11/26/2013, 00.00
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Pope: "A missionary and pastoral conversion" for a Church open to changing its structures

by Franco Pisano
The Apostolic Exhortation " Evangelii Gaudium”. Evangelization, the programmatic manifesto of the papacy, must find "new paths" and "creative methods" . A "healthy decentralization”. An economic system "unjust at its roots". "Authentic attacks on religious freedom". "There is an inseparable link between our faith and the poor ". " No one can demand from us that we relegate religion to the secret intimacy of the individual". Islamic countries must "ensure freedom to Christians to worship and live their faith."

Vatican City ( AsiaNews) - A Church where " the paradigm of every effort" is in mission which is open to the action of the Spirit and therefore is always ready to welcome - " not even the gates of the Sacraments should be closed for any reason " - and which must be ready to face the challenges posed by a culture that tends to " discard " the weak and the poor and finally, the "reform of church structures " , including the papacy.

This in extreme  synthesis is the Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium " which to Pope Francis, symbolically delivered last Sunday, the closing of the Year of Faith , to 36 representatives of the People of God and which was made ​​public today .

"The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus", begins "Evangelii Gaudium" which also takes in the conclusions of the Synod of 2012 on "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of Faith." At the same time the document is a manifesto of the papacy. "I want to emphasize - we read in n. 25- that what I am trying to ex­press here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all com­munities will devote the necessary effort to ad­vancing along the path of a pastoral and mis­sionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. "Mere administration" can no longer be enough.21 Throughout the world, let us be "permanently in a state of mission"".

Its a' pastoral conversion " to which you have to adapt all the "structures " of the Church, even reviewing customs "not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots"(No. 43) , in the logic of a " healthy decentralization." "The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal confer­ences are in a position "to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit".36 Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority" (n . 32).

And "Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every is­sue which arises in their territory "(n. . 16). In the same logic, there is a need for structures of participation to foster the responsibility of the laity held " at the edge of the decisions " by  "excessive clericalism " and " there is still a need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church"(n. 103) .

In this context, the starting point is the call to "recover the original freshness of the Gospel ," finding "new ways " and " creative methods " , Jesus is not to be imprisoned in our "boring patterns". And if proclaiming the Gospel is a " joy ", " an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! " (n. 10). And the homily must speak "heart to heart" and avoid being "purely moralistic or doctrinaire" (n. 142).

In the " Missionary transformation of the Church ," which appears to be the goal of this pontificate , the first point specified by the document is that "the word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him "to go forth" since Abraham . "And so the biggest threat of all gradually takes shape: "the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to pro­ceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness" (n. 83) .

"In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, with­out hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded"(n. 23). "An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be" (n. 24). "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rath­er than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures."(n. 49) .

This is demanded by the challenges of the contemporary world in which there is a system that is "unjust at its root ." "Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the sur­vival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of peo­ple find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a "throw away" culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society's underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised - they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the "ex­ploited" but the outcast, the "leftovers" (n. 53).

This also explains "authentic attacks on religious freedom " or "new persecutions directed against Christians; in some countries these have reached alarming levels of hatred and violence. In many places, the problem is more that of widespread indifference and relativism, linked to disillusionment and the crisis of ideol­ogies which has come about as a reaction to any-thing which might appear totalitarian". In "a culture in which everyone wants to be the bearer of its own subjective truth " (n. 61) , which has also undermined the family.

"Evangelii Gaudium" states that "From the heart of the Gospel we see the profound connection between evangelization and human advancement, which must necessarily find expression and develop in every work of evangelization. Accepting the first proclamation, which invites us to receive God's love and to love him in return with the very love which is his gift, brings forth in our lives and ac­tions a primary and fundamental response: to de­sire, seek and protect the good of others. "(n. 178 ) . "Consequently, no one can demand that re­ligion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the mes­sage of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta?" (No. 183).

And if "it is necessary to state bluntly that there is an inseparable link between our faith and the poor " (No. 48) , the document reaffirms the search for " a poor Church for the poor " because "as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved... no solution will be found for the world's problems". " "The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises" (No. 202).

But for poor the Exhortation intends not only to traditionally poor , but also the "new poor " , " the homeless , drug addicts , refugees , indigenous peoples , the elderly, increasingly alone and abandoned", but  migrants (no. 210 ) and also the "slaves " who are "in clandestine warehous­es, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labour" (n. 211). " Doubly poor are women who suffer from situations of exclusion , abuse and violence , they often find themselves with fewer opportunities to defend their rights " (n. 212) .

"The most defenseless and innocent of all " , finally, are " unborn babies" and "nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity (213). "the Church cannot be ex­pected to change her position on this question... It is not "progressive" to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life" (214) .

Once it establishes the link between evangelization and human promotion , the Exhortation then states that evangelization is also dialogue . Starting with the ecumenical dialogue . "Com­mitment to a unity which helps them to accept Jesus Christ can no longer be a matter of mere diplomacy or forced compliance, but rather an indispensable path to evangelization" (n. 246) . " How many things we can learn from each other ." "To give but one exam­ple, in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality. " (246) . And "dialogue and friendship with the people of Israel are part of the life of the disciples of Jesus" ( 248) .

"Interreligious dialogue " , then , to be pursued " with a clear and joyful ," is " a necessary condition for peace in the world." In this field "our relationship with the believers of Islam becomes important". "The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admi­rable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services". "

We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Mus­lim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respect­ed in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Chris­tians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of  Islam enjoy in Western countries! Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamen­talism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence. "(n. 252) .

Dialogue, finally , even with non-believers , but "The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious tra­ditions" (No. 255 ) .

The fifth and final chapter is devoted to the " Spirit-filled evangelizers", which "means that evangelizers are open without fear to the action of the Holy Spirit.". "Spirit-filled evangelizers are evangelizers who pray and work. Mystical notions without a solid social and missionary outreach are of no help to evangelization, nor are dissertations or social or pastoral practices which lack a spiritual­ity which can change hearts. These unilateral and incomplete proposals only reach a few groups and prove incapable of radiating beyond them because they curtail the Gospel" (n. 262) .

We need "evangelizers who pray and work " knowing that "the mission is a passion for Jesus, but at the same time , it is a passion for his people ." "In our relationship with the world we are invited to give a reason for our hope , but not as enemies who point the finger and condemn " (n. 271 ) .

The Exhortation ends with a prayer to Mary. "Mother of the living Gospel to intercede that this invitation to a new phase of evangelization will be accepted by the en­tire ecclesial community. Mary is the woman of faith, who lives and advances in faith,214 and "her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church".215 Mary let herself be guided by the Holy Spirit on a journey of faith towards a destiny of service and fruitfulness. Today we look to her and ask her to help us proclaim the message of salvation to all and to enable new disciples to become evan­gelizers in turn"(n. 287) .



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See also
Bishop of Daejeon: Evangelii Gaudium, a compass for the Korean Church
Pope to end the Year of Faith with Apostolic Exhortation 'Evangelii gaudium'
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Andhra Pradesh, a study of Evangelii Gaudium for the Year of Consecrated Life
Indian Jesuit: Re-reading the Bible to better understand Evangelii Gaudium


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