Friday, July 17, 2015

Pope's visit to Latin America ends, leaving a pleasant "Gospel" taste (Part 1)

By Consuelo Vélez (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Fe y Vida: Blog de Consuelo Vélez
July 14, 2015

Since the beginning of Francis' pontificate, one has perceived a new ecclesial moment that continues and is reaffirmed with the encyclical letters he has published as well as through his actions, words, and attitude. The trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay (July 5-12) continues to demonstrate it. It should be noted that the media, who are more accustomed to a different papal style, bent over backwards to justify, modify, and tone down what the Pope was doing and saying.

They turned to pronouncements from Vatican circles to explain that the Pope didn't say this, didn't do that, didn't agree with someone else, etc. Focused as they were on a more punishing than merciful message, on more rigid than spontaneous gestures, and on some doctrinal statements that are more focused on rules than on the Gospel, now they don't know how to fill their pages with the Pope's messages that speak of life, reality, social, political and economic issues, and, of course, the poor. Moreover, Francis uses spontaneous, popular, everyday language, thus breaking the ecclesial image that likens holiness to the use of classical language that doesn't allow for idioms or common sayings. What is important is not letting his message get lost and seeking to make it better known to see if this change that has made us happy, will be truly incorporated into the daily life of the Church, not just remaining a papal style without managing to permeate other Church strata.

It is impossible to describe the Pope's tour step by step or refer to all his speeches. But it is gratifying to see that both the countries chosen for his visit and the meetings he had, showed which side the Pope is on in his pontificate, "from whence" he speaks and hails and "whom" he favors in his encounters.

At the Pontifical University of Ecuador, speaking to the world of Education, he focused his speech on the care of creation -- in line with his recent encyclical Laudato Si' -- talking to the teachers about their responsibility to help their students develop a free critical spirit, able to care for the world today, not ignoring the reality in which they live. And he pointed to a challenging question: How can it be news and even a great global scandal when the stock markets in the major world capitals go down two or three points, and not news when the poor die from the cold? In the face of this, God's question to Cain remains valid: Where is your brother? Addressing the students, he invited them to make a fuss and reminded them that their ability to study is not synonymous with more money or social prestige but a commitment to social change, especially responding to the urgent needs of the poor and the environment.

At the meeting with the general public in Quito, starting from the example of family relationships, he invited the general public to be able to see themselves as a big family in which gratuitousness, solidarity and subsidiarity have priority. Gratuitousness because we have received everything for free and we are to look out that it bears fruit in good works.

He recalled that all property has a social mortgage on it and that gratuitousness is an indispensable requirement for justice. Solidarity is not just giving to the needy but being accountable for one other. Seeing others as brothers and sisters leads us to not let anyone be excluded or set aside. And subsidiarity, capable of respecting the value of everyone and recognizing unity amid diversity. With respect to freedom, society is called to promote each individual and social agent so they can assume their own role and contribute to the common good in their specific way.

Referring to the Church's task in civil society, he called for collaboration in the search for the common good, promoting ethical and spiritual values, being a prophetic sign, bringing light and hope to the neediest. The Pope also clarified a question that he feels many people want to ask him: Why does he talk so much about the needy, needy people, excluded people, people on the side of the road? And he answered: Simply because that reality and the response to that reality are the heart of the Gospel (Matthew 25).

In the meeting with the clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians at El Quinche Marian Shrine (Ecuador), as befits his spontaneity, he didn't read the speech he had prepared but preferred to talk directly to those present (and in his day-to-day language -- Argentinian -- “mirá vos” ["Oh really?"], “che” ["listen!"], “mocosito” ["little snot"]). He focused on gratuitousness, reminding them that a true disciple is free, like the Virgin, the first disciple of her Son, and that vocation is a grace received. He asked them not to fall into spiritual Alzheimer's, that is, forgetting where the Lord took them from, warning them that gratuitousness doesn't coexist with the careerist advancement sometimes seen in clerics and men and women religious. Along this same line of gratuitousness, he asked them not to charge for grace, that their ministry be free.

Coming to Bolivia, in the welcoming ceremony, Pope Francis acknowledged Evo's government's efforts for social change: "Bolivia is making important steps towards including broad sectors in the country’s economic, social and political life. It has a constitution that recognizes the rights of individuals, minorities and the natural environment, and has institutions that are sensitive to these realities." And he reminded the pastors that their voice must be prophetic, speaking to society from the preferential gospel option for the last and least, for the outcasts, for the excluded because that is the preferential option of the Church. And undoubtedly it was very significant that he stopped at the tomb [sic] of Fr. Luis Espinal, whom he called "a victim of interests that did not want him to fight for the freedom of Bolivia, someone who preached the Gospel and that Gospel annoyed them, so they eliminated him."

In the meeting with Bolivian civil authorities, the Pope invited them to keeping moving towards the integration of the diverse wealth that country has at every level and for faith to be translated into social works that promote the common good. He stated that politics should not let itself be dominated by financial speculation or the economy, nor governed solely by the technocratic and utilitarian paradigm, but take into account the whole of the culture and the need to work on all its aspects. He devoted special attention to the family so affected by domestic violence, alcoholism, machismo, drug addiction, lack of work, etc., and he invited a dialogue among nations to overcome conflicts, specifically, the exit to the sea that Bolivia is demanding. Frank and open dialogue is the way to solve all problems.

Pope Francis also met with bishops, seminarians, men and women religious of Bolivia and the message was very graphic. Based on the text of blind Bartimaeus, he confronted them on the response they are giving to current needs -- "passing by", "silencing the demands" or stopping to give "encouragement and helping the sick person to get up." He invited them to bear witness to the latter attitude because the disciple must be a witness to what he himself has experienced.

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