The Vatican published a new study Monday on what it called "the complex phenomenon of New Age" movements, saying they should be taken seriously because they are influencing many aspects of contemporary culture. The study is an effort to explain what New Age is, its history and practices.
The new study says the popularity and appeal of the New Age movement stems from a "spiritual hunger of men and women" unsatisfied with existing religion, political institutions or science. But, it adds, New Age is not harmless and cannot replace true Christian religion.
The study, titled Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on New Age, was presented at the Vatican Monday. It follows a request by bishops for guidance on whether practices by New Age followers are compatible with Christianity.
New Age includes a mix of cosmic religiosity, beliefs and practices. Members of the movement believe that the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, early in this millennium, will mark the phasing out of Christianity. The Vatican study includes a glossary of references to yoga, transcendental meditation and Feng-shui, an ancient Chinese method of detecting the hidden presence of positive and negative currents in buildings and places.
The study is addressed primarily at pastoral workers of the Catholic Church so that they are able to explain the differences between the New Age movement and the Christian faith.
Vatican officials say the success of New Age offers the Catholic Church a challenge. One cardinal, Paul Poupard who heads the Vatican's culture department, said people who adhere to New Age have authentic spiritual thirst. He added that the Catholic Church should ask itself why these people are turning elsewhere.
The study acknowledges that some aspects of the search for inner peace offered by the New Age movement are positive, like environmental preservation. But it also points out that New Age movements share many of the values of an enterprise and consumer culture. It adds that New Age focuses on the self and is fatalistic, while Christianity looks outward and to the future.