By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church needs a "creative strategy" to bring religion back in nations that were once a bedrock of faith, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan said in a major address at the Vatican Friday, a day before he becomes a cardinal.
Dolan, 62, who also holds the powerful post of head of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, made the keynote address in the presence of Pope Benedict and more than 100 cardinals at what was billed as a day of reflection before the solemn ceremony.
He spoke of the "new evangelization" - the term the Vatican has given to the effort to shore up the Church in modern secular societies "that once had been the very engine of gospel values," such as in United States and Western Europe.
"A towering challenge to ... the new evangelization today is what we call secularism," said Dolan, one of the most prominent of the 22 men due to the receive the cardinals' red hat at the ceremony known as a consistory.
"This secularization calls for a creative strategy of evangelization," he said.
While Church membership has been growing in developing countries such as in Latin American and Africa, its numbers have fallen steadily in many rich, industrialized nations.
Dolan said the Church must show more of its positive side and think in a fresh way as it tries to spread the gospel in countries where many people have drifted away from the faith.
"The new evangelization is accomplished with a smile, not a frown ... it is all about a 'yes' to everything decent, good, true, beautiful and noble in the human person. The Church is about a 'yes!', not a 'no!'," he said.
"ROCK STAR" COVERAGE
During his stay in Rome ahead of his elevation to cardinal, Dolan has been treated with the attention that one commentator likened to that of a rock star.
About a dozen American television crews have been following him everywhere in Rome and more than a thousand people have flown in from the United States.
Dolan, who once served as rector of Rome's North American College, the seminary for American's studying for the priesthood, has defended the good side of New York, saying it was in many ways a religious city even though it had "dramatic evidence of graphic secularism."
After saying Mass in one of Rome's basilicas Thursday, Dolan said that part of his job as cardinal will be to convince the Vatican that New York is not a modern-day version of Sodom and Gomorrah, the two cities which according to the Old Testament were destroyed by God because their people were sinful and wicked.
After he is made a cardinal Saturday, Dolan and 17 other new cardinals under the age of 80 will be eligible to enter a secret conclave to elect the next leader of the world's some 1.3 billion Roman Catholics from among their own ranks after Benedict's death.
Cardinals, the "princes of the Church," are the pope's closest aides.
The consistory, usually a joyful event, is taking place under cloud because it follows a spate of leaked letters alleging corruption in the Vatican.
Of the 18 who are under 80, 12 are Europeans, bringing the number of "cardinal electors" from the continent to 67 out of 125.
The pope is a conservative on matters of faith and sexual morals such as birth control, homosexuality and the ban on women priests. Each time he names cardinals he puts his stamp on Roman Catholicism's future by choosing men who share his views.
Other new cardinals are John Tong Hon, archbishop of Hong Kong, and Rainer Maria Woelki, archbishop of Berlin in the pope's native Germany.
New cardinals also come from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, India, Canada, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Romania, Belgium, and Malta.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella)