You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all, shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. (2 Cor 3:2-3)
I remember hearing the statement "You may be the only Bible some people will ever read" long before converting to the Catholic Church and, in a way, I've prayed that I could live up to its demands and must confess that I have not always succeeded. The Spanish charismatics have a different way of putting it: "Que se te nota que tienes a Jesús" (may the fact that you have Jesus be noticed).
The idea of being a "letter of Christ" is a regular theme for Honduran Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodíguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa and current president of Caritas International. He reiterated it last week in a moving address to the Union of Superiors General who were meeting in Rome around the theme "Geographical and cultural changes in the life of the Church: challenges and perspectives". I would love to get my hands on the full text of his speech, but until then, here is a synopsis of what was picked up by Zenit in Spanish.
Maradiaga called on men and women religious to be "letters of Christ" to a globalized world. After recalling the Church's missionary history, starting with the early Church's expansion to the Gentiles, he took on the challenges today. He described Africa as a continent that has been forgotten but where Catholicism is enjoying unprecedented growth, while Europe "suffers from a demographic winter with a consequent shortage of vocations to the priesthood and religious life." Asia is a challenge for mission work and America's "huge inequalities" endanger its status as the "continent of hope".
Although he started out saying that Rome was the historical center of Christianity, Maradiaga noted that "for a long time we Christians have lived with a certain image of geography. That image has changed in the sense that the center of gravity of the Church is no longer the North, but the South now that 75% of Christians live in Asia, Africa and America."
He said that because of the changes wrought by globalization and multiculturalism, men and women religious should help us become "living witnesses, capable of announcing and proclaiming the gospel on the border and in new environments and forums."
He encouraged his audience to live out their vocations with joy, "united in heart, sharing life with neighbors, generous devotion to mission and freedom from any temptation to power." "Ours is not just to work with the weakest, but live with them, belong to them...because the path of "empequeñecimiento" (growing smaller) is a testimony for our generation."
Maradiaga said that men and women religious should be "letters of Christ", that through their vocations "Christ continues to write to those who do not yet believe in Him through the testimony [we] give." "How beautiful it would be if all those who were touched by a religious would be able to read the letters from the South to the North with the eyes of the heart and could answer with solidarity."
He concluded by exhorting those present to turn their lives into "an authentic communion" and added: "Nothing is impossible for one who loves."
Photo: Cardinal Maradiaga arriving to celebrate Mass at the Centro Femenino de Rehabilitación Cecilia Chiari de Orillac, a women's rehabilitation center, with the social ministry staff of Caritas Panama.