11/06/2019, 13.09
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Maximum Illud and the 'Pachamama' affair (Part Two)

by Bernardo Cervellera

Traditionalists and progressives are seeking to overcome indifference towards God and neighbor. But they are floundering amid contradictions. We must move in the world, "going out", but by communicating the life of Christ. As with the "Pachamama" affair, there was no synthesis between dialogue and proclamation.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The second part of the reflection on the centenary of the Maximum Illud, for a resumption of the mission ad gentes and the "missionary transformation of life and pastoral care". For Part One click here.


In addition to "gray pragmatism", there is another problem that Francis always highlights when he speaks of Gnosticism and neo-paganism: indifference to God.

If there is one thing that characterizes our world it is precisely indifference towards God, which then also translates into indifference towards others. This double indifference, which is really only one, is characteristic of the West, but it is also perceptible in many mission countries.

This is visible in India for example, where there are huge and impersonal urbanizations, but also in Japan or Korea ...

Among Christians, indifference towards God and towards others usually encounters two types of response. Faced with the emptying of churches and the absence of young people, there is the temptation to reinforce outreach to those who remain. Thus in the parish, in the diocese, in the group, vigils are growing, Lectio Divina, pilgrimages, etc .: opportunities to keep the faith alive in those who have remained. Quite often, this attitude slides towards a somewhat traditionalist trend: "We have to do things the way we used to do them, otherwise everyone will leave!"

Instead the other response is to implement a dominant social activism. To reach people distant from the Church, I have to go out and be everywhere, I encounter the mafia, non-mafia, prostitutes I reach out to the LGBTQ, community etc. This would make sense if it is part of a testimony of faith. Unfortunately, from so many people, even priests, who commit themselves in this way - for example against rape, against the mafia, against pollution ... - we hear little of Jesus Christ.

Faced with these two attitudes, what Benedict XV and Francis say are important: to redevelop the life of the Christian as a mission. What does it mean? That I am taken to participate in the life of Christ, and that the life of Christ be communicated. Mission, then, is not primarily activity, values, rites, but the life of Christ and this life of Christ can be seen from our humanity reshaped by Christ himself.

It is evident that here we are talking about the two tensions present in the Church, the traditionalist and the progressive, which both risk a Pelagian position (that is, that salvation comes from one's own efforts).


Both tensions emphasize important points, but then make them their whole horizon: on the one hand an identity is emphasized; on the other hand the commitment in the world is underlined. The point is that these things must go together. The Church exists for the world, not for itself. It exists to communicate the life of Jesus Christ to the world; therefore the direction of the Church is always the world. Pope Francis’s catchphrase which has become a slogan, "an outgoing Church" is very important: the Church tends to always meet those who are not Christians, but Christians "go out" not to walk, or do business, or make their own ideologies. The Church goes out to meet those who are not Christians to whom to offer their faith. This is why Maximum Illud is important, because in it is said: "The Church exists only to communicate the life of faith". And Pope Francis in his Message for Mission Sunday 2019 says: " This divine life is not a product for sale – we do not practise proselytism – but a treasure to be given ": it is Christ himself whom we carry, not first of all our actions, our sociological analysis, our work; our rituals, or our perfect ceremonies.


The "Pachamama" affair

This void between "traditionalist identities" and "progressive dialogists" was on show during the Synod on the Amazon, with the "Pachamama" affair. These are statuettes-amulets of deity of fecundity, which on October 4 Pope Francis took to the Vatican gardens to place them near a tree planted for the occasion. In the end, the Amazon Indians who had transported the statuettes bowed in prayer; the Pope recited the Our Father, the true source of all fruitfulness, for the good progress of the Synod that was about to begin. The traditionalists have judged the ceremony "an act of idolatry", even if in itself it can be read as a gesture of respect towards the Indian culture. In the following days the "Pachamama" statuetters were placed in a church near the Vatican - S. Maria in Traspontina - and a missionary center even prepared a "prayer to the Pachamama". This further rooted the conviction among the traditionalists that the situation was sliding into one of idolatry and witchcraft, so much so that someone took the statuettes from the church of S. Maria in Traspontina and threw them into the Tiber. The Pope apologized for the gesture of intolerance and had the statuettes recovered which were them brought to the synod hall, but not to the St. Peter’s basilica, as was previously planned.

Here too those who demanded "identity" and those who wanted "dialogue with the world (and religions)" clashed and opposed each other. Mission heals this opposition. We missionaries value the religious elements present in other peoples: even St. Paul, speaking to the Athenians (Acts 17), praised their religiosity and altar to the "unknown God". From this point of view the scandal of the traditionalists is exaggerated. But it is also true that St. Paul added: "What you worship without knowing, I announce to you". This aspect was missed at the enthusiastic "Pachamama" ceremonies. Indeed, during the Synod it was even discovered that bishops and priests in the Amazon often keep silent about the announcement of Christ and refuse to baptize the Indios in order not to "ruin" their culture! As if Christ were not the fulfillment of every religion and culture!

 (End of Part Two)

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