09/03/2012, 00.00
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The missionary spirit of Card. Martini

by Piero Gheddo
His commitment to the "distant" and non-Christians. His attention to the experience of the young Churches to learn enthusiasm for the faith. The real challenge to Christianity comes not from Buddhism, but secularism. His doubts on the premises of a "secular morality" without the support of Christianity.

Milan (AsiaNews) - Ahead of the funeral for Card. Carlo Maria Martini in the cathedral of Milan, Fr. Piero Gheddo presents us with some valuable and little-known aspects of the personality of the late archbishop of Milan, revealing that at heart he was an evangelizer and prophet in his attempts to proclaim Christ to the secular world. In this he anticipated the themes of the "new evangelization" and the Year of Faith launched by Benedict XVI. In a strange manipulation, that same liberal and enlightened world, the object of his attentions, has done all it can to claim that Card. Martini was on their "side" and against the Church of Wojtyla and Ratzinger. Even now it is manipulating his death, claiming that this great figure of faith was a proponent of euthanasia, by refusing aggressive treatment (which the entire Church rejects), or a supporter of civil unions. The world often uses the Church to go against the same Church. Pope Benedict XVI was right to dismiss the ideological opposition between "conservatives" and "progressives", saying that "he generously served the Gospel and the Church. "

The archbishop of Milan (1980-2002) Carlo Maria Martini was a towering figure in the Catholic Church of our time, even if his line of thought and pastoral action was not always understood and thus, at times, contested. In order to really understand him we must start from one of his most obvious features, uncommon in the episcopate, in the clergy and the people of God of the Christian West. He believed that those who have received from God the gift of faith must spend themselves completely in to communicate it to others, dialogue and involve those who do not know Christ or have distanced themselves from Him. I would say that he was a prophet of mission and I will explain why.

At the beginning of his episcopate, a pastor of the south-western outskirts of Milan invited me to speak to the faithful to prepare for the Cardinal's visit, which I then attended. At lunch, the archbishop asked the parish priest the following questions:

- How many people are there in your parish? About 15 thousand he answered.

- And those who usually attend the Sunday Masses? More or less 2 thousand.

- And what does the parish do for all the others? Do you have an out reach towards them? ".

- The priest replied with a joke: "Your grace, I and my two assistant parish priests, with the seven sisters of the two communities, thank the good Lord that others don't come. Otherwise, how would we assist them?". Then he said: "I've been in three parishes, but I've never heard the bishop ask me that question."

Saints and missionary churches

In 1983, when I would often fly to Rome in the early morning (returning the same afternoon) for meetings of the Italian Bishops on mission  or for the "Church Committee against hunger in the world," I was once in the queue for boarding, when I heard someone calling my name. It was Card. Martini, who said: "Sit with me, so we can get to know each other better." We hopped on the plane through a gate reserved for VIPs and we sat in reserved seats. After praying the Breviary, I asked the Archbishop a question, who swiftly replied and then said, "Tell you of your life as a missionary journalist." I began to speak bout it with enthusiasm but was quite nervous, so much so that Martini then asked me: "Why are you getting so worked up? Tell me calmly about this and that,,,,". I remember this because I was amazed that he had the ability, he seemed so cold and detached, to make me feel at ease, and then also his curiosity to know about the mid-set of missionaries who live in cultures and peoples so different from ours, and what convinces a pagan to be converted to Christ and change from one religion to another, and so on. In short, it was the opposite of what I had imagined, he asked questions and I answered and he was really interested in the proclamation and conversion of non-Christians that occurred and still occur in the missions.

In 1986 they called me from the Curia to ask me if I would agree to be part of the Pastoral Council of the Diocese of Milan for the next six years. I answered yes but added: "I know almost nothing of the diocese of Milan. I have lived here for many years, but I don't follow the life of the diocese being engaged in knowing and describing the missionary world." Shortly after I received a phone call from Card. Martini: "Father Gheddo, I myself appointed you to the Council so that you will bring the life and the voices of the missions into the diocese. I believe that we have much to learn from the young Churches, but perhaps we do not pay enough attention to this. I think you have great contribution to make to our discussions on various themes, you have gathered many examples and newness of life that the churches founded by missionaries can now give us a stimulus to our conversion to the Gospel. " I agreed and the Pastoral Council was serious in its intent. The issues were decided in advance and discussed first in the meetings of the deanery and then monthly meeting of the Council, where we gave written interventions, at the Villa of the Sacred Heart of Triuggio, from Saturday afternoon to Sunday after lunch all projected towards the desired goal: How does the Ambrosian diocese proclaim Christ to non-believers? Once the theme was the oratory and was discussed catechesis, discipline, relationships between priests and lay leaders, finances, the organization of various initiatives.  The Cardinal intervened to say that even the oratory is a '"good work" of the Church and quoted what Jesus said speaking of the lamp to be placed on the lampstand: "Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father"(Matt. 5: 16).

When the servant of God, Marcello Candia, who was a missionary Amazon, died (31 August 1983), the day before Martini had him visited the clinic St. Pius X and was impressed by his endurance of the terrible pain of liver cancer (he would later describe Marcello as a "man of the cross") and at the funeral he gave a moving eulogy. When his biography "Marcello of the Lepers" was published I personally delivered it to the Archbishop. A few months later he said: "I read the biography of Marcello Candia. Bravo, he really was a saint But you know the chapter that I liked the most? One of the last titled "A saint in spite of himself "in which you talk of Marcello defects, of his nature that made him difficult to live with at times, his scruples. It makes him a man like any other, not an embalmed saint in a niche. Thank you. " And then it was Cardinal Martini, who supported the proposal of his cause for beatification, without his intervention it might not have begun. He also gladly accepted the proposal to the Cause for Beatification of Clemente Vismara (in rogatorio for the diocese of Kengtung in Burma where Father Clement worked 65 years) and most recently cordially approved in writing the proposal to begin the Cause of Beatification of Bishop Aristide Pirovano (1915-1997), whom he visited in the Brazilian Amazon.

In the mid-'80s, Milan was governed by a socialist city council. Catholic hospitals and clinics were heavily penalized by a continuous monitoring. The medical director of the "Columbus", the hospital of the Sisters of Mother Cabrini (where I was assistant to the chaplain), Dr. Pasquale Cotza, would say to me: "Every week we are subjected to inspections by the police, the Fire Brigade, the health and safety board. They make us change the doors and other facilities, they even gave a hefty fine because the kitchen floor is slippery. If did inspected Niguarda [another Milanese hospital - ed] they would have to close the entire hospital. " The sisters already in a crisis of vocations, wanted to sell the clinic and asked the Cardinal for his opinion, who came to visit them and said loudly and clearly (I was there): "There is a plan in act to nationalize Catholic hospitals , we must react. Sisters, do not give in, Catholic health care has an exemplary value in this city and a great tradition. " The sisters did not sell the clinic, and this only thanks to the support given by the archbishop.

Missionary media, Buddhism and non-believers

Instead, when we met in Tokyo, Japan (1985 or 1986), in a speech at the Jesuit Sophia University he apologized for not being able to speak Japanese. I followed him in his various interventions and his solemn visit to Soka Gakkai, where among the fantastic scenery of the entrance stairway and the temple, I was able to take amazing photos. I remember saying, "Buddhism is as interesting as the non-Christian world in which the Catholic missions proclaim Christ, but the challenge to Christianity and the Catholic Church above all comes from the secularization, relativism, individualism and consumerist atheism of modernity."

On 2 December 1992, on the eve of the feast of St. Francis Xavier, Cardinal. Martini came to the PIME headquarters in Milan to open the meeting of the institute's missionaries engaged in the media on various countries. He said that the letters of St. Francis Xavier from the East were able to arouse interest and enthusiasm for the missions, and even today, he added, "have an extraordinary communicative power." Then, turning to us he asked, "We would like our missionary press to always be like this, to always have this communicative power of the Gospel through its reporting of news on the spread of the Gospel. In other words, I believe that the Christian people, reading missionary magazines, should be able to exclaim, "How beautiful are the feet of the messenger of glad tidings, who announces peace" ... Now I ask you: restore to us the wonder of the Gospel , give it to our communities, not only to the mission lands, but also to us. Be like St. Francis Xavier intermediary between the Indies, distant lands and the lands of Europe, so that this wonder may warm the hearts of all. " I had never before felt in such perfect harmony with the beloved archbishop.

One of Card. Martini's most important initiatives was "The cathedra of non-believers" that began in 1987, the non-believers (scientists, philosophers, scholars, academics, journalists, etc.) were invited to dialogue with the Archbishop on the human condition (the sense of pain, horizons and limits of science, of man before the silence of God, giving reason to our hope, the prayer of one who does not believe, etc..). I re-read the booklet "What do non-believers, believe? " [1]: the debate between Martini and Umberto Eco, to which other voices were added: Emanuele Severino, Manlio Sgalambro, Eugenio Scalfari, Indro Montanelli, Vittorio Foa, Claudio Martelli. The central issue posed by Martini was this: "What motivates the actions of those who intend to affirm and profess moral principals that can even demand the sacrifice of one's life, but who do not recognise a personal God?", "Where do secularists find the light of goodness ? ".

The archbishop added: "I know that there are persons who, despite not believing in a personal God, laid down their lives in order not to betray their moral convictions. But I can not understand their ultimate justification of their actions," and especially how the "secular morality" is so convincing for a large mass of humans. In short, "ethics needs truth" to have a firm, certain foundation, that gives hope beyond death, and this can only be transcendent, something that exceeds the limited weak, sinful man that we all know and all are. The cited authors respond with texts rich in philosophical and cultural influences, sometimes not easy to follow. The speech, however, remains on a philosophical-religious plane. "Secular ethics" can be supported with convincing arguments, but the concepts expressed in this book should be then verified in reality, and above all, as Martini said, it is still unclear how secular morality can be convincing for large human masses "(as is the case with religious morality).

Card. Martini, with his spirit of openness to others, was able to gain the respect and attention of the intellectuals and the media most distant from the Church. Presenting the Cathedra of unbelievers, Martini said that he the believer and non-believer was within him, "who are questioning each other, continually posing incisive interrogatives and disturbing each other, the non-believer in me makes the believer in me restless and vice versa. " Non-believers admired in him the fact that he did not judge anyone, he did not argue or impose anything, his civil and social commitment. His was a faith that "being with the other", not a "caring for each other because only this is important." No, the faith of Martini was very firm and clear, but also open to the pursuit of dialogue and confrontation with the arguments of others.

He did not want a sleeping faith, a Christian life of routine that counts for little in life. He wanted a faith that provokes Christian, makes them face non-believers and therefore to ask themselves if their life bears witness to Christ, if it is a light that shines and warms and illuminates, or a flickering flame of a candle or a yeast that tastes of nothing. The presence of non-believers close to us, in our own families and society, must make us wonder about the reasons for our hope and the strength of our faith. This is also a missionary spirit.


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