Monday, October 7, 2013
Promoting gospel renewal: An open letter to Pope Francis from Jose Antonio Pagola
This article was originally published in Vida Nueva, No. 2,863, September 21-27,2013.
Dear brother Francis:
Since you were elected to be the humble "Rock" on which Jesus wants to keep building his Church today, I have been following your words closely.
Now I have just come back from Rome where I was able to see you embracing children, blessing the sick and the disabled, and greeting the multitudes. They say you are warm, simple, humble, friendly...and I don't know what all else.
I think there's more in you, much more. I could see St. Peter's Square and Via della Conciliazione full of enthusiastic people. I don't think that crowd was just attracted by your simplicity and friendliness.
In a few months you have become "good news" for the Church and, even, beyond the Church. Why? Almost without us realizing it, you are bringing the Good News of Jesus into the world.
You are creating a new climate in the Church, a more gospel-centered and humane one. You are bringing us the Spirit of Christ. People who are alienated from the Christian faith tell me you help them to trust more in life and the goodness of human beings. Some who live without a path to God tell me that a little light has been awakened inside them that is inviting them to revise their attitude towards the ultimate Mystery of existence.
I know that we need very deep reforms in the Church to correct deviations that have been nourished for many centuries, but over these last few years a conviction has been growing in me. For these reforms to be able to take place, we need a prior conversion at a more profound and radical level.
We need, simply, to return to Jesus, to root our Christianity more truly and faithfully in his person, his message, and his project of the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, I would like to express what attracts me about your service as Bishop of Rome at the dawn of your task.
I thank you for embracing the children and hugging them to your chest. You are helping us to remember that prophetic gesture of Jesus, so forgotten in the Church, but so important for understanding what he expected of his followers. According to the gospel story, Jesus called the Twelve, put a child in their midst, hugged him in his arms, and said to them, "whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me."
We had forgotten that the little ones, the most fragile and vulnerable, are always to be at the center of the Church, attracting everyone's attention. It's important that you are among us as the "Rock" on which Jesus builds his Church, but it's just as or more important that you are in our midst, embracing the little ones and blessing the sick and the disabled, to remind us how we are to receive Jesus. This prophetic gesture seems crucial to me at this time when the world is running the risk of becoming dehumanized by ignoring the last and the least.
I thank you for calling us over and over again to go out of the Church to enter life where people suffer and rejoice, work and struggle -- that world where God wants to build a more humane, just and solidary co-existence.
I think that the most serious and subtle heresy that has penetrated Christianity is having made the Church the center of everything, displacing the project of the Kingdom of God from our vista.
John Paul II reminded us that the Church is not an end in itself, but only a "seed, sign and instrument of the Kingdom of God," but his words were lost among many other speeches.
Now a great joy awakens in me when you call us to get out of "self-referentiality" to go towards the "peripheries of existence", where we meet the poor, the victims, the sick, the less fortunate...
I enjoy highlighting your words: "We have to build bridges, not walls to defend the faith", we need "an open door Church, not controllers of the faith", "the Church doesn't grow by proselytizing, but through attraction, witness and preaching." I seem to hear the voice of Jesus who, from the Vatican, urges us, "Go and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near," "go and heal the sick," "what you have freely received, freely give."
I also thank you for your constant call to convert to the Gospel. How well you know the Church. Your freedom to name our sins surprises me. You don't do it in moralistic language but with gospel strength -- envy, careerism and the desire for money, "disinformation, defamation and slander", clerical arrogance and hypocrisy, "spiritual worldliness" and "bourgeoisie of the spirit", "couch potato Christians", "museum-piece believers", Christians with "long faces".
You're very concerned about "salt without flavor", "salt that doesn't taste like anything", and you call us to be disciples who learn to live as Jesus did.
You don't just call us to individual conversion. You prod us to church structural renewal. We are not used to hearing that language. Deaf to the call of Vatican II for renewal, we have forgotten that Jesus invited his followers to "put new wine into new wineskins."
Therefore, your homily on the Feast of Pentecost fills me with hope: "Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, program and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences....We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own."
So you ask us to ask ourselves honestly, "Are we open to 'God’s surprises'? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do we barricade ourselves in outdated structures which have lost their capacity to respond?" Your message and your spirit proclaim a new future for the Church.
I would like to end these lines by humbly expressing a wish to you. Maybe you won't be able to make major reforms, but you can promote gospel renewal throughout the Church. Surely, you can take appropriate measures to ensure that future bishops of dioceses around the world have a profile and a pastoral style capable of promoting this conversion to Jesus that you are trying to encourage from Rome.
Francis, you are a gift from God. Thank you!