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Called to be joyful ‘missionary disciples’


Special to The Dialog

‘Convocation of Catholic Leaders’ meeting engages U.S. faithful to embrace and proclaim joy of Gospel

Earlier this month, I was fortunate to represent the Diocese of Wilmington at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” in Orlando, Fla. Five other delegates from our diocese joined me there: Colleen Lindsey, Deacon Bob and Marie Cousar, Arline Dosman, and Lynne Betts. Although unable to attend, Bishop Malooly kept a watchful eye on us through EWTN broadcasts and frequent telephone conversations.

As part of this unprecedented gathering of clergy, religious, lay parish leaders and volunteers convened by the U.S. bishops, we participated in a variety of presentations and discussions designed to stimulate creative and forward thinking ideas and plans of action for the American church’s response to Pope Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). As Bishop Edward Burns of Dallas said, it was “a strategic conversation on forming missionary disciples.” Read more »

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Vatican Letter: To progress in evangelizing, pope confronts church’s shortcomings


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization met at the Vatican in October 2012, among the top items on the agenda was the threat of militant secularism in a post-Christian West.

“It is as if a tsunami of secular influence has swept across the cultural landscape, taking with it such societal markers as marriage, family, the concept of the common good and objective right and wrong,” and posing new impediments to spreading the Gospel, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, the synod’s relator, told the gathering at its first working session.

Pope Francis gestures as he arrives to lead his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 27. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

The same topic arose repeatedly in addresses by synod fathers, especially those from Europe and North America, and in the final propositions they gave the pope as the basis for his post-synodal apostolic exhortation. But Pope Benedict XVI resigned before he could write such a document, leaving the task to his successor, who finally responded with “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), published Nov. 26.

In writing the apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis departed from usual practice and declined to use the draft provided by synod officials. The result is a text in the pope’s distinctive voice and focused on his particular concerns. Among the features that distinguish “Evangelii Gaudium” from the synod that gave rise to it, none is more striking than how little attention it pays to the problem of secularism.

The pope criticizes contemporary society and culture, especially in the world’s richer nations, for their “idolatry of money” and an “economy of exclusion and inequality.” But he makes only a few broad references to the “crude and superficial” intolerance of unbelievers and the danger a distorted pluralism poses to religious freedom.

By contrast, Pope Francis devotes much of his exhortation to the shortcomings of the church itself. He laments its “excessive centralization” in the Vatican, which he finds a hindrance to the church’s “missionary outreach.” He complains about members of religious orders who show an “inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation,” and about priests “obsessed with protecting their free time.”

The pope criticizes those who show an “ostentatious preoccupation with the liturgy, doctrine and the church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time.” He upbraids Catholics with a “business mentality, caught up with management, statistics, plans and evaluations, whose principal beneficiary is not God’s people but the church as an institution.”

And he regrets that women do not yet have a sufficient role in decision-making within the church.

Pope Francis also deplores divisiveness within the ranks, writing: “It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, and even persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

Most remarkably, the pope devotes nearly a tenth of the entire document to suggestions for improving priests’ homilies, which in his telling are all too often moralistic, unlearned, disorganized and verbose.

These problems matter, the pope makes clear, insofar as they impede efforts to make the church’s structures “more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, and to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with him.”

It is thus surprising that, with the possible exception of a reference to the “pain and the shame we feel at the sins of some members of our church,” Pope Francis does not even allude to what most people inside and outside the church would regard as its greatest scandal of recent years: the sexual abuse of minors by priests. This scandal is not, strictly speaking, a question of evangelization. But as Pope Benedict wrote to the Catholics of Ireland in March 2010, church leaders’ failures to prevent and punish clerical sex abuse “have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”

Over the last decade, bishops’ conferences in a number of countries, including the United States and Canada, have taken systematic action to protect children from this threat, and the Vatican has instructed the rest of the world’s bishops to do likewise. Yet by all accounts the process is still far from complete. Carrying it out will presumably be a priority for Pope Francis, as part of his campaign to reform and purify the church at every level for the sake of its essential evangelical mission.


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Pope Francis proclaims ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ — 50,000-word ‘exhortation’ is his vision for the church


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — 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 greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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.”


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Vatican letter: Pope Francis will address ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ on Nov. 26


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — With his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), which the Vatican has scheduled for publication Nov. 26, Pope Francis finally makes his real debut as papal author.

Popes through the centuries have issued their most important written messages in one of 10 classic forms, ranging from encyclical to “chirograph,” a brief document on a highly limited subject. But most of these are typically formulaic texts that do not express the distinctive voice or charism of the man who issues them.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis has already published an encyclical, traditionally considered the most authoritative form of papal writing. But in the opening paragraphs of “Lumen Fidei,” released in July, he explained that the text was essentially the work of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to whose words Pope Francis had merely “added a few contributions” of his own.

By contrast, Pope Francis has made clear that “Evangelii Gaudium” is very much his own work.

Apostolic exhortations are often based on deliberations of synods of bishops, and this one takes into account the October 2012 synod on the new evangelization. But last June, Pope Francis informed the ordinary council of the Synod of Bishops, which is normally responsible for helping draft post-synodal apostolic exhortations, he would not be working from their draft.

Instead, the pope said, he planned to write an “exhortation on evangelization in general and refer to the synod,” in order to “take everything from the synod but put it in a wider framework.”

That choice surprised some, especially since Pope Francis had voiced his strong commitment to the principle of consultation with fellow bishops and even suggested that the synod should become a permanent advisory body.

But the pope was merely reverting to earlier practice. None of the first three modern synods, in 1967, 1969 or 1971, led to a papal document. It was not until 1974 that Pope Paul first chose to use a synod’s recommendations to write an apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” published the following year.

Pope Francis may already be deep into his next major document, an encyclical on social teaching. In May, Bishop Luigi Martella of Molfetta, Italy, wrote that the pope had recently told him and other bishops of Italy’s Puglia region that he was planning an encyclical on poverty, “understood not in an ideological and political sense, but in an evangelical sense.” The bishop said the encyclical would be called “Beati Pauperes” (Blessed Are the Poor).

Subsequent reports suggest that Pope Francis’ social encyclical might deal not only with poverty but also with protection of the natural environment, a topic on which he has voiced concern from practically the start of his pontificate.

A category of document that Pope Francis has not yet produced, but in which he is likely to make a major contribution, is that of apostolic constitutions. These are usually routine legal documents establishing a new diocese or appointing a bishop. But they can also address exceptional matters, as did Pope Benedict’s 2009 “Anglicanorum coetibus,” which established personal prelatures for former Anglicans who join the Catholic Church.

An apostolic constitution especially relevant to this pontificate is Blessed John Paul’s 1988 “Pastor Bonus,” which was the last major set of changes to the church’s central administration, the Roman Curia. Planning a revision of that document was the one specific task Pope Francis assigned to his advisory Council of Cardinals when he established the eight-member body in September.

Another consequential type of papal document is an apostolic letter given “motu proprio,” i.e., on the pope’s own initiative. Such letters are used to set up new norms, establish new bodies or reorganize existing ones. Pope Benedict issued 18 of them in the course of his eight-year pontificate, most famously in 2007, when he lifted most restrictions on celebration of the Tridentine Mass; and most recently in February, when he changed the voting rules of a papal conclave less than a week before he resigned from office.

Pope Francis has already issued three such apostolic letters in his first eight months: to update the Vatican’s criminal code so that it includes all Vatican employees around the world, not just those working in Vatican City; to broaden Vatican City laws against money laundering and terrorism financing so that they cover all the offices of the Roman Curia; and to expand the reach of the Vatican body that inspects suspicious financial transactions.

As evidence of the pope’s determination to reform, these impersonal legal documents may be his most eloquent statements yet.


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