05/13/2007, 00.00
BRAZIL – VATICAN

Pope: Church has “irresistible missionary power”, no proselytism

Celebrating Mass to mark the opening of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences, Benedict XVI restated the role played by faith in the continent. Looking to the heavenly Jerusalem does not mean distancing oneself from the realities in the world. The family is at the heart of the mission of the Church.

Aparecida (AsiaNews) – “Animated and mobilized” by the love of Christ, the Church “releases an irresistible missionary power, the power of holiness”, has the family at the heart of its mission and expresses the mystery of the beauty of the heavenly Jerusalem. But “seeing it with the eyes of faith, contemplating it and yearning for it, must not serve as an excuse for avoiding the historical reality in which the Church lives as she shares the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted.”

The Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences was the chief reason for the journey of Benedict XVI to Brazil. Today, the last of the visit, was entirely given over to this event. A Eucharistic celebration in the morning and a direct address this afternoon allowed the Pope to express his thoughts about the meeting that represented, as he himself pointed out, the majority of the world’s Catholics. A meeting, Benedict XVI recalled today, that in the past has always seen the participation of popes: a message by Pius XII in 1955, for the first meeting, and the presence of Paul VI and John Paul II in others.

Celebrated in the big square outside the Marian shrine of Aparecida, the location of the conference, the Mass was a time for community. It also served as a mark of the value and significance of the Church in the continent and an opportunity to restate its missionary mandate across the planet. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the esplanade opposite the basilica to listen to Benedict XVI, greeting him with enthusiasm amid applause, hymns and the waving of flags.

First of all, the Pope reiterated the fact that “it is 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—who took flesh, died and rose in Jesus Christ—is the authentic basis for this hope which has brought forth such a magnificent harvest from the time of the first evangelization until today.”

And today it is a Church that must be “disciple and missionary”, “missionary only insofar as she is a disciple, capable of being attracted constantly and with renewed wonder by the God who has loved us and who loves us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10). 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, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfils her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.”

At the end of the Mass, before the recital of the Regina Caeli, the pope appealed: “May the Virgin Mary help you to keep alive the flame of faith, love and harmony, so that by the witness of your lives and by faithfulness to your baptismal vocation, you may be light and hope for humanity.” And delivering greetings in English and French to groups present for this prayer, the Pope once again affirmed – for the fourth time during this trip – that “families stand at the heart of the Church’s mission of evangelization, for it is in the home that our life of faith is first expressed and nurtured. Parents, you are the primary witnesses to your children of the truths and values of our faith: pray with and for your children; teach them by your example of fidelity and joy! Indeed, every disciple, spurred on by word and strengthened by sacrament, is called to mission. It is a duty from which no one should shy away, for nothing is more beautiful than to know Christ and to make him known to others!”

Finally, today’s anniversary of the apparition at Our Lady of Fatima prompted Benedict XVI to entrust to her “those peoples and nations that are in particular need, confident that she will not fail to heed the prayers we make to her with filial devotion. I remember in a special way those brothers and sisters who suffer from hunger. In this regard I want to mention the March against Hunger promoted by the World Food Programme, the United Nations agency responsible for food assistance. This initiative is taking place today in many cities worldwide.”

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