Q-And-A Session With Parish Priests (Part 2)
"To Be in the Church … Means to Be in the Prospect of a Great Opening to the Future"
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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 4, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met last Thursday with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome for a question-and-answer session. Here is a translation of the second question and the Holy Father's answer.
ZENIT will be publishing these transcriptions over the coming days. The first question was published Tuesday.
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[Father Fabio Rosini:]
I am Father Fabio Rosini, parish priest of St. Francesca Romana all'Ardeatino. In the face of the present process of secularization and of its evident social and existential consequences, [and] the exhortation to the urgency of the first proclamation -- which on many occasions we have opportunely received from your magisterium, in admirable continuity with your venerable predecessor -- [the exhortation] to pastoral zeal for evangelization or re-evangelization, to the assumption of a missionary mentality, we have understood the importance of the conversion of ordinary pastoral action, no longer presupposing the faith of the masses and contenting ourselves with taking care of that portion of believers that perseveres, thank God, in the Christian life, but becoming involved more decisively and organically with the many lost, or at least disoriented, sheep.
In many and with different points of view, we Roman priests have tried to respond to this objective urgency to reignite or even ignite the faith. The experiences of first proclamation are multiplying, and there is no lack of very encouraging experiences. Personally, I can confirm how the Gospel, proclaimed with joy and frankness, takes no time to win the hearts of the men and women of this city, precisely because it is the truth and corresponds to what the human person most profoundly needs. The beauty of the Gospel and of the faith, in fact, if presented with kind authenticity, are evident in themselves. But the numeric result, perhaps surprisingly high, does not in itself guarantee the goodness of an initiative. There is no lack of examples in the history of the Church, including recently. A pastoral success, paradoxically, might conceal an error, a defect in its approach, which perhaps is not seen immediately.
That is why I want to ask you: What must be the indispensable criteria of this urgent action of evangelization? In your view, what are the elements that guarantee that one does not run in vain in the pastoral effort of proclamation to this generation contemporary to us? I ask you humbly to point out to us, in your prudent discernment, the parameters, the elements that must be respected and valued to be able to carry out an evangelizing endeavor that is genuinely Catholic and that bears fruits for the Church. My heartfelt thanks for your illumined magisterium. Bless us.
I am happy to hear that this first proclamation is being made, which goes beyond the limits of the faithful community, of the parish, in search of the so-called lost sheep, that an attempt is being made to go to the man of today who lives without Christ, who has forgotten Christ, to proclaim the Gospel to him. And I am happy to hear that not only is this being done, but that numerically comforting successes also are obtained from this. I see, therefore, that you are able to talk to those people in which the faith must be re-ignited or even ignited.
I can give no recipes for this concrete endeavor, because there are different paths to follow, according to the individuals, their professions, the distinct situations. The Catechism points out the essence of what must be proclaimed. But it is he who knows the situations who must apply the indications, find a method to open hearts and invite persons to walk on the path with the Lord and with the Church.
You speak of the criteria of discernment so as not to run in vain. I would like to say first of all that the two parts are important. The community of the faithful is something precious that we must not underestimate -- even looking at the many who are far away -- the beautiful and positive reality that these faithful constitute, who say yes to the Lord in the Church, trying to live the faith, trying to follow in the footsteps of the Lord. We must help these faithful, as we said a moment ago responding to the first question, to see the presence of the faith, to understand that it is not something of the past, but that it shows the way today, it teaches how to live as a man. It is very important that these faithful really find in their parish priest a pastor who loves them and helps them to listen today to the Word of God, to understand that it is a Word for them and not only for people of the past or the future, to help them even more, in the sacramental life, in the experience of prayer, in listening to the Word of God, and on the path of justice and charity, because Christians should be the leaven of our society with so many problems, with so many dangers and with as much corruption as there is.
In this way I believe that they can also play a missionary role "without words," given that they are people who really live a just life. And thus they offer a testimony of how it is possible to live well on the paths indicated by the Lord. Our society needs precisely these communities that are able to live justice today, not only for themselves but for others. Persons who are able to live, as we heard in the first reading, the life. At the beginning, this reading says: "Choose life;" it's easy to say yes. But then it continues: "Your life is God." Therefore, to choose life is to choose the option for life, because it is the option for God. If there are persons or communities that make this choice of life and make visible the fact that the life they have chosen is really life, they give witness of very great value.
And I come to a second reflection. We need two elements for the proclamation: the Word and witness. As we know from the Lord himself, the Word is necessary, which says what he has said to us, which makes the truth of God appear, the presence of God in Christ, the path that opens before us. Hence, it is about proclamation in the present, as you have said, which translates the words of the past into the world of our experience. It is something that is absolutely indispensable, fundamental, with witness to give credibility to this Word, so that it does not appear to be only a pretty philosophy, or a pretty utopia, but rather a reality. A reality with which one can live, but not only this: a reality that makes one live. In this sense, I think that the witness of the believing community of the proclamation, as background to the Word, is of the greatest importance. With the Word we must open venues of experience of the faith to those who are seeking God. This is what the primitive Church did with the catechumens, which was not simply a catechesis, something doctrinal, but a place of progressive experience of the life of faith, in which the Word also opens, which becomes comprehensible only if it is interpreted by life, carried out in life.
Therefore, it seems to me important, together with the Word, that there be a place of hospitality of the faith, a place where there is a progressive experience of the faith. And here I also see one of the tasks of the parish: hospitality toward those who do not know this life that is typical of the parish community. We must not be a circle enclosed in ourselves. We have our customs, but nevertheless we must open ourselves and try to create vestibules, that is, venues of closeness. One who comes from afar cannot enter immediately into the formed life of a parish, which already has its customs. For the former at present everything is very surprising, far from his life. Therefore, we must try to create, with the help of the Word, what the primitive Church created with the catechumens: venues in which to begin to live the Word, to follow the Word, to make it comprehensible and realistic, corresponding to real forms of experience. In this sense, what you have pointed out seems very important to me, namely, the need to unite the Word with the witness of a just life, of being for others, of being open to the poor, to the needy, but also to the rich, who need to be open in their hearts, to feel that their hearts are called. Hence, it's a question of different venues, according to the situation.
It seems to me that in theory little can be said, but the concrete experience will show the paths to be followed. And, naturally it is necessary to be always in great communion with the Church -- always an important criterion to follow -- although perhaps still in a somewhat distant interval: that is, in communion with the bishop, with the Pope, thus in communion with the great past and with the great future of the Church. In fact, to be in the Catholic Church does not only imply to be on the great path that precedes us, but it means to be in the prospect of a great opening to the future. A future that opens only in this way. We could perhaps continue talking about the contents, but we can find another occasion for this.
[Translation by ZENIT]
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On ZENIT's Web page:
Question 1: www.zenit.org/article-25258?l=english