The Word as "Staple Diet"
After years of planning and preparations, the Pope opened the Fifth Plenary Assembly of the CELAM today at Aparecida. Though the 500 or so bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean will remain in the shrine-town until month's end, within hours of his Opening Address -- the second major talk of his day -- B16 was on the Volo Papale, heading Romeward. The papal party will arrive back at Fiumicino tomorrow afternoon, local time.
Before the first session of the decennial meeting, a morning liturgy in the Basilica Square was attended by 150,000 -- a "turnout [that] fell far short" of organizers' projections, according to wire reports.
The Pope's homily (fulltext) centered on best-practices for the growth of the church, and the perils of the lack thereof:
Commenting on the Sunday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Pope Benedict said, “Church’s leaders discuss and argue, but in a constant attitude of religious openness to Christ’s word in the Holy Spirit.”The plenary's opening address went into even greater depth. The following is but a long excerpt, and its fulltext is well worth taking in... closely.
“This,” he said, “is the ‘method’ by which we operate in the Church, whether in small gatherings or in great ones. It is not only question of procedure: it is a reflection of the Church’s very nature as a mystery of communion with Christ in the Holy Spirit.”...
He then explained that the Church “does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by ‘attraction’,” “just as Christ draws all to himself by the power of his love.”
Benedict XVI stressed then that “this is the priceless treasure that is so abundant in Latin America, this is her most precious inheritance: faith in the God who is Love, who has shown us his face in Jesus Christ.”
“This is the faith that has made America the Continent of Hope. Not a political ideology, not a social movement, not an economic system: faith in the God who is Love,” the Pope added, sparking a long applause from the crowd that included large delegations from South American countries.
The Pontiff went on to remind those present, “Pope John Paul II called you to a new evangelization, and you accepted his commission with your customary generosity and commitment.” “I now confirm it with you, and in the words of this Fifth Conference I say to you: be faithful disciples, so as to be courageous and effective missionaries!”
Ultimately, it is only the truth that can bring unity, and the proof of this is love. That is why Christ, being in truth the incarnate Logos, "love to the end", is not alien to any culture, nor to any person; on the contrary, the response that he seeks in the heart of cultures is what gives them their ultimate identity, uniting humanity and at the same time respecting the wealth of diversity, opening people everywhere to growth in genuine humanity, in authentic progress. The Word of God, in becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, also became history and culture.Also, the full copy of last night's rousing talk at the Rosary vigil has now come to light -- exclamation points included.
The Utopia of going back to breathe life into the pre-Columbus religions, separating them from Christ and from the universal Church, would not be a step forward: indeed, it would be a step back. In reality, it would be a retreat towards a stage in history anchored in the past.
The wisdom of the indigenous peoples fortunately led them to form a synthesis between their cultures and the Christian faith which the missionaries were offering them. Hence the rich and profound popular religiosity, in which we see the soul of the Latin American peoples:
-- love for the suffering Christ, the God of compassion, pardon and reconciliation; the God who loved us to the point of handing himself over for us;
-- love for the Lord present in the Eucharist, the incarnate God, dead and risen in order to be the bread of life;
-- the God who is close to the poor and to those who suffer;
-- the profound devotion to the most holy Virgin of Guadalupe, the Aparecida, the Virgin invoked under various national and local titles. When the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to the native Indian Saint Juan Diego, she spoke these important words to him: "Am I not your mother? Are you not under my shadow and my gaze? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not sheltered underneath my mantle, under the embrace of my arms?" (Nican Mopohua, Nos. 118-119).
This religiosity is also expressed in devotion to the saints with their patronal feasts, in love for the Pope and the other Pastors, and in love for the universal Church as the great family of God, that neither can nor ever should leave her children alone or destitute. All this forms the great mosaic of popular piety which is the precious treasure of the Catholic Church in Latin America, and must be protected, promoted and, when necessary, purified....
The Church has the great task of guarding and nourishing the faith of the People of God, and reminding the faithful of this Continent that, by virtue of their Baptism, they are called to be disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ. This implies following him, living in intimacy with him, imitating his example and bearing witness. Every baptized person receives from Christ, like the Apostles, the missionary mandate: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized, will be saved" (Mark 16:15). To be disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ and to seek life "in him" presupposes being deeply rooted in him.
What does Christ actually give us? Why do we want to be disciples of Christ? The answer is: because, in communion with him, we hope to find life, the true life that is worthy of the name, and thus we want to make him known to others, to communicate to them the gift that we have found in him. But is it really so? Are we really convinced that Christ is the way, the truth and the life?
In the face of the priority of faith in Christ and of life "in him", formulated in the title of this Fifth Conference, a further question could arise: could this priority not perhaps be a flight towards emotionalism, towards religious individualism, an abandonment of the urgent reality of the great economic, social and political problems of Latin America and the world, and a flight from reality towards a spiritual world?
As a first step, we can respond to this question with another: what is this "reality"? What is real? Are only material goods, social, economic and political problems "reality"? This was precisely the great error of the dominant tendencies of the last century, a most destructive error, as we can see from the results of both Marxist and capitalist systems. They falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality which is God. Anyone who excludes God from his horizons falsifies the notion of "reality" and, in consequence, can only end up in blind alleys or with recipes for destruction.
The first basic point to affirm, then, is the following: only those who recognize God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner. The truth of this thesis becomes evident in the face of the collapse of all the systems that marginalize God.
Yet here a further question immediately arises: who knows God? How can we know him? We cannot enter here into a complex discussion of this fundamental issue. For a Christian, the nucleus of the reply is simple: only God knows God, only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him. And he "who is nearest to the Father’s heart has made him known" (John 1:18). Hence the unique and irreplaceable importance of Christ for us, for humanity. If we do not know God in and with Christ, all of reality is transformed into an indecipherable enigma; there is no way, and without a way, there is neither life nor truth.
God is the foundational reality, not a God who is merely imagined or hypothetical, but God with a human face; he is God-with-us, the God who loves even to the Cross. When the disciple arrives at an understanding of this love of Christ "to the end", he cannot fail to respond to this love with a similar love: "I will follow you wherever you go" (Luke 9:57).
We can ask ourselves a further question: what does faith in this God give us? The first response is: it gives us a family, the universal family of God in the Catholic Church. Faith releases us from the isolation of the "I", because it leads us to communion: the encounter with God is, in itself and as such, an encounter with our brothers and sisters, an act of convocation, of unification, of responsibility towards the other and towards others. In this sense, the preferential option for the poor is implicit in the Christological faith in the God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).
Yet before we consider what is entailed by the realism of our faith in the God who became man, we must explore the question more deeply: how can we truly know Christ so as to be able to follow him and live with him, so as to find life in him and to communicate that life to others, to society and to the world? First and foremost, Christ makes his person, his life and his teaching known to us through the word of God. At the beginning of this new phase that the missionary Church of Latin America and the Caribbean is preparing to enter, starting with this Fifth General Conference in Aparecida, an indispensable pre-condition is profound knowledge of the word of God.
To achieve this, we must train people to read and meditate on the word of God: this must become their staple diet, so that, through their own experience, the faithful will see that the words of Jesus are spirit and life (cf. John 6:63). Otherwise, how could they proclaim a message whose content and spirit they do not know thoroughly? We must build our missionary commitment and the whole of our lives on the rock of the word of God. For this reason, I encourage the Bishops to strive to make it known.
An important way of introducing the People of God to the mystery of Christ is through catechesis. Here, the message of Christ is transmitted in a simple and substantial form. It is therefore necessary to intensify the catechesis and the faith formation not only of children but also of young people and adults. Mature reflection on faith is a light for the path of life and a source of strength for witnessing to Christ. Most valuable tools with which to achieve this are the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its abridged version, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In this area, we must not limit ourselves solely to homilies, lectures, Bible courses or theology courses, but we must have recourse also to the communications media: press, radio and television, websites, forums and many other methods for effectively communicating the message of Christ to a large number of people.
In this effort to come to know the message of Christ and to make it a guide for our own lives, we must remember that evangelization has always developed alongside the promotion of the human person and authentic Christian liberation. "Love of God and love of neighbour have become one; in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God" (Encyclical Letter "Deus Caritas Est," 15). For the same reason, there will also need to be social catechesis and a sufficient formation in the social teaching of the Church, for which a very useful tool is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The Christian life is not expressed solely in personal virtues, but also in social and political virtues.
The disciple, founded in this way upon the rock of God’s word, feels driven to bring the Good News of salvation to his brothers and sisters. Discipleship and mission are like the two sides of a single coin: when the disciple is in love with Christ, he cannot stop proclaiming to the world that only in him do we find salvation (cf. Acts 4:12). In effect, the disciple knows that without Christ there is no light, no hope, no love, no future.
PHOTO 1: AP/Ricardo Mazalan
PHOTO 2: AFP/Mauricio Lima