Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The Gospel of Matthew talks about the "compassion of Jesus who, before the crowds, saw them tired and haggard, like sheep without a shepherd." Reflected in this image are the many "tired and haggard" people who "wait for the Church, who wait for us. How can we reach them? How can we share with them the experience of faith, God's love, the encounter with Jesus? This is the responsibility of our communities and pastoral ministry."
Pope Francis made these remarks during his address before the participants in the international meeting "The Pastoral Project of 'Evangelii gaudium'", organised by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation, currently underway in the Vatican from 18 to 20 September.
The pastor's task and the heart of his commitment, the pontiff explained, must come from listening and meeting others, but they must be supported by prayer and meditation. Given the difficulties and disappointments that are not uncommon in pastoral work, "we cannot fail to trust the Lord and prayer that sustains it."
Speaking about his apostolic exhortation, the Pope said that it has a "programmatic meaning and important consequences" because "it is about the main mission of the Church, that of evangelising! There are times, however, when this mission becomes more urgent and our responsibility needs to be revived."
In view of this, Francis urged people not to give in to pessimism. "In the midst of negative realities, which always make the most noise, we also see many signs that inspire hope and give courage," he said. Yet, we must realise " unfortunately how much poverty and loneliness we see in today's world! How many people live in great suffering and ask the Church to be a token of closeness, kindness, solidarity and the Lord's mercy. This task falls in particular on those who have the responsibility for pastoral care".
In view of so many pastoral needs, warned the pope, "we run the risk of becoming scared and turning inward in an attitude of fear and defence. From this comes the temptation of conceit and clericalism, codifying the faith in rules and instructions, as the scribes, the Pharisees and the lawyers did in Jesus' time. Everything will be clear, neat and tidy, but the people of believers who search will continue to hunger and thirst for God."
There is another aspect of pastoral work that is likely to become an obstacle. "Please, let us not go after the voice of sirens that would turn the pastoral ministry into a disjointed set of initiatives, unable to grasp the essentials of the commitment to evangelisation. Sometimes we seem to be more concerned about multiplying our activities rather than paying attention to people and their encounter with God."
If we yield to this temptation, we could end up with a "pastoral ministry without prayer and contemplation," which "can never reach people's hearts," and which "will stop at the surface without allowing the seed of the Word of God to take root, sprout, grow and bear fruit."
What we need, said the pontiff in concluding, are "patience and perseverance. We do not have the 'magic wand' for everything, but we do have confidence in the Lord who accompanies us and never abandons us."
"Amid the difficulties and disappointments that are not uncommon in our pastoral work, our trust in the Lord and in prayer that sustains it should never fail. Let us not forget, however, that we receive help in the first place from those we approach and support. Let us do good without expecting a reward. Let us sow and bear witness. Bearing witness is the start of evangelisation that touches the heart and transforms it. "