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August 2, 2013

Pope Francis visits Brazil World Youth Day -
A church that accompanies people -
Meeting Brazil's poor -
Accenting "pastoral care" -
Ideology blocks missionary discipleship -
The place of the young in church and society

In this edition:
1. Pope in Brazil accents pastoral care.
2. The revolution of tenderness.
3. A church that accompanies people.
4. Quoting the pope in Brazil:
a) Functionalist church.
b) Homosexual persons.
c) Encountering youths.
5. The pope and the poor.
6. Ideology in the church.
7. Past homily on ideology.
8. The youths of WYD.

1. The Pope in Brazil: Accent on Pastoral Care

A number of commentators noticed the pastoral tone of Pope Francis' July 22-28 visit to Brazil for World Youth Day. What I noticed, though, was that he not only spoke and acted in a pastoral manner, he spent time explaining precisely what "pastoral care" means and implies for church ministers.

"I would like to recall that 'pastoral care' is nothing other than the exercise of the church's motherhood. She gives birth, suckles, gives growth, corrects, nourishes and leads by the hand. . . . So we need a church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy," the pope explained in a July 27 address in Rio de Janeiro to Brazil's bishops.

He said, "Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of 'wounded' persons in need of understanding, forgiveness, love."

Pastoral care was among the pope's key themes when he met the next day with the coordinating committee of the Latin American bishops' conference, known as CELAM. He asked:

"Do we see to it that our work and that of our priests is more pastoral than administrative? Who primarily benefits from our efforts, the church as an organization or the people of God as a whole?"

The pope's remarks to the leaders of CELAM recalled the work of the May 2007 Fifth General Conference of Latin America's bishops in Aparecida, Brazil. "Aparecida wanted a church which is bride, mother and servant, a facilitator of faith and not an inspector of faith," he commented.

"The church is an institution, but when she makes herself a 'centre' she becomes merely functional and slowly but surely turns into a kind of NGO," Pope Francis told CELAM's leaders. When that happens, he said, the church "claims to have a light of her own, and she stops being that ['mystery of light'] of which the church fathers spoke."

Then, he said, the church "becomes increasingly self-referential and loses her need to be missionary. From an 'institution' she becomes an 'enterprise.' She stops being a bride and ends up being an administrator; from being a servant, she becomes an 'inspector.'"

Pope Francis said to CELAM's leaders that "Christ's followers are not individuals caught up in a privatized spirituality, but persons in community, devoting themselves to others." Reflecting upon "the spirit of Aparecida," he posed questions such as these:

"Do we promote opportunities and possibilities to manifest God's mercy?"

"Are we conscious of our responsibility for refocusing pastoral approaches and the functioning of church structures for the benefit of the faithful and society?"

"In practice, do we make the lay faithful sharers in the mission? Do we offer them the word of God and the sacraments with a clear awareness and conviction that the Holy Spirit makes himself manifest in them?"

"Is pastoral discernment a habitual criterion, through the use of diocesan councils? Do such councils and parish councils, whether pastoral or financial, provide real opportunities for lay people to participate in pastoral consultation, organization and planning?"

"As pastors, bishops and priests, are we conscious and convinced of the mission of the lay faithful, and do we give them the freedom to continue discerning, in a way befitting their growth as disciples, the mission which the Lord has entrusted to them?"

"Do we support [the lay faithful] and accompany them, overcoming the temptation to manipulate them or infantilize them?"

. . . 2. Pastoral Care and Tenderness

In speaking about the church's pastoral activity to CELAM's leaders, Pope Francis accented God's nearness to people and urged that the church resemble God by staying close to people. This also was a concern in 2007 at the Aparecida conference of Latin America's church leaders, he recalled.

"In Latin America and the Caribbean there are pastoral plans which are 'distant,' disciplinary pastoral plans which give priority to principles, forms of conduct, organizational procedures." These pastoral plans, he said, "clearly lack nearness, tenderness, a warm touch. They do not take into account the 'revolution of tenderness' brought by the incarnation of the Word."

Some pastoral plans are "designed with such a dose of distance that they are incapable of sparking an encounter: an encounter with Jesus Christ, an encounter with our brothers and sisters," Pope Francis said. "Such pastoral plans," he added, "can at best provide a dimension of proselytism, but they can never inspire people to feel part of or belong to the church."

Pope Francis stressed that importance of "nearness" in creating "communion and belonging; it makes room for encounter. Nearness takes the form of dialogue and creates a culture of encounter."

He said that "one touchstone for measuring whether a pastoral plan embodies nearness and a capacity for encounter is the homily. What are our homilies like? Do we imitate the example of our Lord, who spoke 'as one with authority,' or are they simply moralizing, detached, abstract?"

3. A Church That Accompanies People

"We need a church that kindles hearts and warms them," Pope Francis said when he met July 27 with Brazil's bishops. The church ought to accompany people, much as the risen Christ joined two confused disciples making their way to Emmaus - disciples who felt lost after the Lord's crucifixion.

"It is a fact that nowadays there are many people like the two disciples of Emmaus; not only those looking for answers in the new religious groups that are sprouting up, but also those who already seem godless, both in theory and in practice." Faced with such situations in people's lives, he asked what the church ought to do.

"We need a church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a church capable of entering into their conversation," Pope Francis said. He added:

"We need a church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning." He encouraged the bishops to ask themselves, "Are we still a church capable of warming hearts? A church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home?"

The way church ministers communicate with people can sometimes be a problem, Pope Francis suggested to Brazil's bishops. He said, "At times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people."

So the pope called attention to the importance of "the grammar of simplicity." He said that without it, "the church loses the very conditions which make it possible 'to fish for God in the deep waters of his mystery.'"

In contemporary times, people "are attracted by things that are faster and faster: rapid Internet connections, speedy cars and planes, instant relationships," Pope Francis observed. At the same time, he said, "we see a desperate need for calmness, I would even say slowness." The pope asked: "Is the church still able to move slowly: to take the time to listen, to have the patience to mend and reassemble? Or is the church herself caught up in the frantic pursuit of efficiency?"

He said to Brazil's bishops, "Let us recover the calm to be able to walk at the same pace as our pilgrims, keeping alongside them, remaining close to them, enabling them to speak of the disappointments present in their hearts and to let us address them."

4. Quoting Pope Francis in Brazil

A Functionalist Approach by the Church: "Functionalism. Its effect on the church is paralyzing. More than being interested in the road itself, it is concerned with fixing holes in the road. A functionalist approach has no room for mystery; it aims at efficiency. It reduces the reality of the church to the structure of an NGO. What counts are quantifiable results and statistics. The church ends up being run like any other business organization. It applies a sort of 'theology of prosperity' to the organization of pastoral work." (From the pope's remarks July 28 to the leaders of CELAM)

Homosexual Persons: "A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will -- well, who am I to judge him?" -- "The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn't this (homosexual) orientation; we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby." (Pope Francis -- making what possibly became the most-quoted remark of his trip to Brazil - speaking to reporters aboard the return flight to Rome; as quoted in a Catholic News Service story July 29 by Cindy Wooden. The report explained that the pope was addressing the issue of a reported gay lobby and said it is important to "distinguish between a person who is gay and someone who makes a gay lobby.")

How the Church Encounters the Young: "This first journey is about meeting the young people, but not in isolation from their lives. I would rather meet them within their social context, in society. Because when we isolate the young, we do them an injustice; we take away their 'belonging.' The young do belong, they belong to a family, to a homeland, to a culture, to a faith; they belong in all sorts of ways, and we must not isolate them! But in particular, we must not isolate them from the whole of society! They really are the future of a people: It is true. But not only they: They are the future because they have the strength, they are young, they will go forward. But at the other end of life, the elderly, they too are the future of a people. A people has a future if it goes forward with both elements: with the young, who have the strength, and things move forward because they do the carrying; and with the elderly because they are the ones who give life's wisdom." (Pope Francis speaking with journalists aboard his July 22 flight from Rome to Brazil)

5. The Pope and the Poor

"The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty," Pope Francis said when he paid a visit July 25 to Varginha, a slum district in Rio de Janeiro, one of the city's "favelas." He is not the first pope to visit a neighborhood of great poverty in Latin America. But this visit seemed to capture the world's attention somewhat uniquely. It offered the new pope an opportunity to drive home his message on the dignity of the poor, which up to now has been a central theme of his pontificate.

"Only when we are able to share do we become truly rich." That message was delivered forcefully by the pope in Varginha. "Everything that is shared is multiplied! Think of the multiplication of the loaves by Jesus," he said.

He thanked everyone for his welcome to Varginha. Then, underscoring the importance of a spirit of welcome, he said: "It is important to be able to make people welcome; this is something even more beautiful than any kind of ornament or decoration. I say this because when we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them -- some food, a place in our homes, our time -- not only do we no longer remain poor, we are enriched."

In Varginha, Pope Francis appealed to those who hold positions of authority and leadership within society to work for justice. "I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: Never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity! No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world," he said.

A "culture of selfishness and individualism," which often prevails in society, is not "what builds up and leads to a more habitable world. Rather, it is the culture of solidarity that does so; the culture of solidarity means seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters." It will not work for a society to push part of itself aside, to push the poor aside, Pope Francis told his listeners in Varginha. "No amount of 'peace-building' will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself."

Pope Francis said that "a society of that kind simply impoverishes itself, it loses something essential. We must never, never allow the throwaway culture to enter our hearts! We must never allow the throwaway culture to enter our hearts because we are brothers and sisters. No one is disposable!"

6. Ideology in the Church

The temptation to follow an ideology in one form or another is among the temptations working against the church's need to pursue "missionary discipleship" and to set all its day-to-day activities "in a missionary key," Pope Francis said when he addressed the leaders of CELAM, the Latin American bishops' conference, July 28.

Pope Francis has spoken out about ideology in the church before, but this time his text spelled out in greater detail his reasons for opposing ideological attitudes among the church's members in Latin America and, presumably, in other regions.

He mentioned "a few attitudes which are evidence of a church which is 'tempted.' It has to do with recognizing certain contemporary proposals which can parody the process of missionary discipleship and hold back, even bring to a halt, the process of pastoral conversion."

The temptation to make "the Gospel message an ideology" always "has been present in the church," Pope Francis observed. Turning the Gospel into an ideology involves "the attempt to interpret the Gospel apart from the Gospel itself and apart from the church," he said.

Among the forms that ideology may assume among church members, he mentioned sociological reductionism, psychologizing, the Gnostic solution and the Pelagian solution.

Elitism characterizes what Pope Francis termed "the Gnostic solution." Ordinarily, he said, this ideological approach is "found in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied, which ends up in a preoccupation with certain" disputed pastoral questions.

This, he pointed out, "was the first deviation in the early [Christian] community, and it reappears throughout the church's history in ever new and revised versions. Generally its adherents are known as enlightened Catholics (since they are in fact rooted in the culture of the Enlightenment)."

The pope said that "restorationism" characterizes "the Pelagian solution." When "dealing with the church's problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought" by those who adopt this approach. It involves "the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful."

In Latin America the Pelagian approach usually is "found in small groups, in some new religious congregations, in exaggerated tendencies toward doctrinal or disciplinary 'safety,'" the pope said. Basically this approach "is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to 'recover' the lost past."

Another form of ideology involves "sociological reductionism." This, Pope Francis said, "is the most readily available means of making the message an ideology. At certain times it has proved extremely influential."

Sociological reductionism, he explained, "involves an interpretative claim based on a hermeneutics drawn from the social sciences. It extends to the most varied fields, from market liberalism to Marxist categorization."

Psychologizing also was mentioned by the pope in the context of ideology. "Here we have to do with an elitist hermeneutics which ultimately reduces the 'encounter with Jesus Christ' and its development to a process of growing self-awareness."

This approach is "ordinarily to be found in spirituality courses, spiritual retreats, etc.," said the pope. "It ends up being an immanent, self-centered approach. It has nothing to do with transcendence and, consequently, with missionary spirit."

. . . 7. Past Homily on Ideology

In a morning homily April 19 at the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he lives, Pope Francis discussed ideology in the church. Ideologues, he suggested, "cut off the road of love and also that of beauty." In such ways, he indicated, ideologues reduce faith to "a matter of intellect." According to a Catholic News Service report on the homily, the pope said that "when ideology enters into the church, when ideology enters into our understanding of the Gospel, we understand nothing."

Ideologues "falsify the Gospel," Pope Francis stated. He said, "Every ideological interpretation, wherever it comes from -- from one side or the other -- is a falsification of the Gospel."

People guided by ideologies have been present "in the history of the church," the pope observed. These people, he commented, "end up being intellectuals without talent" or "ethicists without goodness." Moreover, he continued, ideologues "understand nothing" when it comes to beauty.

8. The Youths of WYD

Pope Francis traveled to Brazil to participate in the activities of World Youth Day. Naturally, that offered him the opportunity to address multitudes of youths from Brazil and around the world.

During his visit July 25 to the Varginha favela, he noted that youths "have a particular sensitivity toward injustice," but often are "disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good."

He said to young people "Never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished." For, "situations can change, people can change."

Pope Francis encouraged youths to "be the first to seek to bring good" and not to "grow accustomed to evil, but [to] defeat it with good." He said, "The church is with you, bringing you the precious good of faith, bringing Jesus Christ, who 'came that they may have life and have it abundantly.'" In remarks during the prayer vigil that always constitutes one of the major, as well as concluding, events of a World Youth Day, Pope Francis said to youths: "The Lord needs you, young people, for his church. My friends, the Lord needs you."

The pope added: "Today too, he is calling each of you to follow him in his church and to be missionaries. The Lord is calling you today! Not the masses, but you, and you, and you, each one of you."

Pope Francis expressed confidence in the youths. "I know that you want to be good soil, true Christians, authentic Christians, not part-time Christians -- 'starchy,' aloof and Christian in 'appearance only.' I know that you don't want to be duped by a false freedom, always at the beck and call of momentary fashions and fads. I know that you are aiming high, at long-lasting decisions which are meaningful."

He asked them: "Is that true, or am I wrong? Am I right? Good; if it is true, let's do this: In silence let us all look into our hearts and each one of us tell Jesus that we want to receive the seed of his Word."

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once was asked by some people what must change in the church, the pope recalled. Those people, he told the youths, asked: "Where is the starting point? And she replied, you and I are the starting point!"

Pope Francis described Mother Teresa as "a woman who "showed determination! She knew where to start. And today I make her words my own, and I say to you: Shall we begin? Where? With you and me!"