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Nuncio: Evangelization, mercy, encounter mark pope’s first four years

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Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — Evangelization, mercy, encounter and accompaniment are the hallmarks of the first four years of Pope Francis’ papacy, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, said March 15.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, addresses the audience during a discussion March 15 in New York City on the first four years of Pope Francis' papacy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, addresses the audience during a discussion March 15 in New York City on the first four years of Pope Francis’ papacy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“First and foremost, Pope Francis is committed to the work of evangelization. The main role of the church is to evangelize, to receive the gospel and offer it to the world,” he said in a conversation in New York with Jesuit Father Matthew F. Malone, president and editor-in-chief of America Media.

“The raison d’etre of the church is evangelization. It’s not a business, it’s not an organization or an association for the defense of Jesus, but a group called to announce God’s presence to humanity,” Archbishop Pierre said.

At a meeting of cardinals before the conclave that elected him pope, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio reflected on the challenges Pope Benedict’s successor should address. Archbishop Pierre said Pope Francis’ handwritten notes from his talk were a blueprint for his papacy.

In them, Pope Francis underscored the importance of evangelizing with apostolic zeal and going to the peripheries of sin, pain, injustice and misery to reach people. He warned that when the church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and sick. He wrote, “The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-reference and a kind of theological narcissism.”

Cardinal Bergoglio said the next pope, “must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the church go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her be the fruitful mother, who gains life from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

“The church is a continuation of Christ in the world,” Archbishop Pierre said. And the pope continues to insist it is time not to rest, but to go to the many peripheries to be God’s presence to the people who suffer, he said.

He expanded on the pope’s familiar description of the church as a field hospital. “It’s very simple. It’s a tent where you attend people. Be there. Don’t waste time. That’s where you meet wounded people.”

Father Malone said Jesus, the source of joy in the Gospels, is the medication in the field hospital. Pope Francis pictures himself as a patient in the hospital, not the doctor, he said.

People have rediscovered the sacrament of penance during this papacy because Pope Francis identifies himself as a sinner and is seen going to confession, Archbishop Pierre said. “Many had abandoned the sacrament of reconciliation, but have rediscovered the necessity of receiving the forgiveness of God and giving it to others,” he said.

When the pope speaks of mercy, it is not only a human virtue, but a gift from God, and people are the first target of God’s mercy, Archbishop Pierre said. “Our church is a merciful church. We present truth in a respectful way. Mercy means dialogue and walking along the path of the other,” he said.

“I’m impressed to see the capacity Pope Francis has to meet people,” Archbishop Pierre said. “Politicians want to see the pope, not just for the photo, but for the encounter. I have seen politicians transformed.”

He recounted the pope’s visit to Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of Lutheranism. “We’ve had the idea that Luther is the enemy,” the nuncio said. But Pope Francis had an encounter with Lutheran leaders there and said Luther is part of the history of the Catholic Church. The pope speaks with his actions, Archbishop Pierre said.

The nuncio said Pope Francis approaches dialogue as an important ingredient of public life. People who dialogue successfully must be rooted in their own convictions and faith. In this way, dialogue is “two rooted persons looking for the truth,” he said.

The pope is hard on bishops and priests because he wants them to be masters of discernment and help people develop the capacity to choose between good and bad, Archbishop Pierre said. It is not enough to identify right from wrong, he said. If the understanding is not applied to personal actions, life will be a dichotomy.

Archbishop Pierre said Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) is based on the closing document of the 2007 meeting of the Latin American bishops’ council in Aparecida, Brazil. Then-Archbishop Bergoglio led the editing committee for the document. A document intended for the Latin American bishops “became the patrimony of the whole church,” Archbishop Pierre said.

He said Pope Francis’ experience living in a “peripheral” country helped him elaborate a different kind of option for the poor than the one envisioned three decades earlier at the Medellin, Colombia, meeting of the Latin American bishops. “The reality is the people had been evangelized so deeply that the culture was filled with the Gospel,” he said.

Because the church does not play the same role in people’s lives it once did, the church today is challenged to help people encounter Christ and rediscover the presence of God in their own lives. It must be missionary and not self-referential, the nuncio said.

In his introductory remarks, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, apostolic nuncio to the United Nations, said Archbishop Pierre is an intrepid adventurer who “enfleshes Pope Francis’ desire to go to the peripheries.”

Archbishop Pierre entered the papal diplomatic corps in 1977 and served in New Zealand, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Brazil, Geneva, Haiti, Uganda and Mexico. Pope Francis named him apostolic nuncio to the United States April 12, 2016.

The event was co-sponsored by America Media and the American Bible Society and held at the New York Athletic Club.

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U.S. bishops OK four-year 740-things-to-do list

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — A new strategic plan adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 15 during its fall general assembly reflects the efforts of Pope Francis to establish a more merciful and accompanying church, said the archbishop who led the planning process.

Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, listens to a speaker Nov. 15 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, listens to a speaker Nov. 15 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The plan, adopted by a vote of 199-4 with two abstentions, will govern the work of the conference and its committees from 2017 through 2020. It takes effect in January.

“We have adapted these priorities to coincide with the priorities of Pope Francis,” Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans and chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Priorities and Plans, told the assembled bishops before their vote.

The plan incorporates the theme “Encountering the Mercy of Christ and Accompanying His People With Joy” in setting five priorities: evangelization, marriage and family life, human life and dignity, vocations, and religious freedom. In total, the five priorities identify more than 740 individual projects to accomplish during the next four years.

Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis, who recently was appointed archbishop of Newark, N.J., asked where in the plan might be concern for the environment and people who are experiencing the negative effects of climate change.

“It is more urgent than ever given the possibility that the new (presidential) administration is not going to be interested in the issues Pope Francis is interested in,” Cardinal-designate Tobin said.

Archbishop Aymond responded that the plan’s work on the environment, climate change and a response to the needs of people on the margins of society worldwide falls under the human life and dignity priority.

In that section, one of the areas addressed includes teaching and advocating about what the pope has described as integral ecology, “emphasizing environmental degradation and its impact on the lives of the most vulnerable.”

The plan also calls for the U.S. church to move from a “silo approach” to ministry as expressed through the USCCB committees to deeper collaboration and cooperation in service of each bishops’ ministry.

“Committee chairmen and committee members will need to make sure we stay on track,” Archbishop Aymond told the assembly.

The plan, more than a year under discussion by the bishops through their committees, subcommittees and an ad hoc committee, stems in large part from Pope Francis’ message to the bishops when he visited the U.S. in 2015.

The 28-page document offers an overview of the plan and outlines several specific areas to address under each priority. Much of the plan was developed to support individuals of all ages as well as families as people go through daily life and to encourage actions that carry out what is described as “missionary discipleship.”

Another passage in the plan stresses that it charts “a path of hope for the people in need of a loving embrace as they face the challenges of the world.”

      Further, the document states, “The USCCB strategic plan exists to serve the mission of evangelization entrusted in a particular way to each bishop; it is the tool the U.S. bishops rely upon to prioritize, organize, optimize and resource good works which will allow the conference to fulfill its mission.”

      Two major events are expected to help achieve the priorities including the national Convocation of Catholic Leaders scheduled for July 1-4, 2017, in Orlando, Florida, and the V Encuentro for Hispanic Latino Ministry in 2018.

      Thousands of Catholics are expected at each event to discuss, learn, pray and act on ideas to strengthen the church at the local level and inspire new leaders to take on the challenges posed by modern society.

      The strategic plan also mentions that the early projects being undertaken will help the bishops as they prepare a pastoral letter on race relations that is planned for the 50th anniversary of the death of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 2018.

      In his presentation Nov. 14, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, as chairman of the the USCCB Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities, urged his brother bishops to issue the statement on racism sooner than scheduled, because of the racial turmoil that has affected many of the nation’s communities after police shootings of African-Americans. The archbishop also said such a statement would help address postelection tensions across the country.

 Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Pope elevates liturgical celebration of St. Mary Magdalene, ‘evangelist,’ to a feast day

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Recognizing St. Mary Magdalene’s role as the first to witness Christ’s resurrection and as a “true and authentic evangelizer,” Pope Francis raised the July 22 memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast on the church’s liturgical calendar, the Vatican announced.

The Congregation for Divine Worship published a decree formalizing the decision June 10 along with an article explaining its significance.

St. Mary Magdalene is shown meditating on the crucifix in this painted wooden sculpture that is part of The Sacred Made Real exhibit in 2010 at the National Galley of Art in Washington. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

St. Mary Magdalene is shown meditating on the crucifix in this painted wooden sculpture that is part of The Sacred Made Real exhibit in 2010 at the National Galley of Art in Washington. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Both the decree and the article were titled “Apostolorum Apostola” (“Apostle of the Apostles”).

In the article for the Vatican newspaper, Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the congregation, wrote that in celebrating “an evangelist who proclaims the central joyous message of Easter,” St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day is a call for all Christians to “reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the new evangelization and the greatness of the mystery of divine mercy.”

“Pope Francis has taken this decision precisely in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy to highlight the relevance of this woman who showed great love for Christ and was much loved by Christ,” Archbishop Roche wrote.

While most liturgical celebrations of individual saints during the year are known formally as memorials, those classified as feasts are reserved for important events in Christian history and for saints of particular significance, such as the Twelve Apostles.

In his apostolic letter “Dies Domini” (“The Lord’s Day”), St. John Paul II explained that the “commemoration of the saints does not obscure the centrality of Christ, but on the contrary extols it, demonstrating as it does the power of the redemption wrought by him.”

Preaching about St. Mary Magdalene, Pope Francis highlighted Christ’s mercy toward a woman who was “exploited and despised by those who believed they were righteous,” but she was loved and forgiven by him.

Her tears at Christ’s empty tomb are a reminder that “sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus,” the pope said April 2, 2013, during Mass in his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Pope Francis also mentions her specifically in the prayer he composed for the Year of Mercy: “Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured paradise to the repentant thief.”

Archbishop Roche explained that in giving St. Mary Magdalene the honor of being the first person to see the empty tomb and the first to listen to the truth of the resurrection, “Jesus has a special consideration and mercy for this woman, who manifests her love for him, looking for him in the garden with anguish and suffering.”

Drawing a comparison between Eve, who “spread death where there was life,” and St. Mary Magdalene, who “proclaimed life from the tomb, a place of death,” the archbishop said her feast day is a lesson for all Christians to trust in Christ who is “alive and risen.”

“It is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman has the same level of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in the general Roman calendar and highlights the special mission of this woman who is an example and model for every woman in the church.”

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Philadelphia evangelizer will discuss world family meeting here this May

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Dialog reporter

 

During his pontificate, St. John Paul II coined the term “new evangelization” and called on Catholics to take the Catholic faith to all people.

Meghan Cokeley, the director of the Office for the New Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, says that’s what she does while traveling around southeastern Pennsylvania.

Cokeley said evangelization has been the mission of the church throughout its history, but John Paul II placed a new emphasis on reaching those who have left the church or with no church at all. Read more »

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Pope Francis tells Korean bishops to keep evangelization as primary mission

August 14th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

By

Catholic News Service

SEOUL, South Korea — Pope Francis warned South Korea’s Catholic bishops not to let their country’s “prosperous, yet increasingly secularized and materialistic society” distract the church from its essential duty to evangelize.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the southern half of the peninsula has risen from poverty to become the world’s 13th-largest economy, good fortune that Pope Francis said posed cultural and spiritual perils.

Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the bishops of South Korea at the headquarters of the Korean bishops' conference in Seoul Aug. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the bishops of South Korea at the headquarters of the Korean bishops’ conference in Seoul Aug. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“In such circumstances, it is tempting for pastoral ministers to adopt not only effective models of management, planning and organization drawn from the business world, but also a lifestyle and mentality guided more by worldly criteria of success, and indeed power, than by the criteria which Jesus sets out in the Gospel,” the pope said Aug. 14 at the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea.

Pope Francis met with the bishops on the first day of a five-day trip to South Korea, his first pastoral visit to Asia. Earlier in the day, he met privately with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

The told the bishops the life and mission of the Korean church must be measured in the “clear light of the Gospel and its call to conversion to the person of Jesus Christ.”

Pope Francis also celebrated what he described as the characteristic virtues of the church in Korea, including its tradition of lay leadership, starting with the 18th-century nobles who converted after reading Catholic books imported from China. He cited this history as an inspiring counter-example to a problem he has frequently criticized: an excessive deference by laypeople to bishops and priests.

The first Korean Christians “did not have the temptation of clericalism, they were able to go on alone” to the found the church, the pope said.

The pope said the 10,000 Koreans martyred for their faith in the 18th and 19th centuries now offer an inspiring example of Christian hope to a “world that, for all its material prosperity, is seeking something more, something greater, something authentic and fulfilling.”

“You and your brother priests offer this hope by your mystery of sanctification, which not only leads the faithful to the sources of grace in the liturgy and the sacraments, but also urges them to press forward in response to the upward call of God,” he said.

Pope Francis praised the “prophetic witness of the church in Korea (as) evident in its concern for the poor and in its programs of outreach, particularly to refugees and migrants and those living on the margins of society.”

But he warned against reducing charitable work to mere handouts, “while overlooking each individual’s need to grow as a person and to express in a worthy manner his or her own personality, creativity and culture,” a need he said can only be served by “social, occupational and educational promotion.”

Charity, the pope suggested, is also a powerful form of evangelization, especially among the young: “I am convinced that if the face of the church is first and foremost a face of love, more and more young people will be drawn to the heart of Jesus ever aflame with divine love in the communion of his mystical body.”

 

 

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March 13, 2013, to March 13, 2014: For Pope Francis, a year of reform and evangelization

March 13th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As leader of the universal church, a pope must direct his ministry in both of the ways traditionally described by the Latin terms “ad intra” and “ad extra”: inwardly to the church itself, and outwardly to the rest of the world.

Pope Francis has accordingly spent the first year of his pontificate pursuing two ambitious projects: revitalizing the church’s efforts at evangelization and reforming the church’s central administration.

Pope Francis holds a monstrance containing the Eucharist as he leads Benediction during the World Youth Day vigil on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro July 27, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

As he wrote in his first apostolic exhortation in November, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Catholics must go out into the world to share their faith with “enthusiasm and vitality,” not “like someone who has just come back from a funeral.”

He wrote that 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,” namely, the “saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead.”

With his affable, informal manner and simple language, Pope Francis has focused on a message of mercy, forgiveness and concern for the poor. He has taken largely for granted those elements of church teaching, including sexual and medical ethics, that contemporary culture tends to reject as censorious and intolerant. He has thus elicited extraordinary levels of curiosity and good will far beyond the ranks of practicing Catholics around the world.

At the same time, the pope has carried out an all-but-explicit electoral mandate to reform the Vatican bureaucracy. A major topic of discussion at the cardinals’ meetings before the March 2013 papal conclave was the previous year’s controversy over published revelations of corruption and incompetence in the Roman Curia and Vatican City State.

Pope Francis has moved swiftly in this area, launching investigations of the Vatican’s accounting practices and the Vatican bank, expanding the reach of Vatican City laws against money laundering and the financing of terrorism, establishing a new office to supervise Vatican finances under an oversight board that includes laypeople and setting in motion a constitutional overhaul of the entire curia.

One might have predicted some tension, if not conflict, between these two goals: preaching the Gospel with renewed zeal and energy to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics (and 5.9 billion others), while transforming the highly traditional bureaucratic culture of an enclave with fewer than 3,000 employees in Rome.

The demands of governing the Vatican have presumably played a role in Pope Francis’ choice to spend little time away. For a pope who stresses the need to evangelize and serve those on society’s “peripheries,” he has spent far more time than either of his predecessors within the Vatican’s walls.

Blessed John Paul visited 129 countries outside of Italy during his 26-year papacy, pioneering the role of the pope as globetrotting evangelist. Even the less peripatetic Pope Benedict XVI took as many as five international trips in a single year.

Pope Francis has taken one international trip so far, to Brazil in July, and his planned pastoral trips for 2014  to the Holy Land and South Korea will be relatively short, only three and five days long, respectively.

Yet, he has hardly cut himself off from his global flock. With the highly quotable expressions and spontaneous gestures that have made him an instant television and social media star, Pope Francis has proved he can grab the world’s attention without leaving St. Peter’s Square.

The pope’s ad intra and ad extra commitments are not merely compatible; they actively reinforce each other.

It is not hard to see how reforming the Vatican’s handling of money should bolster the cause of evangelization, especially the ministry to the poor on which the pope has placed such emphasis.

By the same token, much of Pope Francis’ preaching — particularly his warnings against clericalism, careerism and materialism among priests — obviously applies all the more urgently to his closest collaborators in the Vatican.

Most effectively, with his simplicity of life and extraordinary accessibility, the pope himself serves as the foremost model of both the evangelical poverty and the ecclesiastical service he preaches. In the process he is leading Catholics to a conclusion many will find remarkable: that even the church’s most exalted institutions should be open to them.

 

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

By

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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Cardinal-designate Dolan: Evangelizing requires joy and love

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Secularism has had an easy time spreading through many traditionally Christian cultures because so many Christians do not know their faith and do not grasp the truth it teaches, Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York told the College of Cardinals.

While the New York prelate did not downplay the challenges the church faces in reviving the faith of its members and bringing the Gospel to those who have never heard it, he delivered his assessment Feb. 17 with his characteristic smile and broad gestures, telling Pope Benedict XVI and the cardinals that evangelization requires joy and love.

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Commentary: Extreme sports and opportunities to evangelize

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Picture the scene: Skaters clad in helmets and pads, racing down a winding ice hill at speeds up to 40 mph, while tens of thousands of cheering spectators line the course with the Cathedral of St. Paul serving as a picturesque backdrop.

“Ice cross downhill” is one of the newest extreme sports gaining popularity around the world, and it’s coming to downtown St. Paul next month as part of the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship competition.

Fun and exciting to watch?

For sure.

An opportunity to practice the “new evangelization” that Pope Benedict XVI says is so urgently needed in today’s world?

Maybe — at least in one small way that shouldn’t be overlooked.

A survey a few years ago found that the percentage of Americans who professed no religion nearly doubled between 1990 and 2008 – jumping from 8.2 percent of the population to 15 percent. Some researchers estimate that “former Catholics” make up roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population.

These people — which include older teens and young adults — simply don’t see the relevance of religion for their day-to-day lives. Raised in an American culture that preaches materialism, moral relativism and pleasure above nearly all else, they often have a false perception of religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, as being too stodgy, too judgmental, too scandal-ridden and not at all fun.

They likely wouldn’t accept an invitation to attend a class about the catechism or hear a talk by a prominent Catholic speaker. But they might be enticed to attend an event like Crashed Ice — and here there is an opportunity to extend a further invitation.

The Cathedral of St. Paul isn’t a sponsor of the competition, but it’s allowing race organizers to use some of its property in the interest of being a good neighbor. The event also presents an opportunity to ratchet up hospitality efforts for any of the thousands of spectators who might want a closer look at this magnificent church that frames the race’s backdrop.

You might call it a “soft-sell” approach to evangelization, but it can be an effective way to make a connection with people who rarely, if ever, set foot inside a church door.

It’s not that much different than the community spirit and good image that’s cultivated by parish festivals, church-sponsored art exhibitions and concerts, and lavish feast day celebrations — like the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which, at many parishes, in addition to prayer, features festive songs, mariachi bands, dancers and delicious food.

These are places where churches could extend a further invitation to new faces in the crowd — perhaps to attend parish faith-sharing groups, book or movie discussion clubs, or question-and-answer sessions that help explain what Catholicism really means and that invite participants to enter more deeply into the faith and learn the beauty of what the church teaches.

All of these efforts can help dispel false notions that the church has nothing relevant to offer for living a fuller, better life and they would go a long way toward clearing up misperceptions of the church as stodgy and not at all fun.

Catholics like to have a good time and share the joy with others. Here’s how veteran Catholic reporter John Allen described it in a recent interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“I don’t think the Catholic Church gets enough credit for being … a lot of fun. There’s great warmth and laughter in most Catholic circles, a rich intellectual tradition, a vast body of lore, an incredible range of characters, a deep desire to do good, an abiding faith against all odds, an ability to go anywhere and feel instantly at home, and even a deep love of good food, good drink and good company. All that is part of the tapestry of Catholic life, but it rarely sees the light of day in commentary and reporting that focuses exclusively on crisis, scandal, and heartache.”

We need to invite more people — including fallen-away Catholics and inactive Catholics as well as teens and young adults absent from our churches — to experience the beauty and joy at the heart of our faith life. We need to show how our churches and other Catholic groups continue to enrich the local community. And, we need — when they are ready — to teach them again about the value in living a Catholic Christian life.

Those goals require creating more opportunities for evangelization and outreach as well as taking advantage of more unique opportunities — like Crashed Ice — that occasionally come racing into our neighborhoods.

This editorial appeared in the Dec. 8 edition of the Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It was written by editor Joe Towalski. 

 

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Pope asks Christians to help world’s migrants

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians need to offer migrants special care, ranging from prayer and concrete aid to promoting policies that uphold immigrants’ rights and dignity, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Modern migration represents “an unprecedented mingling of individuals and peoples, with new problems not only from the human standpoint but also from ethical, religious and spiritual ones,” he said.

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