Friday, October 11, 2013

Believing without giving thanks

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
October 13, 2013

Luke 17:11-19

The story begins telling of the healing of a group of ten lepers in the vicinity of Samaria. But, this time, Luke doesn't dwell on the details of the healing, but on the reaction of one of the lepers on seeing himself cured. The evangelist carefully describes all his steps, since he wants to shake up the routine faith of many Christians.

Jesus has asked the lepers to present themselves to the priests to get the authorization that allows them to integrate into society. But one of them, of Samaritan origin, on seeing that he is cured, instead of going to the priests, comes back to look for Jesus. He feels that a new life is beginning for him. Going forward, everything will be different. He will be able to live in a more dignified and happy way. He knows to whom it's due. He needs to meet Jesus.

He returns "glorifying God in a loud voice." He knows that Jesus' saving strength could only originate from God. Now he feels new because of that Good Father Jesus talks about. He will never forget it. Henceforth he will live giving thanks to God. He will praise Him, screaming with all his might. Everyone must know that he feels loved by Him.

On meeting Jesus, "he falls at his feet and thanks him." His companions have followed their path to meet with the priests, but he knows that Jesus is his only savior. Therefore he's here next to him, giving him thanks. In Jesus, he has found the best gift of God.

At the end of the story, Jesus speaks and asks three questions, expressing surprise and sadness at what happened. They aren't directed towards the Samaritan at his feet. They contain the message that Luke wants to be heard in the Christian communities.

"Ten were cleansed, were they not?". Weren't they all healed? Why don't they recognize what they have received from Jesus? "Where are the other nine?". Why aren't they here? Why are there so many Christians who live without hardly ever giving thanks to God? Why don't they feel a special gratitude towards Jesus? Don't they know him? Doesn't he mean anything new to them?

"Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?". Why are there people who are alienated from religious practice who feel true admiration and gratitude towards Jesus, while some Christians don't feel anything special for him? Benedict XVI warned some years ago that an agnostic who is searching may be closer to God than a routine Christian who is such only by tradition or heritage. A faith that doesn't generate joy and thankfulness in believers is a faith that is sick.

Pedro Casaldáliga: "It's easy to wear Jesus on your chest; what's hard is having the patience, the courage to follow Jesus"

by Avelino Seco (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
October 7, 2013

There are people who attract from afar because they are glimmers of hope in a commercialized world and a Church that is trying to get out of winter. One of those people is Peter Casaldáliga, a prophet wrapped in poetry, whose words spoken in April on synodality, the role of women, collegiality, shared responsibility, and joy, seem to have been heard by Francis.

In his penetrating eyes and big heart that is manifested in long arms and expressive hands that seem to escape his small body. "Brother Parkinson's" [disease] keeps him under house arrest, but numerous visits and abundant mail, always answered, keep his heart full of names and life.

From Santander, Ernesto Bustio, a priest who has walked many roads and a welcomer of pilgrims, and I went out to meet him. In Madrid, we would join José Centeno, a married priest not tired of traveling and opening furrows with seeds of social and ecclesial commitment. At the airport, Maximino Cerezo (Mino), a Claretian like Casaldáliga and a friend from his younger years, was also waiting for us to make the trip. Vatican II impelled them to go to Latin America as Claretian missionaries -- one would soon be Bishop in Mato Grosso in Brazil, in the prelature of Sâo Félix, and the other would do a great job of conscientization as a painter (he is known as the painter of liberation), filling various cathedrals and churches in Brazil, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and other Latin American countries with murals. Casaldáliga impregnated with a Saving Jesus who gives light to his liberating ministry and Cerezo capturing in beautiful paintings the paths of liberation (...)...

From there we headed to the house where Pedro lives with the small community of Augustinians: Paulinho, José Luis, an Augustinian from Bolivia and Joan, a theology student who is taking a break, a time of ministry and caring for Casaldáliga. He melts into a tender and welcoming embrace with each one of us. He shows the charm of the old man full of kindness who enjoys life with his own, and it's that we are many whom he considers, and who consider ourselves, his own. Not even Parkinson's has taken away the strength of his arms (...)

With a background sound of some roosters and birds singing, we begin the interview.

Q: We would like you to tell us about the Christian Base Communities, what they are and what role they have in the renewal of the Church.

They start from the grassroots, from the people, and they're the foundation of the Church. We say in Brazil that it's a new way of being Church. I would add: a whole new way of being Church. Bishop Leonardo was somewhat alarmed. Pedro, he said to me, that's an illusion. It would be the way of being Church: communitarian, faithful, joining faith to life, with the Bible in the hands of the people, with capacity for dialogue, taking ecumenism into account. We have always said it will happen if the dialogue of the people with the culture happens. Now the challenge is coexistence, coexistence is the challenge in all areas -- the family, the neighborhood, at work, in the church community, coexistence is the big challenge. The Minky people say that "to live is to co-exist." Coexistence means that we place ourselves in the Church in an attitude of equality, as equals with other denominations, with other religions, with the other spiritualities, with humanity. We must start from that macroecumenical viewpoint, rather than being turned in on ourselves, start from an open viewpoint in communion with all other movements, spiritualities and faiths. We must explain our faith not as imposing superiority but as contributing with the specific history of Jesus of Nazareth.

Q: In Spain, the base communities are not mainstream. They're small groups with a special awareness, with a critical, utopian and transformative awareness. The parishes are a different thing. What role can the parishes play? Would it be ideal if they were all communities?

They should be entirely communities. I would say that it's not about arguing whether they are many or few, it's about everything being community. I like to speak of communality, that everything would be communitarian from the Pope on down, that everything would be participatory, that -- from each one's own situation -- everything would be a contribution to the whole. Parishes as parishes don't have a future. These days the CNBB [the Brazilian Catholic Bishops' Conference] is discussing "Community of Communities, a new Parish." It has been proven that the parish as such becomes bureaucracy and doesn't encourage real participation. One can understand, on the other hand, that a legal -- canonical, we would say -- point of reference is needed. That they are small groups is part of the nature of seeds, leaven, salt. I think the most rabid phase of the relationship between communities and bishops has already passed. We have learned to co-exist quite a bit. Much is still needed, but there's less acute episcopalitis. If the bishop or the priest doesn't accept us, that's fine. We're not going to lose sleep over that. Outrage must be hopeful outrage, otherwise we're vomiting bile everywhere and we don't have any good news. Christianity is more than that; it's not about living an embittered, overseen life.

Q: The so-called new movements of the Church call themselves communities. What would be the fundamental flaw of these new movements with respect to being community? And one more question: Can you be a non-political Christian community?

Faith without politics is not Christian faith. With respect to the new movements, I had an interesting experience in Honduras. We were in Lent. The cook at the Claretians told us she was Neocatechumenal and added, "we celebrate the Eucharist; you celebrate Mass." If they refuse to participate in parish life at certain times, in certain things, there they would also stop being Church. I tell friends they have to attend the priest's Mass at least once a month. It's the contribution to the elders who attend every week, to lift their spirits. Refusing to do so seems like an anti-Christian attitude to me.

Q: Could you explain a little more about not being able to have faith without politics?

There can be no Christian faith without incarnation. Incarnation is the mystery of God's entrance, fully, in our humanity through Jesus of Nazareth, and that means that we take on the challenges of each day. Everything is political, although politics isn't everything. Jesus said He came that all may have life, and have it in abundance. If I'm not concerned about land, health care, education, communications, including vacations to rest, I'm not concerned about human life. Life in the next world is God's business, which He'll work out fine, because there, there will be life and life in abundance for all. Our job is to improve life and universalize life here in this world. And if the Church, the Pope, the bishops, priests, nuns and all those who want to be followers of Jesus don't do politics, if we don't promote the social, political and economic consequences of faith, what witness do we give to love?

Q: You used to distinguish between communality and community.

It's an attitude of participation, shared responsibility, that the Pope is the Bishop of Rome, that the bishops really participate in the collegiality that doesn't exist right now, shared responsibility of everyone. A community attitude in one's own family, at work. A pastor shouldn't decide anything all by himself, or a parent either.

Q: Currently, all the pastoral councils -- in Spain, at least -- are just advisory. There are lay people who get angry and say, "if I'm just going to offer a word and then not get into the final decisions, I'd rather not get in the setup."

And they're right. The Synods are a failure. Cardinal Arns himself, who was Archbishop of Sâo Paulo, and who participated in the Synods, said at a meeting of the bishops of Brazil that the Synod is a failure because it's only advisory, the bishops speak and the Curia then fixes it its own way and, after two or three years, a document appears signed by the Pope that we don't even read. It wasn't participatory and is outdated and out of place. When they're asking these days for the reform of the Curia, many stress this aspect: that the synods be about participation, collegiality, shared responsibility.

Q: The problem we have, says José Centeno, is that the communities in Spain are all older people and there aren't any young people -- few young people enter -- so then we ask ourselves -- we don't know -- aren't we giving them room?

It's about being understanding with them. We must recognize that they're experiencing a personal and group process not previously imagined -- all the sexual problems previously experienced clandestinely, now out in the open, parental authority is up for discussion today. The father and mother, those who form them can't feel disappointed. They must encourage criticism, outrage, but also bearing witness and acting themselves in the family in a participatory way.

Q: There are youth groups, continues Centeno. I have two children, 36 and 34, who were in the JEC [Juventud Estudiante Católica -- Catholic Student Youth], participated in the University protest groups, in several associations. They have always been very involved in solidarity groups, in feminist movements, along with other young people there in Valladolid, many without work. They're a very interesting group, but from the point of view of religion and faith they're alienated. They're not practicing but they're open. They don't have a problem with participating in Christian communities or Justicia y Paz [Justice and Peace] or the Círculos de Silencio [Circles of Silence], but they see the Church as two churches -- the official one with all the negative connotations it has in Spain and, on the other hand, the Christian people who are, we are collaborating on everything, old and young. But forming a Christian community with them is more complicated.

Let them participate in all that is justice and peace. You can ask them, too, for a little understanding, because sometimes a radically negative attitude can become childish. It's not about creating parallel churches, but it's about being able to live the faith in a parallel way with celebrations, with gestures of solidarity, with an attitude of respect.

What's true of young people who have been trained in grassroots Christian groups is that Jesus continues to draw them.

You have to start from there, but they have to live it in community. You have to convince them that without community, no human activity works. It's not about submitting to the parish. They can live in a parallel way and once in a while give a contribution or time to the Christian community where they live or that they feel close to. That they not give too much importance to the priest, that they try to live their faith communally as equals. The church organization should not be an insurmountable obstacle to living the faith in Jesus communally.

Q.: I do agree with what you're saying. It's true that if we simply admire Jesus but don't live in community, there's a strong deficiency. But how do you overcome the bad image of the Church?

It's better today. The Church is better today than yesterday . Even among the conservative bishops, there's a tolerance for youth. Those who condemn liberation theology and stay on the sidelines. Some of those who were candidates for Pope have repeatedly said that liberation theology has died. Nobody gave me the obituary. We shouldn't become bitter. You have to give a contribution to peace and hope, a hope against hope, which is ours, an Easter Hope that comes through the cross, but is an invincible hope. I always quote the words of a Spanish soldier, "Who's afraid since there are hospitals?," and if he had been more optimistic, he would have said, "Who's afraid since there are cemeteries?," and if he had been even more optimistic, he would have said, "Who's afraid, since there's Easter?". We are the people of hope, the people of Easter. Our Christian faith is hope, it's trust. Hope, trusting in the God of life, love, freedom, peace, in His Kingdom.

Q: Given that God speaks through the facts, through history, and that facts are stubborn things, what does He want to tell us right now with the lack of vocations to the priesthood, at least in Europe?

Here there are still certain vocations. We must review the whole issue of ministry, from the Pope to the last Christian. Celibate priesthood has to be an option. Women should have every right. It's tragic and ridiculous that they want to argue with the Gospel to prevent women's full participation. It wasn't Jesus who said that it has to be twelve men. There are cultural situations that affect the Church today. Humankind has been very sexist and so it continues. Almost every culture is sexist.

Q.: There's a Spanish theologian -- I don't know if his name rings a bell -- Martínez Gordo, who says that one of the fundamental evils of the Church is the sharp division between priests and laypeople.

We must stress the ministerial Church. Ministry has been made the essence of Christian law when ministry is only a service. Baptism, integration into the community of Jesus -- that is the Church. It will change everything that we're now demanding and that seems impossible to achieve. It will change with respect to women, with respect to the priest-laity division, with respect to the views on sexuality, with regard to ecumenical dialogue. It's already changing in part.

Q: From what you know about the new Pope and Latin America, do you think he'll be able to break away from the Curia and organize the government of the Church differently?

It won't be easy. We can't have the illusion that he'll dismantle the entire Curia, but he's introducing wedges. The appointment of the superior general of the Franciscans to the dicastery on religious life seems a step, it's a message he's sending. If he deals with other strong positions in the Curia along those lines, we'll see what happens. We need to transition from a fundamentalist authoritarian era, from having the whole truth, to a time of dialogue. Today, for many, it's essential that all religions be as equals.

Q: Not just ecumenism among Christians is important but dialogue with all religions, but there's some fear of being diluted on the part of the hierarchy in charge.

That was Benedict's anxiety, a fear that the Church would become diluted during his tenure. Interreligious dialogue implies a certain courage to get over the attitude of theologizing fairly smoothly, saying "outside the Church there is no salvation". Now suddenly they're telling us that there is salvation everywhere. I say that the Church is only Church when it saves, when it proclaims the good news, when it promotes fraternal sharing. The world is diverse. God is greater than all religions. Obviously you need to know how to combine an attitude of open dialogue and an attitude of freedom in your own identity. It's not about being bashful Catholics, but of living out one's own faith easily and elegantly. There's only dialogue with an adult attitude, contributing with your identity to the identity of others.

Q: You're still very up-to-date on theology. Which Spanish theologians do you follow, do you read the most?

González Faus, Queiruga...

Q: Queiruga is a friend of ours. He studied with us.

He's a great figure, one of the best Spanish theologians. He's been lucky to have two bishop friends so they haven't condemned him openly. I think they were fellow students and backed him up. Also, he's very Galician and knows how to put things.

Q: Moreover he's a man of God, which is very important.

That's what you have to say to young people: that we must pray, we must live in contemplation. We must give thanks to those who have reminded us of the importance of the Spirit that dwells within us -- the Spirit with two wings, the wing of contemplation and the one that impels us towards life.

There was a time, during the early years of liberation theology -- they were years of Marxist revolution in Latin America, when the Church was shacked up with the State, and those who had a revolutionary consciousness disowned that Church. Now on the occasion of the new Pope, the attitude of the Argentine hierarchy has come out everywhere. How hard it was for the Argentine bishops to acknowledge that Angelelli was martyred! How hard it was for them to acknowledge that it was the army that killed him! We had some events to mark the anniversary of Angelelli, in Argentina, and there were only two bishops.

Q: Going back to Torres Queiruga and those few theologians who aren't dogmatic -- they dialogue with the scientists without the will to impose, with the modern world of enlightened mentality, try to give reasons for their faith. I, José Centeno continues, after retiring, I've been going to history courses at the University of Valladolid, especially contemporary history while preparing the book on worker priests. I saw there, in the world of professors, that there's disparagement with respect to the Church, because when the bishops appear, they don't give reasons, they aren't rational, they're categorical. At the university, these positions are not acceptable.

They're right not to accept those positions.

Q: When the book came out, the professor invited me to talk about the book in a class. My son works at the Comisiones Obreras, at a foundation to help Third World trade unionists. They have a culture Athenaeum, so my son asked me, "Why not present the book in the Athenaeum?" I said that the issue of priests would not be of much interest in that forum. Yes, yes, he replied. And it was very well received. A lot of people came. There were many from Comisiones, former activists, former members of Juventud Obrera Cristiana. What I mean to say is that there's only a partial distancing. Sometimes they bring some theologians to the university -- Juan José Tamayo was there recently -- but they want people who give reasons for things and who aren't categorical. That's not supported in the college world.

We have to openly acknowledge the Church's faults, the inconsistencies of the Church. We can't justify the unjustifiable, but it's also saying that there are many in the Church who are honest, who are consistent.

Q: Yes, so that they're able to see the positive. Often, in recent years, journalists do make a distinction. They talk about those missionaries who are in Africa and are the last to leave when there are serious dangers; they make some distinction, treat it as an honorable exception of a few, the underdogs.

They feel like real dialogue. Basically everyone is able to have a lucid attitude. I see they accept questioning both belief and unbelief. That's why I said we're better today than yesterday. We have to avoid the triumphalist spirit, but we must also avoid the defeatist spirit and return to Jesus of Nazareth. "Following" is the best definition of Christian spirituality, following Jesus with the option for the poor, open dialogue, solidarity.

Q: In all that you've been telling us one thing is clear: there is no faith without politics, no isolated faith but one in community. It's very important to pray together with or without a priest. What importance do you give to what Rahner said about the 21st century Christians that either they'll be mystics or they won't be? What importance do you give to prayer, to being contemplative?

It has gained in the world in personalism, understood along the line of Mounier, and that authentic personalism requires inwardness, contemplation. It can be done, it should be done communally, so we have to promote celebrations in small groups, certain movements should be encouraged. We wondered about the foundation of World Youth Day. It's ambiguous. On the one hand, you can criticize the Church's triumphalist will -- gathering all the millions possible to fill the space -- but there are positive elements. What makes it difficult is that we have a Church that is a state and the pope is head of state and that, from the get-go, already causes insurmountable stumbling blocks. Reforming the Curia should have, as a first step, the automatic disappearance of the Vatican State and the Pope no longer being head of state. This should be elementary. You just have to think a bit about other religions. What does it mean that because he's Head of State, the whole country rolls over?

Mino Cerezo: I'm not asking you, I'm asking myself. I tell myself that, basically, the problem is not believing in Jesus, but to believe as Jesus believed. I don't think we go there. To believe as Jesus believed the issue of prayer is important, because Jesus believed thinking of others, he prayed thinking of others. He climbed the mountain alone, left the apostles, he spent the whole night, but he returned to be with the people, to proclaim the Kingdom of God, that is, he put prayer in the perspective of praxis, and that's what I think we're lacking. Young people believe in Jesus, but my question is for them and for us old folks. Are we believing like Jesus, not just in Jesus?

Thinking of the shirts, it's easy to wear Jesus on your chest; what's hard is having the patience, the courage to follow Jesus.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Teresa Forcades: "The flow of life can not be held back"

By Gemma Tramullas (English translation by Rebel Girl)
No. 320, September 2013

Benedictine nun. Born in Barcelona in 1966. She's a medical doctor with a PhD in Public Health, a PhD in Theology, a feminist, anti-capitalist and a supporter of independence for Catalonia. The profound freedom and harshness with which she expresses her opinions on the medicalization of the body, sexuality and power cause small earthquakes every time she opens her mouth. Since April, she has been pushing a constitutional process to create a new model of government in Catalonia.

These first lines came from the 45th minute of the interview or -- what is the same thing -- this interview starts at the end, at the moment Teresa Forcades offers the best portrait of herself from a personal interpretation of a passage from the Old Testament: "The flow of life can not be held back," she says in a visiting room at the monastery of Sant Benet de Montserrat. "The most precious thing anyone has is this ability to live life every day, taking risks, and extracting pleasure from that risk. So we're excited to see someone who lives openly. Life isn't a scavenger hunt or something closed. It's a dialectic between the fascination of talking about freedom and the fear of being free. These are the basic dimensions through which happiness and the meaning of life come." Take that! Let the pharmaceutical companies, political and financial elites and the church hierarchy tremble, for here is Sister Teresa, the monastic version of Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side".

In the monastery, you're just one among thirty-seven nuns, but outside, you're famous. How is that?

On a personal level, it's a pleasure because I get to rest from the media attention, which is like a servitude that I put up with sportingly. Not having this special attention in my community is essential for my mental health.

For you Benedictines, "nothing is easy, but everything is possible." But I fear that reaching 100,000 supporters for the constitutional process as you had planned might not be possible.

It's true that first I said we would reach this figure by Sant Jordi Day [St. George's Day - April 23rd] and now I'm saying by September 11th. Until then we're still in the process of seeing whether it jells or not, but a constitutional process is not a campaign to collect signatures.

Yeah, but it's been three months since you filed the initiative with the economist Arcadi Oliveres and you're at 40,000.

The most essential thing for the process to jell is not quantitative but qualitative. The treasure of the constitutional process is diversity, bringing together grassroots Christians, the indignados, radical leftist groups, and individuals who aren't from here or there, who don't identify with any social movement, but in whom this project inspires confidence. These politically unorganized people are our audience.

If you had gone on Tele 5, there might now be 400,000.

I don't know, because I have no interest in going there. We don't want masses of people who wave little flags at rallies; we need political activists. Nobody should sign up for the process who thinks this will be easy, because a revolution involves changing the rules of the game of a society and this means a possibility of social disruption, even confrontations. We are peaceful, democratic, and don't want to promote any kind of violence, but this isn't a treasure hunt. We're talking about changing society. If people sign up "to see if Arcadi and Teresa get us out of the crisis, it will be a resounding failure.

But you wouldn't deny your popular appeal.

People active in politics asked me to push this process with Arcadi because they said I had cross sector credibility, but this isn't something personal. So that you'll see I'm consistent, I'll give you a scoop (this interview was conducted in late June, so the scoop is history). Next semester, I'm teaching classes at the School of Theology in Berlin. I'm not thinking of leaving the process hanging. I'll come every month and do what I have to do, but I don't feel that I'm running anything. That would be the worst of the worst, on a personal and country level.

You could have expressed your concerns like Femen, using their naked bodies to make a political statement, but instead you do it wearing the habit.

The habit is a facilitator of freedom for me. In contemporary society, the weight of image is very strong, especially for women. I'm doing a study on the medicalization of genital cosmetics and it's appalling. What are we doing? Labiaplasties (labia majora and labia minora surgeries) are genital mutilation! When we say genital mutilation, we think it's something barbarians do, but here they do the same thing to you in a gynecological practice. And not only that, but the whole cult of youth. In that sense, a monastery is a place of freedom and sensibility.

Come on... Do they accept women with children?

Yeah, but not with the kids in here. (she laughs) But it's not like, since you're feeling oppressed, you go to the monastery. It only makes sense to come to this place if you have an inner experience of relationship with God and you feel called to this life.

You're often attacked through sex, as if because of being a nun, you were an asexual, repressed, frigid being.

For me the spiritual ideal is to vibrate with the full range of human emotions, and that naturally includes desire, which is one of the most creative dimensions of life. I don't think a person can be fulfilled while amputating their sexuality. I don't know if it's possible to enter a monastery and set aside everything sexual. In any case, it's not my experience. The ability to fall in love sexually has not disappeared in me and when that happens, it causes commotion in you, just as if you were in a couple and felt attraction towards another person. What do you do? You have to listen to what your sexuality and your affection are saying to you and see what you do with that. It's not about being repressed, but reframing what you're experiencing in a life that has some objectives and commitments.

You were a whirlwind in school. What's left of that girl?

I still have the curiosity and confidence and I think I've managed not to let uneasiness and dissatisfaction beat me down so much. As a child, I wasn't happy. I felt I didn't have any space, either at school or at home, or during adolescence, but this is no longer my dominant mark now.

The routine in the monastery is rigid. It's noon and you've already been up six hours.

Well, I have to admit that today I woke up later because I was at an event yesterday until late at night and ...

What patience the mother abbess must have with you...

You're absolutely right. You can write that now. She and all of them, because she looks favorably on the process, but one must also cherish the nuns who don't view it favorably and yet don't do anything to get me thrown out. When I was asked to promote the constitutional process, before saying yes I had to talk to my community about it. We had a discussion and voted, because some said "No way", "Don't get involved", and others, "Oh, great!"

What's your best time of day in the monastery?

The two individual prayer times. I usually read the Gospel of the day. I read the words that are supposed to have been uttered by a person who I believe is God, who is the first love who began the world and the one who waits for me and -- "zzzzp" (she makes a takeoff gesture) -- it resizes me, the antennas open and unfold. If I knew a resizing larger than what for me is living, I would choose it, but for now, this is the greatest.

You've always had a very strong relationship with nature. Does your tight schedule still allow it?

On Mondays and Tuesdays I go to a secret location in the mountains. For two days no one knows where I am and I don't see anyone. The community lets me do this; if not, I wouldn't endure.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Promoting gospel renewal: An open letter to Pope Francis from Jose Antonio Pagola

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Biblioteca Amerindia

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!