By Francis X. Rocca
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In his first extensive piece of writing as pope, Pope Francis lays out a vision of the Catholic Church dedicated to evangelization in a positive key, with a focus on society’s poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged and unborn.
“Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), released by the Vatican Nov. 26, is an apostolic exhortation, one of the most authoritative categories of papal document. (Pope Francis’ first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei,” published in July, was mostly the work of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.)
The pope wrote the new document in response to the October 2012 Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, but declined to work from a draft provided by synod officials.
Pope Francis’ voice is unmistakable in the 50,000-word document’s relatively relaxed style — he writes that an “evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” — and its emphasis on some of his signature themes, including the dangers of economic globalization and “spiritual worldliness.”
The church’s message “has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary,” he writes. “In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead.”
Inspired by Jesus’ poverty and concern for the dispossessed during his earthly ministry, Pope Francis calls for a “church which is poor and for the poor.”
The poor “have much to teach us,” he writes. “We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voices to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”
Charity is more than mere handouts, “it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor,” the pope writes. “This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.”
Yet he adds that the “worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. … They need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith.”
Pope Francis reiterates his earlier criticisms of “ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation,” which he blames for the current financial crisis and attributes to an “idolatry of money.”
He emphasizes that the church’s concern for the vulnerable extends to “unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us,” whose defense is “closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”
“A human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development,” the pope writes, in his strongest statement to date on the subject of abortion. “Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.”
The pope writes that evangelization entails peacemaking, among other ways through ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. He “humbly” calls on Muslim majority countries to grant religious freedom to Christians, and enjoins Catholics to “avoid hateful generalizations” based on “disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism,” since “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Quran are opposed to every form of violence.”
Pope Francis characteristically directs some of his strongest criticism at his fellow clergy, among other reasons, for what he describes as largely inadequate preaching.
The faithful and “their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies,” he writes: “the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!”
The pope devotes several pages to suggestions for better homilies, based on careful study of the Scriptures and respect for the principle of brevity.
Pope Francis reaffirms church teaching that only men can be priests, but notes that their “sacramental power” must not be “too closely identified with power in general,” nor “understood as domination”; and he allows for the “possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the church’s life.”
As he has done in a number of his homilies and public statements, the pope stresses the importance of mercy, particularly with regard to the church’s moral teaching. While lamenting “moral relativism” that paints the church’s teaching on sexuality as unjustly discriminatory, he also warns against overemphasizing certain teachings out of the context of more essential Christian truths.
In words very close to those he used in an oft-quoted interview with a Jesuit journalist in August, Pope Francis writes that “pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed,” lest they distract from the Gospel’s primary invitation to “respond to the God of love who saves us.”
Returning to a theme of earlier statements, the pope also warns against “spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the church, (but) consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being,” either through embrace of a “purely subjective faith” or a “narcissistic and authoritarian elitism” that overemphasizes certain rules or a “particular Catholic style from the past.”
Despite his censures and warnings, the pope ends on a hopeful note true to his well-attested devotion to Mary, whom he invokes as the mother of evangelization and “wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones.”
Pope frames vision for church outreach at every level
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Here are a few of the main features of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), which was released Nov. 26 at the Vatican:
— With a mix of conversational style and formal papal magisterial language, Pope Francis sets forth a vision for giving the entire church, at every level, a missionary thrust; he anticipates some objections and confusion, but asks everyone to give it a try.
— He calls for renewal and rethinking the way every person and every institution — from the pope and the Roman Curia down to the parish and its parishioners — live their faith and focus their energies.
— The pope recognizes the church must be realistic about the challenges individuals and the world pose to belief today, but — as a Jesuit — he encourages an Ignatian reading of the situation, looking for the people, places and trends where God is present. The practice should lead to greater consolation, joy and courage in sharing the Gospel.
— Pope Francis sees the Christian life as being based on knowing and experiencing God’s love, mercy and salvation offered to all through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Evangelization programs and catechesis must be designed to help people return to that basic knowledge and experience and help them understand church teaching in light of God having revealing himself as loving and merciful.
— He apologetically spends a long section of the document talking about the importance of homilies as the one opportunity each week most priests have to encourage Catholics to live the faith. He provides detailed suggestions on reading the biblical texts for the Mass, writing the homily and delivering it.
— The pope recognizes that some church teachings and positions on modern issues are confusing to many people, especially outside the church. He affirms church teaching that women cannot be priests since Jesus chose only men as his apostles, but he also says women must be involved more in church decision making. He also insists that the defense of the life of the unborn flows from the conviction that every life is sacred, and is a position that will not change.
— Pope Francis says that the heart of the Christian moral message is love for one another, which must motivate Christians to share the Gospel, help the poor and work for social justice.
— He warns of “spiritual worldliness” which leads apparently good Catholics to be concerned almost exclusively with power or appearances or judging others rather than recognizing their own sin and reaching out to others with the same mercy God offers them.
— The pope highlights Mary not only as a model of faith and fidelity, but as a strong woman and mother who shared many of the joys and sorrows facing people today and, therefore, understands the challenges they face.
Pope: Opposition to abortion isn’t ‘conservative,’ it’s result of faith
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Defending human dignity and protecting society’s most vulnerable necessarily means protecting the unborn and defending their right to life, Pope Francis said in his apostolic exhortation.
Writing in “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis said the church’s opposition to abortion is not a “conservative” political position, but is a key part of its claim that God created and loves each person and that believers have an absolute obligation to defend those whose basic right to life is under attack.
“Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the church cannot be expected to change her position on this question,” Pope Francis wrote in the document, which was released Nov. 26 at the Vatican.
“I want to be completely honest in this regard,” he said. Acknowledging confusion in the general public between the reforms of church structures he has called for and expectations that he could change some church teaching, he said the church’s opposition to abortion “is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations.'”
“A human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development,” he wrote. “Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.”
The “defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right,” he said.
While some people ridicule the church’s opposition to abortion or present it “as ideological, obscurantist and conservative,” he said, “it is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”
Pope Francis said unfortunately it is true that, as a whole, the church has “done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty.”
Still, he said, the church is called to show particular care for the vulnerable and today the unborn are “the most defenseless and innocent among us.”
“Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life,” the pope wrote, “but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, ‘every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offense against the creator of the individual.'”
Vatican officials say pope’s document provides map for church’s future
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on sharing the joy of the Gospel is a call to faith-filled optimism, recognizing challenges but knowing that God’s love and lordship will prevail, said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, introducing the text to the media.
The archbishop, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, told reporters Nov. 26 that “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), is “an invitation to recover a prophetic and positive vision of reality without ignoring the current challenges.”
When the pope writes about the reform of church structures to be always missionary or the need to improve homilies or the obligation to reach out to the poor first of all or his insistence that the church always will defend the life of the unborn, Archbishop Fisichella said, “the cement which binds all these themes together is concentrated in the merciful love of God.”
At the Vatican news conference to present the papal document, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Pope Francis wrote it himself in Spanish, mostly during his August vacation.
Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said the exhortation “has an almost conversational feel to it which reflects a unique and profound pastoral sensitivity.”
In calling for the reform of church structures at every level and a change of attitude on the part of all Catholics in order to give priority to sharing the Gospel of God’s love and mercy with all, he said, the pope uses “the simple, familiar and direct language that has been the hallmark” of his style since becoming pope in March.
Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, said Pope Francis took the suggestions made by the 2012 Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, “made them his own, re-elaborating them in a personal way” and coming up with “a programmatic, exhortative document” on mission in the fullest sense.
“Evangelii Gaudium” is not a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, he said, “because its scope goes well beyond the discussions of the synod.”
Archbishop Fisichella called the document “a map and guide” for the church’s pastoral mission and work in the world.
Pope Francis does not simply prescribe changes for parishes and dioceses, Archbishop Baldisseri explained, he also recognizes a need to give “special attention to the exercise of primacy” by the pope.
In the document, Pope Francis wrote, “Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.”
Pope Francis noted how in the 1995 encyclical “Ut Unum Sint” (“That All May be One”), Blessed John Paul II “asked for help in finding ‘a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.’ We have made little progress in this regard,” Pope Francis said.
Both Archbishops Fisichella and Baldisseri noted how Pope Francis in the apostolic exhortation expresses a need for the church to return to the Second Vatican Council and find concrete ways to ensure the world’s bishops, united with the pope, exercise collegiality or shared responsibility for the mission of the church.
He also, Archbishop Fisichella said, sees a need for the church to move “from a bureaucratic, static and administrative vision of pastoral ministry to a perspective which is not only missionary, but is in a permanent state of evangelization.”
Several of the questions at the news conference involved Pope Francis’ affirmation in the document that in its teaching and preaching, the church must “concentrate on what is essential.”
Archbishop Fisichella said Pope Francis wants to avoid “the danger of presenting the faith only in the light of some moral questions as if these could stand apart from the centrality of love.”
It is love for every human person, particularly the weakest and poorest, that must motivate the action of the church and all its members, the pope wrote. Archbishop Fisichella said that applies not only to what individuals do in their homes or the church does in its institutions, but requires the church and its members to claim their voice in public and lobby for laws that respect human life and give justice to the poor.
Archbishop Fisichella said people cannot read the document as if the pope were saying the church’s pastoral work can go in one direction and its doctrinal teaching can go in another. “Doctrine is how the church understands the faith, which must be lived out. Pastoral work helps Catholics to live it.”
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