02/04/2020, 11.47
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Celibacy and mission in Asia and Europe

by Bernardo Cervellera

In Vietnam and other Asian countries, celibacy is accepted as a gift and a responsibility. Vocations also grow in the universal missionary dimension. The great value of the book of Card. Robert Sarah and Benedict XVI on ecclesiastical celibacy. The mud-slinging of two groups in the Church: the ‘Team Francis’ and those anti-Bergoglio. It is time to learn from the Churches of Asia.

Rome (AsiaNews) - I recently returned from a trip to Vietnam, where I visited several dioceses and met bishops and priests. I am still comforted by their witness: there are seminaries and convents full of young people, as well as packed churches on Sundays; there is no lack of vocations, where celibacy is welcomed as a gift and responsibility, as an almost natural, obvious grace.

The problem with these vocations is that due to the difficulties for religious freedom and past persecutions, young people do not always have models and teachers who can support them on their journey. It is also true that right now, even in Vietnam, there is a decline in vocations, caused by families with fewer children, by secularization, a fascination with urbanization and worldly success. But the enthusiasm with which young people embrace consecrated life in the priesthood and in the monastery is plain for everyone to see.

And it is also true that these young people and these vocations feel the duty to proclaim the Gospel not only in their country, but also abroad (of course: however much the government allows, given that not everyone is can obtain a passport). A bishop from the north of the country tells me that more and more young priests from his seminary are ready to serve the Church in neighboring countries as well. I myself have met Vietnamese priests in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and there are also several in Europe and the United States.

The point is that - as I have always experienced living in Asia in contact with many communities - Asian Catholics see the faith as a gift that revolutionizes life and completes it. The overabundance of this gift means that priestly celibacy and even a foreign mission abroad are accepted.

I returned from Asia the day after Cardinal Robert Sarah and Benedict XVI’s book on priestly celibacy was published, entitled "From the Depths of our Hearts". At Paris airport, I immediately took two copies (one to give away) and read it avidly: it is a profound and exhilarating reading.

I later learned that the next editions will not be co-signed, that they will only bear the signature of Card. Sarah, specifying that there is "an intervention" by Benedict XVI, but the content will be the same. Thus in reality this somewhat formal "correction" changes little regarding the value of the book. The pope emeritus offers an important reflection on the bond and development of the priesthood from the Old to the New Testament and points out that celibacy was required of priests from the earliest apostolic times. And this not as a "law", but out of ... convenience: for the total gift of the priest to be joined with the total gift of the Lord Jesus.

Card. Sarah’s intervention is even more passionate because he shows through his experience that the Church grows and produces vocations where priests live celibacy. Among other things, some experiences presented on AsiaNews are also mentioned.

It is truly saddening that such a beautiful and very useful book has been the target of a mud-slinging match between two emerging groups in the Church: the ‘Team Francis’ and those who are anti-Bergoglio. The former, saying they want to "defend Francis", suffocate and shoot down any contribution that does not come close to their trivially progressive and relativist agenda. The others, wanting to "defend Benedict", continually hammer the alleged errors of the present papacy, claiming tradition.

It is a pity that this involves celibacy – in a reductive vision as a law to be implemented or to be removed - and mission are involved. Especially when it is precisely mission, that is, the desire and passion for the world to know Christ, which should be the reason why we live and for which we have been given baptism, is lost in this ideological struggle and of mutual excommunication. Maybe it's time to learn from the churches of Asia.

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