Monday, September 13, 2010

On "Superficial Evangelization"

Another day... another dollar... and yet another heat-packed B16 ad limina address to the bishops of Brazil, the world's largest Catholic country.

Via Zenit, here's a snip:
More than five centuries ago, precisely in your region, the first Mass was celebrated in Brazil, making really present the Body and Blood of Christ for the sanctification of the men and women of this blessed nation which was born under the auspices of the Holy Cross. It was the first time that the Gospel of Christ was being proclaimed to this people, illumining their daily life. This evangelizing action of the Catholic Church was and continues to be fundamental in the constitution of the identity of the Brazilian people, characterized by harmonious coexistence between persons coming from different regions and cultures. However, whereas the values of the Catholic faith have molded Brazilian hearts and spirit, observed today is a growing influence of new elements of society, which a few decades ago were practically foreign. This causes a consistent abandonment by many Catholics of the ecclesial life and even of the Church, while witnessed in the religious picture of Brazil is the rapid expansion of Evangelical and neo-Pentecostal communities.

In a certain sense, the reasons that are at the root of the success of these groups are a sign of the widespread thirst for God among your people. It is also a sign of an evangelization, at the personal level, which at times is superficial; in fact, those who are baptized and who are not sufficiently evangelized, are easily influenced, as they have a fragile faith, and many times it is based on simple devotion, although, as I have said, they preserve an innate religiosity.

Emerging in this context, on one hand, is the clear necessity that the Catholic Church in Brazil commit herself to a new evangelization that spares no efforts in the search for lapsed Catholics, as well as for persons who know little or nothing of the evangelical message, leading them to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, living and active in his Church.

Moreover, with the growth of new groups that call themselves followers of Christ, though divided in different communities and confessions, all the more necessary, on the part of Catholic pastors, is the commitment to establish bridges of contact through a healthy ecumenical dialogue in truth.

That effort is necessary, first of all, because division between Christians is in opposition to the will of the Lord that "all be one" (John 17:21). Moreover, the lack of unity is cause of scandal that ends by undermining the credibility of the Christian message proclaimed in society. And today, its proclamation is, perhaps, more necessary than a few years ago, given, as your reports show, that even in the small cities of the interior of Brazil, one witnesses a growing negative influence of intellectual and moral relativism in people's life.

The search for Christian unity has not a few obstacles before it. In the first place, to be rejected is an erroneous view of ecumenism, which induces to a certain doctrinal indifference that attempts to level, in an a-critical Ireneism, all "opinions" in a sort of ecclesiological relativism. Together with this is the challenge of the incessant multiplication of new Christian groups, some of them using an aggressive proselytism, which shows how the landscape of ecumenism continues to be very differentiated and confused. In that context -- as I affirmed in 2007 in the Sé Cathedral in São Paulo, in the unforgettable meeting that I had with you, Brazilian bishops -- "indispensable is a good historical and doctrinal formation, which will allow the necessary discernment and help to understand the specific identity of each one of the communities, the elements that divide and those that help in the path of the construction of unity. The great common realm of collaboration should be the defense of the fundamental moral values, transmitted by biblical tradition, against their destruction in a relativist and consumerist culture; more than that, faith in God the Creator and in Jesus Christ, his incarnate Son"....

Esteemed brothers, the dialogue between Christians is an imperative of the present time and an irreversible option of the Church. However, as Vatican Council II reminds, at the heart of all efforts for unity must be prayer, conversion and sanctification of life (cf. "Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 8). It is the Lord who gives unity, this is not a creation of men, it is up to pastors to obey the Lord's will, promoting concrete initiatives, free of any conformist reductionism, but carried out with sincerity and realism, with patience and perseverance which spring from faith in the providential action of the Holy Spirit.
For the record, no word has yet emerged on when the Stateside bench -- its last "quinquennial" visit in 2004 -- will finally return to Rome for its traditional pilgrimage and report....

When the time finally comes, though, one would be wise to expect the motherlode. Maybe even an avalanche.

* * *
On a related note -- and an especially salient one, given what's just ahead -- it's worth noting that, in Britain, what tends to Benedict's "toughest" of speeches on the road as content goes (namely, that to the bishops of his host-country) has been conspicuously scheduled as the final item of the four-day trek, to take place Sunday afternoon just before the pontiff zips off to Birmingham Airport and his departure for Rome.

Contextwise, it bears mentioning that not every one of B16's host episcopates has received a PopeTalk -- just those to which the Boss has a particularly pointed thing or two to say (e.g. the French and Americans in 2008, the Portuguese earlier this year). Even those, however, were nowhere near his last word on their soil.

Some 90 minutes have been set aside for the encounter... and by the looks of it, it should be a very memorable one.

PHOTOS: Getty(1)