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FRANCIS: WE NEED A CHURCH CAPABLE OF WALKING WITH THE PEOPLE

Vatican City, 28 July 2013 (VIS) – At 1.00 p.m. yesterday, Saturday, the Pope met with the cardinals and bishops of Brazil and the presidency of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil at the Archbishop's residence. The meeting was preceded by lunch. The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) is the most numerous in the world, and encompasses 275 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, of which there are 44 metropolitan dioceses, 213 dioceses, 3 eparchies, 11 prelatures, one exarchate, an Ordinariate for Catholics of Oriental rite without their own ordinary, a military ordinariate and a personal apostolic administration. There are 459 bishops and nine cardinals, of whom five are electors. The president of the CNBB is Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, archbishop of Aparecida.

Given below are ample extracts from the Pope's address:

“1. Aparecida: a key for interpreting the Church’s mission

In Aparecida God gave Brazil His own Mother. But in Aparecida God also offered a lesson about Himself, about His way of being and acting. A lesson about the humility which is one of God’s essential features, which is a part of God’s DNA. Aparecida offers us a perennial teaching about God and about the Church; a teaching which neither the Church in Brazil nor the nation itself must forget. At the beginning of the Aparecida event, there were poor fishermen looking for food. So much hunger and so few resources. People always need bread. People always start with their needs, even today.

Then, when God wills it, He mysteriously enters the scene. The waters are deep and yet they always conceal the possibility of a revelation of God. He appeared out of the blue, perhaps when He was no longer expected. The patience of those who await Him is always tested. And God arrived in a novel fashion, since God is always a surprise: as a fragile clay statue, darkened by the waters of the river and aged by the passage of time. God always enters clothed in poverty, littleness. Then there is the statue itself of the Immaculate Conception. First, the body appeared, then the head, then the head was joined to the body: unity. What had been broken is restored and becomes one. Colonial Brazil had been divided by the shameful wall of slavery. Our Lady of Aparecida appears with a black face, first separated, and then united in the hands of the fishermen. … God’s message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided. Walls, chasms, differences which still exist today are destined to disappear. The Church cannot neglect this lesson: she is called to be a means of reconciliation.

The fishermen do not dismiss the mystery encountered in the river, even if it is a mystery which seems incomplete. They do not throw away the pieces of the mystery. They await its completion. And this does not take long to come. There is a wisdom here that we need to learn. There are pieces of the mystery, like the tesserae of a mosaic, which we encounter. We are impatient, anxious to see the whole picture, but God lets us see things slowly, quietly. The Church also has to learn how to wait. Then the fishermen bring the mystery home. Ordinary people always have room to take in the mystery. Perhaps we have reduced our way of speaking about mystery to rational explanations; but for ordinary people the mystery enters through the heart. In the homes of the poor, God always finds a place.

The fishermen … clothe the Virgin drawn from the waters as if she were cold and needed to be warmed. God asks for shelter in the warmest part of ourselves: our heart. God himself releases the heat we need, but first he enters like a shrewd beggar. The fishermen wrap the mystery of the Virgin with the lowly mantle of their faith. They call their neighbours to see its rediscovered beauty; they all gather around and relate their troubles in its presence and they entrust their causes to it. In this way they enable God’s plan to be accomplished: first comes one grace, then another; one grace leads to another; one grace prepares for another. God gradually unfolds the mysterious humility of his power.

There is much we can learn from the approach of the fishermen. About a Church which makes room for God’s mystery; a Church which harbours that mystery in such a way that it can entice people, attract them. Only the beauty of God can attract. God’s way is through attraction. God lets Himself be brought home. He awakens in us a desire to keep Him and his life in our homes, in our hearts. He reawakens in us a desire to call our neighbours in order to make known His beauty. Mission is born precisely from this divine allure, by this amazement born of encounter. We speak about mission, about a missionary Church. I think of those fishermen calling their neighbours to see the mystery of the Virgin. Without the simplicity of their approach, our mission is doomed to failure.

The Church needs constantly to relearn the lesson of Aparecida; she must not lose sight of it. The Church’s nets are weak, perhaps patched; the Church’s barque is not as powerful as the great transatlantic liners which cross the ocean. And yet God wants to be seen precisely through our resources, scanty resources, because he is always the one who acts. … The results of our pastoral work do not depend on a wealth of resources, but on the creativity of love. To be sure, perseverance, effort, hard work, planning and organization all have their place, but first and foremost we need to realize that the Church’s power does not reside in herself; it is hidden in the deep waters of God, into which she is called to cast her nets.

Another lesson which the Church must constantly recall is that she cannot leave simplicity behind; otherwise she forgets how to speak the language of Mystery. Not only does she herself remain outside the door of the mystery, but she proves incapable of approaching those who look to the Church for something which they themselves cannot provide, namely, God Himself. At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. Without the grammar of simplicity, the Church loses the very conditions which make it possible 'to fish' for God in the deep waters of his Mystery. … Aparecida took place at a crossroads. The road which linked Rio, the capital, with Sao Paulo, the resourceful province then being born, and Minas Gerais, the mines coveted by the courts of Europe, was a major intersection in colonial Brazil. God appears at the crossroads. The Church in Brazil cannot forget this calling which was present from the moment of her birth: to be a beating heart, to gather and to spread.

2. Appreciation for the path taken by the Church in Brazil

The Bishops of Rome have always had a special place in their heart for Brazil and its Church. … Today I would like to acknowledge your unsparing work as pastors in your local Churches. I think of Bishops in the forests, travelling up and down rivers, in semiarid places, in the Pantanal, in the pampas, in the urban jungles of your sprawling cities. Always love your flock with complete devotion! I also think of all those names and faces which have indelibly marked the journey of the Church in Brazil, making palpable the Lord’s immense bounty towards this Church. … The Church in Brazil welcomed and creatively applied the Second Vatican Council, and the course it has taken, though needing to overcome some teething problems, has led to a Church gradually more mature, open, generous and missionary. Today, times have changed. As the Aparecida document nicely put it: ours is not an age of change, but a change of age. So today we urgently need to keep putting the question: what is it that God is asking of us? I would now like to sketch a few ideas by way of a response.

3. The icon of Emmaus as a key for interpreting the present and the future

Before all else, we must not yield to the fear once expressed by Blessed John Henry Newman: '… the Christian world is gradually becoming barren and effete, as land which has been worked out and is become sand'. We must not yield to disillusionment, discouragement and complaint. We have laboured greatly and, at times, we see what appear to be failures. We have the feeling we must tally up a losing season as we consider those who have left us or no longer consider us credible or relevant.

Let us read once again, in this light, the story of Emmaus. The two disciples have left Jerusalem. They are leaving behind the 'nakedness' of God. They are scandalized by the failure of the Messiah in whom they had hoped and who now appeared utterly vanquished, humiliated, even after the third day. Here we have to face the difficult mystery of those people who leave the Church, who, under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church – their Jerusalem – can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment. Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with herself, perhaps a prisoner of her own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age. It is a fact that nowadays there are many people like the two disciples of Emmaus; not only those looking for answers in the new religious groups that are sprouting up, but also those who already seem godless, both in theory and in practice.

Faced with this situation, what are we to do? We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. … We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.

A relentless process of globalization, an often uncontrolled process of urbanization, have promised great things. Many people have been captivated by the potential of globalization, which of course does contain positive elements such as, for instance, the reduction of distances, the bringing together of people and cultures, the distribution of information and services. But, on the other side, many experience its negative effects without realising how much they prejudice their own vision of man and of the world, giving rise to greater disorientation and an emptiness they are unable to explain. Some of these effects are confusion about the meaning of life, personal disintegration, the loss of the experience of belonging to a 'nest', the lack of a sense of place and of profound links.

And since there is nobody to accompany them or to demonstrate by example the true path, many have sought short cuts, for the standards set by Mother Church seem to be too high. There are also those who recognise the ideal for man and for life proposed by the Church, but do not have the courage to embrace it. They think this ideal is too great for them, that it is beyond their reach. Nonetheless they cannot live without having at least something, even a poor imitation, of what seems too lofty and distant. With disappointed hearts, they then go off in search of something that will raise false hopes again, or they resign themselves to a partial solution that, in the end, will not bring fullness to their lives. The great sense of abandonment and solitude, of not even belonging to oneself, which often results from this situation, is too painful to hide. Some kind of release is necessary. There is always the option of complaining? But even complaint acts like a boomerang; it comes back and ends up increasing one’s unhappiness. Few people are still capable of hearing the voice of pain; the best we can do is to anaesthetize it.

Today, we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the night contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture.

I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a Church capable … of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles… Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty? Many people have left because they were promised something more lofty, more powerful, and faster. But what is more lofty than the love revealed in Jerusalem? Nothing is more lofty than the abasement of the Cross, since there we truly approach the height of love! Are we still capable of demonstrating this truth to those who think that the apex of life is to be found elsewhere? Do we know anything more powerful than the strength hidden within the weakness of love, goodness, truth and beauty?

People today are attracted by things that are faster and faster: rapid Internet connections, speedy cars and planes, instant relationships. But at the same time we see a desperate need for calmness, I would even say slowness. Is the Church still able to move slowly: to take the time to listen, to have the patience to mend and reassemble? Or is the Church herself caught up in the frantic pursuit of efficiency? Dear brothers, let us recover the calm to be able to walk at the same pace as our pilgrims, keeping alongside them, remaining close to them, enabling them to speak of the disappointments present in their hearts and to let us address them. … We need a Church capable of bringing warmth, of lighting up hearts, and that is capable of restoring citizenship to her many children who are journeying, as it were, in an exodus.

4. Challenges facing the Church in Brazil

Formation as a priority: bishops, priests, religious, laity. … It is important to devise and ensure a suitable formation, one which will provide persons able to step into the night without being overcome by the darkness and losing their bearings; able to listen to people’s dreams without being seduced and to share their disappointments without losing hope and becoming bitter; able to sympathize with the brokenness of others without losing their own strength and identity. What is needed is a solid human, cultural, effective, spiritual and doctrinal formation. Dear brother bishops, courage is needed to undertake a profound review of the structures in place for the formation and preparation of the clergy and the laity of the Church in Brazil. It is not enough that formation be considered a vague priority, either in documents or at meetings. ... You cannot delegate this task, but must embrace it as something fundamental for the journey of your Churches.

Collegiality and solidarity in the Episcopal Conference

It is important to remember Aparecida, the method of gathering diversity together. Not so much a diversity of ideas in order to produce a document, but a variety of experiences of God, in order to set a vital process in motion. ... Central bureaucracy is not sufficient; there is also a need for increased collegiality and solidarity. This will be a source of true enrichment for all.

Permanent state of mission and pastoral conversion

Concerning mission, we need to remember that its urgency derives from its inner motivation; in other words, it is about handing on a legacy. As for method, it is essential to realize that a legacy is about witness, it is like the baton in a relay race: you don’t throw it up in the air for whoever is able to catch it, so that anyone who doesn’t catch it has to manage without. In order to transmit a legacy, one needs to hand it over personally, to touch the one to whom one wants to give, to relay, this inheritance. Concerning pastoral conversion, I would like to recall that “pastoral care” is nothing other than the exercise of the Church’s motherhood. … So we need a Church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy. Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of “wounded” persons in need of understanding, forgiveness, love. In mission, also on a continental level, it is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society and the Church; young people, who are the face of the Church’s future; women, who play a fundamental role in passing on the faith. Let us not reduce the involvement of women in the Church, but instead promote their active role in the ecclesial community. By losing women, the Church risks becoming sterile. Aparecida also underlines the vocation and mission of men in the family, the Church and in societies, as fathers, workers and citizens. Take this into consideration!

The task of the Church in society

In the context of society, there is only one thing which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide. In so doing, she defends treasures of which she is merely the custodian, and values which she does not create but rather receives, to which she must remain faithful. The Church claims the right to serve man in his wholeness, and to speak of what God has revealed about human beings and their fulfilment. The Church wants to make present that spiritual patrimony without which society falls apart. … The Church has the right and the duty to keep alive the flame of human freedom and unity. Education, health, social harmony are pressing concerns in Brazil. The Church has a word to say on these issues, because any adequate response to these challenges calls for more than merely technical solutions; there has to be an underlying view of man, his freedom, his value, his openness to the transcendent.

The Amazon Basin as a litmus test for Church and society in Brazil

… The Church’s presence in the Amazon Basin is not that of someone with bags packed and ready to leave after having exploited everything possible. The Church has been present in the Amazon Basin from the beginning, in her missionaries and religious congregations, and she is still present and critical to the area’s future. … I would like to invite everyone to reflect on what Aparecida said about the Amazon Basin, its forceful appeal for respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man, not so that it be indiscriminately exploited, but rather made into a garden.

Dear brother Bishops, I have attempted to offer you in a fraternal spirit some reflections and approaches for a Church like that of Brazil, which is a great mosaic made up of different tesserae, images, forms, problems and challenges, but which for this very reason is an enormous treasure. The Church is never uniformity, but diversities harmonized in unity, and this is true for every ecclesial reality”.

 

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