Pope Has Been a Modern Missionary, Says Honduran Cardinal

Archbishop Rodríguez Maradiaga on the Main Features of John Paul II

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ROME, OCT. 30, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The greatest challenge is the new evangelization for greater justice and solidarity, and peace through dialogue, says Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga.

The archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, emphasized that point in an interview with the Veritas agency at the conclusion of the recent consistory and celebrations for the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s pontificate.

Q: What does your being cardinal mean for your life?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: I live it as I have lived these 25 years as bishop, as a service of love. I am very happy serving my people. They are a poor and humble people, a people with so many difficulties and problems. But I feel it is the legacy the Lord has given me, and I am very happy with it.

The greatest challenge, certainly, is the new evangelization for greater justice and solidarity and for the search for peace through dialogue. This is one of our commitments and, of course, I am very happy to serve.

Q: What challenges must the Church address in the third millennium?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: I think we have to recover the missionary impetus. We are not simply in a club of chosen ones.

I think we Catholic Christians face a very great challenge: to be able to influence a culture in which we give witness to the values of the Gospel, which, in fact, are increasingly marginalized from culture, so that these values are assumed by today’s culture.

Above all, ethics is the essential element that must be restored in life. It is not a question of proselytism but of witness. And I think that here we have a very wide field for the new evangelization.

Q: What features would you highlight of John Paul II’s 25-year pontificate?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: In the first place, the missionary dimension. It seems to me that when he went to Puebla in 1979 — it was his first evangelizing trip — he discovered the enormous potential of his presence in all the continents and countries.

He has been a modern missionary. He has proclaimed the Gospel and has come close to the People of God. No one dreamed of seeing the Pope up close, yet he has made this possible through great sacrifices, because everyone says how lovely it is to travel. But to travel as the Pope travels is no good fortune, but, on the contrary, exhaustion and enormous work. This is the first feature I would highlight.

The second is his encouragement of young people. He has really been an 83-year-old youth, as he himself said. Of course this encouragement has given young people very great enthusiasm, which is noticeable.

In my country, for example, after the Pope’s visit vocations to the priesthood began to grow, something that before we had great difficulty in obtaining.

I think the next feature is ecumenism. He has been a courageous man to open the doors of the Church and the Church’s arms with love, even asking forgiveness for errors committed in the past. Anyone else would have said: “I have nothing to do with that, because I was not alive at that time.” And yet, he has had the courage to do it.

And there are many other aspects, but I would stress very much that he has been a teacher of prayer, especially for us bishops when we have gone to see him for meetings or dinners.

I have had the good fortune to share his table many times, because I was president and also secretary-general of CELAM [the Latin American bishops’ council]. Every time we dined with him, we spent at least 20 minutes of prayer with him in his private chapel, before and after the dinner. Then, to see him celebrate the holy Eucharist, to see him at prayer when we arrive in his chapel to concelebrate with him, is really to contemplate the face of God.

I think this has been another of the great features. I would also point out the impetus given to the social doctrine of the Church, which is making a difference and is not just seen as a theory but as a force capable of bringing down walls — Berlin’s — and others that must come down.

Q: What can one ask of the next Pope?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: First, that he be a man of God, because this is what is most important. The Church is not simply a human institution. It is human-divine and the Church’s founder and guide is the Holy Spirit. Therefore, for me, that must be the first quality: to be at one with God and to respond to the Lord’s calls.

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