare to go into the heart of the peripheries? And will the older ones give them the necessary space to respond to this appeal? The future will tell. What is certain is that a society with multiple and varied beliefs is waiting for our reply.