Thursday, November 26, 2015

"The Bride, Bedecked" – Pope's Thanksgiving, African Style

Before anything else, a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the States, and to those you love and serve so well day in and day out... and as gratitude and blessings go on this end, for the grace of getting away with doing this work lo these many years, to those of you who've made it possible and been part of the ride, no words could ever say thanks enough.

Back to the news, it's 8pm in East Africa, and the Pope's wrapping up the first full day of his first-ever trek to the continent – a weeklong, three-country mission set to intensify toward its final stop in the violence-ridden Central African Republic, the first papal visit in recent memory into an active war zone.

In the meantime, Francis' first major event of the tour came this morning in Nairobi, long one of the de facto capitals of a burgeoning African church, today home to some 3 million Catholics who comprise the majority of the population in Kenya's capital. (For context, the continent's largest diocese – Kinshasa, capital of a Democratic Republic of the Congo long worked by the colonial era's Belgian missionaries – now boasts some 6 million faithful: a nearly six-fold increase... since 1980.)

Lest anyone forgot, Eucharist means "thanksgiving," so especially in the spirit of this holiday, here's fullvid of this morning's mud-soaked yet exuberant Mass (homily text) on the grounds of Kenya's national university, which – as with the opening liturgies of Francis' recent visits to Latin America and the US in September – was focused on the evangelization of peoples and affirming the church's "missionary impulse" in the vein of Evangelii gaudium, Papa Bergoglio's governing manifesto which marks its second anniversary of release this week:

And tonight, on a soccer field, the Pope's meeting with the country's clergy and religious, at which the Pope (again) ditched his prepared text to speak off-the-cuff, with English translation:

Already well in evidence above, given the linchpin role of dance and chant that isn't Gregorian in African worship – and the epileptic fits they're bound to cause in at least some quarters over these days – what's arguably the most consequential piece of Evangelii again bears fresh recalling:

The People of God is incarnate in the peoples of the earth, each of which has its own culture. The concept of culture is valuable for grasping the various expressions of the Christian life present in God’s people. It has to do with the lifestyle of a given society, the specific way in which its members relate to one another, to other creatures and to God. Understood in this way, culture embraces the totality of a people’s life. Each people in the course of its history develops its culture with legitimate autonomy. This is due to the fact that the human person, “by nature stands completely in need of life in society” and always exists in reference to society, finding there a concrete way of relating to reality. The human person is always situated in a culture: “nature and culture are intimately linked”. Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it.

In these first two Christian millennia, countless peoples have received the grace of faith, brought it to flower in their daily lives and handed it on in the language of their own culture. Whenever a community receives the message of salvation, the Holy Spirit enriches its culture with the transforming power of the Gospel. The history of the Church shows that Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression, but rather, “remaining completely true to itself, with unswerving fidelity to the proclamation of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church, it will also reflect the different faces of the cultures and peoples in which it is received and takes root”. In the diversity of peoples who experience the gift of God, each in accordance with its own culture, the Church expresses her genuine catholicity and shows forth the “beauty of her varied face”. In the Christian customs of an evangelized people, the Holy Spirit adorns the Church, showing her new aspects of revelation and giving her a new face. Through inculturation, the Church “introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community”, for “every culture offers positive values and forms which can enrich the way the Gospel is preached, understood and lived”. In this way, the Church takes up the values of different cultures and becomes sponsa ornata monilibus suis, “the bride bedecked with her jewels” (cf. Is 61:10)”.

When properly understood, cultural diversity is not a threat to Church unity. The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, transforms our hearts and enables us to enter into the perfect communion of the blessed Trinity, where all things find their unity. He builds up the communion and harmony of the people of God. The same Spirit is that harmony, just as he is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. It is he who brings forth a rich variety of gifts, while at the same time creating a unity which is never uniformity but a multifaceted and inviting harmony. Evangelization joyfully acknowledges these varied treasures which the Holy Spirit pours out upon the Church. We would not do justice to the logic of the incarnation if we thought of Christianity as monocultural and monotonous. While it is true that some cultures have been closely associated with the preaching of the Gospel and the development of Christian thought, the revealed message is not identified with any of them; its content is transcultural. Hence in the evangelization of new cultures, or cultures which have not received the Christian message, it is not essential to impose a specific cultural form, no matter how beautiful or ancient it may be, together with the Gospel. The message that we proclaim always has a certain cultural dress, but we in the Church can sometimes fall into a needless hallowing of our own culture, and thus show more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal.

The Bishops of Oceania asked that the Church “develop an understanding and a presentation of the truth of Christ working from the traditions and cultures of the region” and invited “all missionaries to work in harmony with indigenous Christians so as to ensure that the faith and the life of the Church be expressed in legitimate forms appropriate for each culture”. We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture. It is an indisputable fact that no single culture can exhaust the mystery of our redemption in Christ.
With tomorrow's schedule starting on a visit to a Nairobi slum, more as the weekend ensues. For now, again, a beautiful Thanksgiving to one and all.