Tuesday, November 27, 2018

For a new Pact of the Catacombs

By Marcelo Barros (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Encontro com Marcelo Barros Blog
November 15, 2018

This is the second year that the Pope has proposed that all the local Churches in the world dedicate the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time as the "World Day of the Poor," that is, a day in which the commitment of the whole Church, pastors and faithful, to the poor of the world is celebrated and intensified.

Certainly, the Pope's intuition comes from his experience when he sees that the path of present society causes an enormous increase in poverty, social inequalities and a mass of migrants and refugees who challenge the luxury islands of the First World. The Pope has been moved; he has gathered with hundreds of poor and homeless at the Vatican for meals. And he proposes that bishops in their diocese and priests in their parishes do the same thing. I know many who are willing to follow all canonical rules concerning ecclesiastical discipline, but I know of almost no one who is willing to follow the example of the Pope on this path of solidarity with the poor.

Undoubtedly, in establishing this Day of Communion with the poor of the world, the Pope recalls that on November 16, 1965, 42 bishops who were in Rome at the last session of the Second Vatican Council met to celebrate in the Catacombs of Domitilla and there signed a document of commitment to simplify their lives, renounce all signs of ostentation of power and wealth, and put themselves and their diocese at the service of the poor. In the following days, some more bishops who could not be at the initial celebration joined the first ones and signed the document.

In fact, the Pact of the Catacombs that was not taken up by the Council or by Pope Paul VI, had a profound impact on the diocese and especially in Latin America. Personally, just over a year ago, I myself was questioned in Dom Helder Camara's beatification process and I was asked about a point of accusation. Dom Helder was accused of being a poor administrator of the diocese. When he resigned as archbishop, his accusers said, the archdiocese was in a bad economic situation. The process judge asked me if I agreed with this charge. I answered "yes" and I explained that Dom Helder had taken the Pact of the Catacombs seriously and had always lived as a poor man and impoverished the archdiocese. I noticed that the judge had difficulty understanding this and concluded, "In fact, only Jesus can understand this well and defend him."

At the time the Pact of the Catacombs was taken up, the challenges were proper to the times. Today, we need to ask pastors and faithful for a new Pact of the Catacombs, no longer just in relation to the sobriety of the lifestyle (which is still important), not only renouncing the signs of religious triumphalism (unfortunately, in recent decades, bishops and priests have regained the worst of liturgical triumphalism in pompous medieval ceremonies, in gestures and signs of narcissistic self-celebration during Jesus' Supper, and other similar sins). A new Pact of the Catacombs is needed to restore the right to a simpler, more prayerful liturgy, a more sober and gospel one as an expression of a discipleship of equals. God must touch the hearts of ministers and faithful, men and women, all in witness of the divine plan for the world, which is not to return to the monarchy and extravagance of medieval courts.

The new Pact of the Catacombs must free us from clericalism which the Pope denounces as the sickness of our Church. It must persuade the new priests that God is God and is Love and can not be socially and politically right-wing or reactionary. A new way of commitment to the poor is needed, not just taking on poverty as a way of life, but a commitment of defense of and solidarity with the struggle for liberation of the organized poor. The new Pact of the Catacombs will continue the meetings of Pope Francis with social movements and will fight for an outgoing Church and resistance to a false use of God that legitimizes very bad things for the impoverished. We need a new Pact of the Catacombs which will no longer be just the Roman catacombs of persecution of the first Christians, but will be the catacombs of today, of a society that buries justice and human rights as if these had nothing to do with faith. Those who do this proclaim themselves as Christians and unfortunately many bishops and pastors, evangelicals and Catholics, approve and bless them. A new Pact of the Catacombs is needed in reaction to this fascist and anti-gospel Christianity.

Thanks be to God, we still have brothers and sisters who continue the path of the Pact of the Catacombs today. Recently, I went to Bahia and met suffering street people and lay missionaries who live with them as a gospel choice and they gave me news of Brother Henrique Peregrino of the Trinity who for decades has lived with street children in the ruins of a church in Salvador. Today I give thanks to God for the witness of some of the diocese here in Brazil that continue this line of the Pact of the Catacombs and remain totally dedicated to serving the poor. Today I thank God for the witness of our dear brother Father João Pubben. He left from Holland for Brazil on the same day the bishops signed the Pact of the Catacombs in Rome (November 16, 1965). He worked with us here for nearly 50 years, accompanied Dom Helder and assisted him in the last years of his life as his guardian angel. And now, sick but still very firm in the mission, even from Holland, he continues to accompany us in the same spirit of the Pact of the Catacombs. For all this, we praise you and thank you, Lord.