Address of the Holy Father: Ecumenical Prayer Service in Erfurt

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Pope Benedict XVI gave the following homily at an ecumenical prayer service in Erfurt, Germany during his last papal visit to that country in 2011.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through them” (Jn 17:20). According to the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke these words to the Father in the Upper Room. He intercedes for coming generations of believers. He looks beyond the Upper Room, towards the future. He also prayed for us. And he prayed for our unity. This prayer of Jesus is not simply something from the past. He stands before the Father, for ever making intercession for us. At this moment he also stands in our midst and he desires to draw us into his own prayer. In the prayer of Jesus we find the very heart of our unity. We will become one if we allow ourselves to be drawn into this prayer. Whenever we gather in prayer as Christians, Jesus’ concern for us, and his prayer to the Father for us, ought to touch our hearts. The more we allow ourselves to be drawn into this event, the more we grow in unity.
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Baptism Makes Us Members of the Family of Jesus

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Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – Sunday, January 12, 2014

In 2009, Salt + Light Television produced a magnificent documentary, “Within Your Gates,” on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s historic pilgrimage to Jordan and Israel.  Among the moving scenes in the film are the Holy Father’s visit, along with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and his wife, Queen Rania, to what is strongly believed to be the baptismal site of Jesus at the Jordan River in Jordan.  Reviewing all the footage and listened closely to the Pope’s moving homily at the Jordan, I could not think of a more fitting way to prepare for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord that we celebrate today.

Benedict XVI reflected on Jesus’ baptism, which he described as being “brought vividly before us in this place.”  The Pope said:

“Jesus stood in line with sinners and accepted John’s baptism of penance as a prophetic sign of his own passion, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Down through the centuries, many pilgrims have come to the Jordan to seek purification, renew their faith and draw closer to the Lord. Such was the pilgrim Egeria, who left a written account of her visit during the late fourth century. The Sacrament of Baptism, drawing its power from Christ’s death and resurrection, will be cherished especially by the Christian communities that gather in the new church buildings. May the Jordan always remind you that you have been washed in the waters of baptism and have become members of the family of Jesus. Your lives, in obedience to his word, are being transformed into his image and likeness. As you strive to be faithful to your baptismal commitment of conversion, witness and mission, know that you are being strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Scriptural insights into the Lord’s Baptism

Three rich Scripture readings are spread before us for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  Each reading gives us some profound insights into the Baptism of Jesus and our own baptism.

Today’s first reading from Isaiah’s second “Suffering Servant Song”  [42:1-4, 6-7] introduces us to the Suffering Servant of the Lord who lives in union, communion and sympathy with the entire human family.  The Lord has chosen a special servant to be and to show the divine glory in the world.  The striking fact about Isaiah 42:1-9 is that the Servant is never clearly identified. What is emphasized is the activity and character of the Servant. This Servant was chosen by God; he was given God’s Spirit, so he would bring justice to everyone, Jew and foreigner alike. For the society of the time, the servant would be counter-cultural; he would not be interested in fame or power. But his rule would be gentle but would be sure.  His rule would precede his teaching to the coastlands, areas west (the Mediterranean world) and south (along the Red Sea).

Isaiah 42:1-4 reminds the people of God to be humble since they are not God’s sole agents of justice and righteousness. In some cases God may be accomplishing his plans for his people through the nations (e.g., 44:28).  In verses 6-7, God, himself, commissioned the Servant. God called the servant to justice and to act as his own representative.  The Servant would give the blind sight and prisoners freedom. These images of sight and liberation could be taken literally or figuratively. At the time of Second Isaiah, the ruling elite of Judea were captives held by the blind ambition of foreign dictators. In a figurative sense, the blindness and imprisonment could be the people’s lack of faith. In either case, the Servant would be God’s instrument of healing, wholeness and liberation.

The deep goodness of Cornelius and his household

The extraordinary story of Cornelius’ conversion in today’s second reading [Acts 10:34-38] certainly sheds light on the meaning and implications of baptism.  It is the longest individual narrative in the Acts of the Apostles.  The theme of this narrative is divine compulsion: Peter is the least prepared to accept Cornelius into the Christian community and he even refuses to admit him two times.  Peter had to be converted before he could convert Cornelius.  Peter came to the realization that God’s gifts were given to all those who listened to the Word of God.  His question “Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” [10:47] echoes the Ethiopian’s question and Philip’s response in the earlier story: “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” [8:36]?

Peter’s actions with Cornelius had far-reaching implications.  Struck at once with the exceptional sincerity, hospitality and deep goodness of Cornelius and his household, Peter spontaneously exclaimed: “God has made it clear to me that no one should call anyone unclean or impure… God shows no partiality.”  That statement broke centuries of customs and even of theology, that Israel, alone was God’s chosen people, separated from all other nations as God’s very own [cf. Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Exodus 19:5-6].  Peter had no choice but to baptize the household of Cornelius and he was criticized for his ‘ecumenical’ approach but responded to his critics: “Who am I that I could withstand God [11:17]?  When his critics heard these words, they were silenced and began to glorify God [11:18].

Paul, too, found the same spontaneous manifestation of the faith among the gentiles and so made the exciting declaration: “We now turn to the Gentiles!”  The controversy over the law was to linger for a long time, so that Paul dedicated to this topic his most comprehensive theological work: the letter to the Romans.

Jesus’ Messianic Vocation

The Gospel reading for this feast, Matthew 3:13-17, contains echoes of Isaiah 42. Jesus’ anointing by the Spirit of God [3:16] and recalls the Lord God’s declaration in 42:1, “I have put my spirit on him.” The affirmation of Jesus as God’s “Beloved, with whom [he is] well pleased” [3:17] evokes God’s designation of his Servant as “[his] chosen, in whom [his] soul delights” [Isaiah 42:1].  The commissioning of Jesus to a vocation of Servanthood at his Baptism indicates this new age has begun.

In Matthew’s baptism scene, we catch a glimpse of not only the intimate relationship between Father and Son but also the consequences of that relationship.  The private believer is a public servant.  According to Matthew, when Jesus rises, dripping, from the waters of the Jordan, John has moved on to the next baptism and the crowds are busy with repentance.  Jesus alone sees the Spirit descending on wings of light to rest upon his soggy head.  Jesus alone hears the well-pleased voice of God calling him “Beloved Son.”  The experience drives him out alone into the desert for 40 days to hone his calling.  No wonder that when he returns to begin his ministry, one of his first actions is to call disciples.  Enough solitude already!  It’s time for company!

Baptism and Eucharist: Sacraments of Initiation

In receiving the life of Christ in baptism, we Christians are also called upon to sustain the life of the Church.  Baptism is truly a leap into the mystery of Jesus, a leap and an immersion that transform us fully into his likeness.  Like the Servant in today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7], we are to replace darkness with light.  Like the Servant in Matthew, we are to replace pain with healing.  Far from being purely a private gift, faith is a public responsibility.  We must stand up and take our rightful place in the Church.  Our sharing in the Eucharist bonds us together with our brothers and sisters who have been immersed into the life of Christ through the waters of baptism.

As the New Year begins, we need sight to see beyond our limitations and freedom from our self-imposed faults.  Our relationship with God helps us to see beyond the little worlds in which we live.  How does God help us to see the possibilities? How does faith in Christ help lift us up and radically change us? Let us pray that the grace of our own baptism will help us to be light to others and to the world, and give us the strength and courage to make a difference, to be counted among the family and friends of Jesus.

Responsibility for the proclamation of the Gospel

As we continue our reflection on Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini that followed the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church we read in paragraph #94 that all the baptized are responsible for the proclamation of the Gospel:

“Since the entire People of God is a people which has been “sent”, the Synod reaffirmed that “the mission of proclaiming the word of God is the task of all of the disciples of Jesus Christ based on their Baptism”.  No believer in Christ can feel dispensed from this responsibility which comes from the fact of our sacramentally belonging to the Body of Christ. A consciousness of this must be revived in every family, parish, community, association and ecclesial movement. The Church, as a mystery of communion, is thus entirely missionary, and everyone, according to his or her proper state in life, is called to give an incisive contribution to the proclamation of Christ. Bishops and priests, in accordance with their specific mission, are the first to be called to live a life completely at the service of the word, to proclaim the Gospel, to celebrate the sacraments and to form the faithful in the authentic knowledge of Scripture. Deacons too must feel themselves called to cooperate, in accordance with their specific mission, in this task of evangelization.

“Throughout the Church’s history the consecrated life has been outstanding for explicitly taking up the task of proclaiming and preaching the word of God in the ‘missio ad gentes’ and in the most difficult situations, for being ever ready to adapt to new situations and for setting out courageously and boldly along fresh paths in meeting new challenges for the effective proclamation of God’s word.

“The laity are called to exercise their own prophetic role, which derives directly from their Baptism, and to bear witness to the Gospel in daily life, wherever they find themselves. In this regard the Synod Fathers expressed “the greatest esteem, gratitude and encouragement for the service to evangelization which so many of the lay faithful, and women in particular, provide with generosity and commitment in their communities throughout the world, following the example of Mary Magdalene, the first witness of the joy of Easter”.  The Synod also recognized with gratitude that the ecclesial movements and the new communities are a great force for evangelization in our times and an incentive to the development of new ways of proclaiming the Gospel.”

[The readings for the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord are: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; and Matthew 3:13-17.]

 

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2010 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Pope Francis returns to Rome! – July 29 2013

 

Tonight on Perspectives: Pope Francis returns from Rio! We take a look at his final day in Brazil.

A Note on the Pope’s Remarks to Journalists en route to Rome

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In response to many messages and calls earlier today regarding Pope Francis’ meeting with journalists aboard the return flight to Rome from Rio de Janeiro last night, below is a working transcript of the question about Monsignor Ricca and the gay lobby. I have included the question and the full answer of the Pope in English and the original Italian, as well as the full paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on homosexuality to which the Pope referred.

The powerful and deeply moving visit of Pope Francis to Brazil last week left a deep and lasting impression upon this country as well as on the continent and the entire world.  We encountered in the Bishop of Rome a shepherd “who knows the odor of his sheep,” a bearer of hope and peace, and an extraordinary pastoral model of tenderness and mercy.  He stressed the necessity of mercy throughout his visit, and reached out to so many people on the peripheries of society.  This was especially evident through his visit to the favela, the hospital and drug rehabilitation centre for young people, the meeting with young prisoners, the concern for the sick, and for young people who are broken.  He also showed how much he stands in solidarity with those living in extreme poverty and struggling for justice and peace.

His comments on the plane, particularly about the divorced and remarried, women, and homosexuals must be read and understood through the lenses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the outreach and concern of the Church for those on the fringes, and the mercy, tenderness and forgiveness of a pastor who walks among his people.

The Question to Pope Francis from Ilse, a journalist on the Papal flight

Ilse: I would like to ask permission to pose a rather delicate question.  Another image that went around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his personal life.  I would like to know, your Holiness, what will be done about this question.  How should one deal with this question and how does your Holiness wish to deal with the whole question of the gay lobby?

The Pope’s Answer

Regarding the matter of Monsignor Ricca, I did what Canon Law required and did the required investigation.  And from the investigation, we did not find anything corresponding to the accusations against him.  We found none of that.  That is the answer.  But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one  looks for the “sins of youth,” for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published.  These things are not crimes.  The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime.  But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives.  When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh?  This is a danger.  This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often.

But returning to your question more concretely: in this case [Ricca] I did the required investigation and we found nothing.  That is the first question.  Then you spoke of the gay lobby.  Agh… so much is written about the gay lobby.  I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word gay.  They say there are some gay people here.  I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.  They are bad.  If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”

The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter.  There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies.  This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!

Original transcript in Italian

(Ilse): Vorrei chiedere il permesso di fare una domanda un po’ delicata: anche un’altra immagine ha girato un po’ il mondo, che è stata quella di mons. Ricca e delle notizie sulla sua intimità. Vorrei sapere, Santità, cosa intende fare su questa questione? Come affrontare questa questione e come Sua Santità intende affrontare tutta la questione della lobby gay?

(Papa Francesco): Quello di mons. Ricca: ho fatto quello che il Diritto Canonico manda a fare, che è la investigatio previa. E da questa investigatio non c’è niente di quello di cui l’accusano, non abbiamo trovato niente di quello. Quella è la risposta. Ma io vorrei aggiungere un’altra cosa su questo: io vedo che tante volte nella Chiesa, al di fuori di questo caso ed anche in questo caso, si va a cercare i “peccati di gioventù”, per esempio, no?, e questo si pubblica. Non i delitti, eh? I delitti sono un’altra cosa: l’abuso sui minori è un delitto. No, i peccati. Ma se una persona, laica o prete o suora, ha fatto un peccato e poi si è convertito, il Signore perdona e quando il Signore perdona, il Signore dimentica e questo per la nostra vita è importante. Quando noi andiamo a confessarci e diciamo davvero “Ho peccato in questo”, il Signore dimentica e noi non abbiamo il diritto di non dimenticare, perché abbiamo il rischio che il Signore non si dimentichi dei nostri [peccati] eh?  E’ un pericolo quello. Quello è importante: una teologia del peccato. Tante volte penso a San Pietro: ha fatto uno dei peggiori peccati, che è rinnegare Cristo, e con questo peccato lo hanno fatto Papa. Dobbiamo pensare tanto.

Ma tornando alla Sua domanda più concreta: in questo caso, ho fatto l’ivestigatio previa e non abbiamo trovato. Questo è la prima domanda. Poi, Lei parlava della lobby gay: mah… si scrive tanto della lobby gay. Io ancora non ho trovato mi dia la cartella d’identità in Vaticano con “gay”. Dicono che ce ne sono. Credo che quando uno si trova con una persona così, deve distinguere il fatto di essere una persona gay dal fatto di fare una lobby, perché le lobby tutte non sono buone. Quello è il cattivo. Se una persona è gay e cerca il Signore e ha buona volontà, ma chi sono io per giudicarla? Il catechismo della Chiesa cattolica spiega tanto bello questo, ma dice,  Aspetta un po’, come si dice…e dice “non si devono emarginare queste persone per questo, devono essere integrate in società”. Il problema non è avere questa tendenza, no: dobbiamo essere fratelli, perché questo è uno, ma se c’è un altro, un altro, il problema è fare lobby di questa tendenza o lobby di avari, lobby di politici, lobby dei massoni, tante lobby. Questo è il problema più grave per me. E La ringrazio tanto per aver fatto questa domanda. Grazie tante!

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church

2358    The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Offering the gift of life – Special offertory at Closing Mass of WYD Rio

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As Pope Francis was leaving the cathedral of St. Sebastian in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday following mass with the bishops and priests, he met a couple who presented to him their own newly-born daughter who was born anacephalic (without a brain). Normally the baby would have died at birth but she was still alive.  The parents did not wish to abort their child even though an abortion would have been allowed legally for such a case.  The parents wished to welcome the gift of life.  During the final mass of World Youth Day, Pope Francis welcomed this child during the offertory procession of the mass as a gesture of welcome and offering of a life to God.

Pope Francis’ meeting with the Coordinating Committee of CELAM

CELAM

Address of Pope Francis to the Coordinating Committee of CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference, July 28, 2013

1. Introduction

I thank the Lord for this opportunity to speak with you, my brother bishops, the leadership of CELAM for the four-year period from 2011 to 2015. For 57 years CELAM has served the 22 Episcopal Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean, working in a spirit of solidarity and subsidiarity to promote, encourage and improve collegiality among the bishops and communion between the region’s Churches and their pastors.

Like yourselves, I too witnessed the powerful working of the Spirit in the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate in Aparecida, in May 2007, which continues to inspire the efforts of CELAM for the desired renewal of the Particular Churches. In many of them, this renewal is clearly taking place. I would like to focus this conversation on the legacy of that fraternal encounter, which all of us have chosen to call a Continental Mission.

2. Particular characteristics of Aparecida

There are four hallmarks of the Fifth Conference. They are like four pillars for the implementation of Aparecida, and they are what make it distinctive.

  1. Starting without a document
    Medellín, Puebla and Santo Domingo began their work with a process of preparation which culminated in a sort of Instrumentum Laboris which then served as a basis for discussion, reflection and the approval of the final document. Aparecida, on the other hand, encouraged the participation of the Particular Churches as a process of preparation culminating in a document of synthesis. This document, while serving as a point of reference throughout the Fifth General Conference, was not taken as a starting point. The initial work consisted in pooling the concerns expressed by the bishops as they considered the new period of history we are living and the need to recover the life of discipleship and mission with which Christ founded the Church.
  2. A setting of prayer with the people of God
    It is important to remember the prayerful setting created by the daily sharing of the Eucharist and other liturgical moments, in which we were always accompanied by the People of God. On the other hand, since the deliberations took place in the undercroft of the Shrine, the music which accompanied them were the songs and the prayers of the faithful.
  3. A document which continues in commitment, with the Continental Mission
    This context of prayer and the life of faith gave rise to a desire for a new Pentecost for the Church and the commitment to undertake a Continental Mission. Aparecida did not end with a document; it continues in the Continental Mission
  4. The presence of Our Lady, Mother of America
    It was the first conference of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean to be held in a Marian shrine.

3. Dimensions of the Continental Mission

The Continental Mission is planned along two lines: the programmatic and the paradigmatic. The programmatic mission, as its name indicates, consists in a series of missionary activities. The paradigmatic mission, on the other hand, involves setting in a missionary key all the day-to-day activities of the Particular Churches. Clearly this entails a whole process of reforming ecclesial structures. The “change of structures” (from obsolete ones to new ones) will not be the result of reviewing an organizational flow chart, which would lead to a static reorganization; rather it will result from the very dynamics of mission. What makes obsolete structures pass away, what leads to a change of heart in Christians, is precisely missionary spirit. Hence the importance of the paradigmatic mission.

The Continental Mission, both programmatic and paradigmatic, calls for creating a sense of a Church which is organized to serve all the baptized, and men and women of goodwill. Christ’s followers are not individuals caught up in a privatized spirituality, but persons in community, devoting themselves to others. The Continental Mission thus implies membership in the Church. An approach like this, which begins with missionary discipleship and involves understanding Christian identity as membership in the Church, demands that we clearly articulate the real challenges facing missionary discipleship. Here I will mention only two: the Church’s inner renewal and dialogue with the world around us.

The Church’s inner renewal

Aparecida considered Pastoral Conversion to be a necessity. This conversion involves believing in the Good News, believing in Jesus Christ as the bearer of God’s Kingdom as it breaks into the world and in his victorious presence over evil, believing in the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, believing in the Church, the Body of Christ and the prolonging of the dynamism of the incarnation.

Consequently, we, as pastors, need to ask questions about the actual state of the Churches which we lead. These questions can serve as a guide in examining where the dioceses stand in taking up the spirit of Aparecida; they are questions which we need to keep asking as an examination of conscience.

  1. Do we see to it that our work, and that of our priests, is more pastoral than administrative? Who primarily benefits from our efforts, the Church as an organization or the People of God as a whole?
  2. Do we fight the temptation simply to react to complex problems as they arise? Are we creating a proactive mindset? Do we promote opportunities and possibilities to manifest God’s mercy? Are we conscious of our responsibility for refocusing pastoral approaches and the functioning of Church structures for the benefit of the faithful and society?
  3. In practice, do we make the lay faithful sharers in the Mission? Do we offer them the word of God and the sacraments with a clear awareness and conviction that the Holy Spirit makes himself manifest in them?
  4. Is pastoral discernment a habitual criterion, through the use of Diocesan Councils? Do such Councils and Parish Councils, whether pastoral or financial, provide real opportunities for lay people to participate in pastoral consultation, organization and planning? The good functioning of these Councils is critical. I believe that on this score, we are far behind.
  5. As pastors, bishops and priests, are we conscious and convinced of the mission of the lay faithful and do we give them the freedom to continue discerning, in a way befitting their growth as disciples, the mission which the Lord has entrusted to them? Do we support them and accompany them, overcoming the temptation to manipulate them or infantilize them? Are we constantly open to letting ourselves be challenged in our efforts to advance the good of the Church and her mission in the world?
  6. Do pastoral agents and the faithful in general feel part of the Church, do they identify with her and bring her closer to the baptized who are distant and alienated?

As can be appreciated, what is at stake here are attitudes. Pastoral Conversion is chiefly concerned with attitudes and reforming our lives. A change of attitudes is necessarily something ongoing: “it is a process”, and it can only be kept on track with the help of guidance and discernment. It is important always to keep in mind that the compass preventing us from going astray is that of Catholic identity, understood as membership in the Church.

Dialogue with the world around us

We do well to recall the words of the Second Vatican Council: “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well” (Gaudium et Spes, 1). Here we find the basis for our dialogue with the contemporary world.  Responding to the existential issues of people today, especially the young, listening to the language they speak, can lead to a fruitful change, which must take place with the help of the Gospel, the magisterium, and the Church’s social doctrine. The scenarios and the areopagi involved are quite varied. For example, a single city can contain various collective imaginations which create “different cities”. If we remain within the parameters of our “traditional culture”, which was essentially rural, we will end up nullifying the power of the Holy Spirit. God is everywhere: we have to know how to find him in order to be able to proclaim him in the language of each and every culture; every reality, every language, has its own rhythm.

4. Some temptations against missionary discipleship

The decision for missionary discipleship will encounter temptation. It is important to know where the evil spirit is afoot in order to aid our discernment. It is not a matter of chasing after demons, but simply one of clear-sightedness and evangelical astuteness. I will mention only a few attitudes which are evidence of a Church which is “tempted”. It has to do with recognizing certain contemporary proposals which can parody the process of missionary discipleship and hold back, even bring to a halt, the process of Pastoral Conversion.

1. Making the Gospel message an ideology. This is a temptation which has been present in the Church from the beginning: the attempt to interpret the Gospel apart from the Gospel itself and apart from the Church. An example: Aparecida, at one particular moment, felt this temptation. It employed, and rightly so, the method of “see, judge and act” (cf. No. 19). The temptation, though, was to opt for a way of “seeing” which was completely “antiseptic”, detached and unengaged, which is impossible. The way we “see” is always affected by the way we direct our gaze. There is no such thing as an “antiseptic” hermeneutics. The question was, rather: How are we going to look at reality in order to see it? Aparecida replied: With the eyes of discipleship. This is the way Nos. 20-32 are to be understood. There are other ways of making the message an ideology, and at present proposals of this sort are appearing in Latin America and the Caribbean. I mention only a few:

  • a) Sociological reductionism. This is the most readily available means of making the message an ideology. At certain times it has proved extremely influential. It involves an interpretative claim based on a hermeneutics drawn from the social sciences. It extends to the most varied fields, from market liberalism to Marxist categorization.
  • b) Psychologizing. Here we have to do with an elitist hermeneutics which ultimately reduces the “encounter with Jesus Christ” and its development to a process of growing self-awareness. It is ordinarily to be found in spirituality courses, spiritual retreats, etc. It ends up being an immanent, self-centred approach. It has nothing to do with transcendence and consequently, with missionary spirit.
  • c) The Gnostic solution. Closely linked to the previous temptation, it is ordinarily found in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied, which ends up in a preoccupation with certain pastoral “quaestiones disputatae”. It was the first deviation in the early community and it reappears throughout the Church’s history in ever new and revised versions. Generally its adherents are known as “enlightened Catholics” (since they are in fact rooted in the culture of the Enlightenment).
  • d) The Pelagian solution. This basically appears as a form of restorationism. In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful. In Latin America it is usually to be found in small groups, in some new religious congregations, in tendencies to doctrinal or disciplinary “safety”. Basically it is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to “recover” the lost past.

2. Functionalism. Its effect on the Church is paralyzing. More than being interested in the road itself, it is concerned with fixing holes in the road. A functionalist approach has no room for mystery; it aims at efficiency. It reduces the reality of the Church to the structure of an NGO. What counts are quantifiable results and statistics. The Church ends up being run like any other business organization. It applies a sort of “theology of prosperity” to the organization of pastoral work.

3. Clericalism is also a temptation very present in Latin America. Curiously, in the majority of cases, it has to do with a sinful complicity: the priest clericalizes the lay person and the lay person kindly asks to be clericalized, because deep down it is easier. The phenomenon of clericalism explains, in great part, the lack of maturity and Christian freedom in a good part of the Latin American laity. Either they simply do not grow (the majority), or else they take refuge in forms of ideology like those we have just seen, or in partial and limited ways of belonging. Yet in our countries there does exist a form of freedom of the laity which finds expression in communal experiences: Catholic as community. Here one sees a greater autonomy, which on the whole is a healthy thing, basically expressed through popular piety. The chapter of the Aparecida document on popular piety describes this dimension in detail. The spread of bible study groups, of ecclesial basic communities and of Pastoral Councils is in fact helping to overcome clericalism and to increase lay responsibility. We could continue by describing other temptations against missionary discipleship, but I consider these to be the most important and influential at present for Latin America and the Caribbean.

5. Some ecclesiological guidelines

1. The missionary discipleship which Aparecida proposed to the Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean is the journey which God desires for the present “today”. Every utopian (future-oriented) or restorationist (past-oriented) impulse is spiritually unhealthy. God is real and he shows himself in the “today”. With regard to the past, his presence is given to us as “memory” of his saving work, both in his people and in each of us as individuals; with regard to the future, he gives himself to us as “promise” and hope. In the past God was present and left his mark: memory helps us to encounter him; in the future is promise alone… he is not in the thousand and one “futuribles”. The “today” is closest to eternity; even more: the “today” is a flash of eternity. In the “today”, eternal life is in play. Missionary discipleship is a vocation: a call and an invitation. It is given in the “today”, but also “in tension”. There is no such thing as static missionary discipleship. A missionary disciple cannot be his own master, his immanence is in tension towards the transcendence of discipleship and towards the transcendence of mission. It does not allow for self-absorption: either it points to Jesus Christ or it points to the people to whom he must be proclaimed. The missionary disciple is a self-transcending subject, a subject projected towards encounter: an encounter with the Master (who anoints us as his disciples) and an encounter with men and women who await the message.

That is why I like saying that the position of missionary disciples is not in the centre but at the periphery: they live poised towards the peripheries… including the peripheries of eternity, in the encounter with Jesus Christ. In the preaching of the Gospel, to speak of “existential peripheries” decentralizes things; as a rule, we are afraid to leave the centre. The missionary disciple is someone “off centre”: the centre is Jesus Christ, who calls us and sends us forth. The disciple is sent to the existential peripheries.

2. The Church is an institution, but when she makes herself a “centre”, she becomes merely functional, and slowly but surely turns into a kind of NGO. The Church then claims to have a light of her own, and she stops being that “mysterium lunae” of which the Church Fathers spoke. She becomes increasingly self-referential and loses her need to be missionary. From an “institution” she becomes a “enterprise”. She stops being a bride and ends up being an administrator; from being a servant, she becomes an “inspector”. Aparecida wanted a Church which is bride, mother and servant, a facilitator of faith and not an inspector of faith.

3. In Aparecida, two pastoral categories stand out; they arise from the uniqueness of the Gospel, and we can employ them as guidelines for assessing how we are living missionary discipleship in the Church: nearness and encounter. Neither of these two categories is new; rather, they are the way God has revealed himself to us in history. He is the “God who is near” to his people, a nearness which culminates in the incarnation. He is the God who goes forth to meet his people. In Latin America and the Caribbean there are pastoral plans which are “distant”, disciplinary pastoral plans which give priority to principles, forms of conduct, organizational procedures… and clearly lack nearness, tenderness, a warm touch. They do not take into account the “revolution of tenderness” brought by the incarnation of the Word. There are pastoral plans designed with such a dose of distance that they are incapable of sparking an encounter: an encounter with Jesus Christ, an encounter with our brothers and sisters. Such pastoral plans can at best provide a dimension of proselytism, but they can never inspire people to feel part of or belong to the Church. Nearness creates communion and belonging; it makes room for encounter. Nearness takes the form of dialogue and creates a culture of encounter. One touchstone for measuring whether a pastoral plan embodies nearness and a capacity for encounter is the homily. What are our homilies like? Do we imitate the example of our Lord, who spoke “as one with authority”, or are they simply moralizing, detached, abstract?

4. Those who direct pastoral work, the Continental Mission (both programmatic and paradigmatic) are the bishops. Bishops must lead, which is not the same thing as being authoritarian. As well as pointing to the great figures of the Latin American episcopate, which we all know, I would like to add a few things about the profile of the bishop, which I already presented to the Nuncios at our meeting in Rome. Bishops must be pastors, close to people, fathers and brothers, and gentle, patient and merciful. Men who love poverty, both interior poverty, as freedom before the Lord, and exterior poverty, as simplicity and austerity of life. Men who do not think and behave like “princes”. Men who are not ambitious, who are married to one church without having their eyes on another. Men capable of watching over the flock entrusted to them and protecting everything that keeps it together: guarding their people out of concern for the dangers which could threaten them, but above all instilling hope: so that light will shine in people’s hearts. Men capable of supporting with love and patience God’s dealings with his people. The Bishop has to be among his people in three ways: in front of them, pointing the way; among them, keeping them together and preventing them from being scattered; and behind them, ensuring that no one is left behind, but also, and primarily, so that the flock itself can sniff out new paths.

I do not wish to go into further detail about the person of the Bishop, but simply to add, including myself in this statement, that we are lagging somewhat as far as Pastoral Conversion is concerned. We need to help one another a bit more in taking the steps that the Lord asks of us in the “today” of Latin America and the Caribbean. And this is a good place to start.

I thank you for your patience in listening to me. Pardon me if my remarks have been somewhat disjointed and please, I beg that we take seriously our calling as servants of the holy and faithful people of God, for this is where authority is exercised and demonstrated: in the ability to serve.

Bishop Anthony Fisher on the impact and “big picture” of a WYD

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In the midst of World Youth Day Rio, Salt and Light’s Father Thomas Rosica had the opportunity to sit down with Bishop Anthony Fisher, now Bishop of Parramatta, who was Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney and WYD Coordinator at the time of WYD Sydney in 2008. Take a look!

Cardinal Sean O’Malley on Francis, Vocations, and WYD

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In the midst of World Youth Day Rio, Salt and Light’s Father Thomas Rosica had the opportunity to sit down with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston. Take a look!

(Photo courtesy CNS/Brian Snyder, Reuters)

“Rebuild the Church of Christ!” – Francis incites 3 million youth present at Prayer Vigil

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Address of Pope Francis at the 28th World Youth Day Prayer Vigil on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, July 27, 2013

Dear Young Friends,

We have just recalled the story of Saint Francis of Assisi. In front of the crucifix he heard the voice of Jesus saying to him: “Francis, go, rebuild my house.” The young Francis responded readily and generously to the Lord’s call to rebuild his house. But which house? Slowly but surely, Francis came to realize that it was not a question of repairing a stone building, but about doing his part for the life of the Church. It was a matter of being at the service of the Church, loving her and working to make the countenance of Christ shine ever more brightly in her.

Today too, as always, the Lord needs you, young people, for his Church. Today too, he is calling each of you to follow him in his Church and to be missionaries. How? In what way? Well, I think we are able to learn something from what has happened these days: how we had to move this vigil from Campus Fidei in Guaratiba because of the bad weather.  Would not the Lord be willing to say to us that the real area of faith, the true campus fidei, is not a geographical place but are we that very place? Yes! Each of us, each one of you. And missionary discipleship means to recognize that we are the Campus Fidei  of God!  Starting with the name of the place where we are, Campus Fidei, the field of faith, I have thought of three images that can help us understand better what it means to be a disciple and a missionary. First, a field is a place for sowing seeds; second, a field is a training ground; and third, a field is a construction site.

A field is a place for sowing seeds. We all know the parable where Jesus speaks of a sower who went out to sow seeds in the field; some seed fell on the path, some on rocky ground, some among thorns, and could not grow; other seed fell on good soil and brought forth much fruit (cf. Mt 13:1-9). Jesus himself explains the meaning of the parable: the seed is the word of God sown in our hearts (cf. Mt 13:18-23). This, dear young people, means that the real Campus Fidei, the field of faith, is your own heart, it is your life. It is your life that Jesus wants to enter with his word, with his presence. Please, let Christ and his word enter your life, blossom and grow.

Jesus tells us that the seed which fell on the path or on the rocky ground or among the thorns bore no fruit. What kind of ground are we? What kind of terrain do we want to be? Maybe sometimes we are like the path: we hear the Lord’s word but it changes nothing in our lives because we let ourselves be numbed by all the superficial voices competing for our attention; or we are like the rocky ground: we receive Jesus with enthusiasm, but we falter and, faced with difficulties, we don’t have the courage to swim against the tide; or we are like the thorny ground: negativity, negative feelings choke the Lord’s word in us (cf. Mt 13:18-22). But today I am sure that the seed is falling on good soil, that you want to be good soil, not part-time Christians, not “starchy” and superficial, but real. I am sure that you don’t want to be duped by a false freedom, always at the beck and call of momentary fashions and fads. I know that you are aiming high, at long-lasting decisions which will make your lives meaningful. Jesus is capable of letting you do this: he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Let’s trust in him. Let’s make him our guide!

A field is a training ground. Jesus asks us to follow him for life, he asks us to be his disciples, to “play on his team.” I think that most of you love sports! Here in Brazil, as in other countries, football is a national passion. Now, what do players do when they are asked to join a team? They have to train, and to train a lot! The same is true of our lives as the Lord’s disciples. Saint Paul tells us: “athletes deny themselves all sorts of things; they do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable” (1 Cor 9:25). Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup! He offers us the possibility of a fulfilled and fruitful life; he also offers us a future with him, an endless future, eternal life. But he asks us to train, “to get in shape,” so that we can face every situation in life undaunted, bearing witness to our faith. How do we get in shape? By talking with him: by prayer, which is our daily conversation with God, who always listens to us. By the sacraments, which make his life grow within us and conform us to Christ. By loving one another, learning to listen, to understand, to forgive, to be accepting and to help others, everybody, with no one excluded or ostracized. Dear young people, be true “athletes of Christ!”

A field is a construction site. When our heart is good soil which receives the word of God, when “we build up a sweat” in trying to live as Christians, we experience something tremendous: we are never alone, we are part of a family of brothers and sisters, all journeying on the same path: we are part of the Church; indeed, we are building up the Church and we are making history. Saint Peter tells us that we are living stones, which form a spiritual edifice (cf. 1 Pet 2:5). Looking at this platform, we see that it is in the shape of a church, built up with stones and bricks. In the Church of Jesus, we ourselves are the living stones. Jesus is asking us to build up his Church, but not as a little chapel which holds only a small group of persons. He asks us to make his living Church so large that it can hold all of humanity, that it can be a home for everyone! To me, to you, to each of us he says: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Tonight, let us answer him: Yes, I too want to be a living stone; together we want to build up the Church of Jesus! Let us all say together: I want to go forth and build up the Church of Christ!

In your young hearts, you have a desire to build a better world. I have been closely following the news reports of the many young people who throughout the world and also here in Brazil who have taken to the streets in order to express their desire for a more just and fraternal society. They are young people who what to be protagonists of change.  I encourage them, in an orderly, peaceful and responsible way, motivated by the values of the Gospel, to continue overcoming apathy and offering a Christian response to the social and political concerns present in their countries.

But the question remains: Where do we start? What are the criteria for building a more just society? Mother Teresa of Calcutta was once asked what needed to change in the Church. Her answer was: you and I!

Dear friends, never forget that you are the field of faith! You are Christ’s athletes! You are called to build a more beautiful Church and a better world. Let us lift our gaze to Our Lady. Mary helps us to follow Jesus, she gives us the example by her own “yes” to God: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me as you say” (Lk 1:38). All together, let us join Mary in saying to God: let it be done to me as you say. Amen!

Being “salt” and “light” to the multitudes

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Watching the footage of this week, and especially the Way of the Cross yesterday and the Vigil tonight, I am reminded of the essence of our mission here at Salt and Light.  In so many ways, the world is covered in darkness and embraced by a wave of indifference, and the fault is ours. It is therefore our responsibility to be salt of the earth and light of the world:  to be a sign of contrast against the darkness by being ‘light,’ and against indifference by being  ‘salt.’  Salt and Light TV strives to be a sign of such contrast.

Looking at the Pope and his actions, and the ongoing coverage of everything he’s done on our media outlets, it seems that we find our vocation as communicators even in the midst of any challenges or fatigue we may face; to be a revolutionary sign of ‘salt and light,’ and to bring this to the multitudes.

Moreover, what strikes me these days is that in all he does the Pope never points towards himself, but is continuously focused on the needs of others, and in doing so indicates that it’s not about him, but about Jesus in our neigbour. The more people he greets on his way, the more he reveals Jesus to us, and I find this very powerful…

Jeroen Van Der Biezen is Manager of Master Control at Salt and Light Television.