Cardinal Filoni: So Many People Do Not Know Jesus

Prefect of Evangelization Congregation Speaks of New Role as Cardinal

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By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 28, 2012 ( Cardinal Ferdinando Filoni is in charge of almost 40% of the territory where the Church works around the world, with close to 1,000 bishops under his jurisdiction.

Just a few days ago, the 65-year-old prelate was incorporated into the College of Cardinals.

In his first interview after the consistory he spoke about the challenges of his mission and on the difficulties many Catholics experience due to persecution.

ZENIT: Eminence, the Holy Father has made you a cardinal. How do you feel?

Cardinal Filoni: The prefects of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide have always been cardinals. As such, the appointment wasn’t a novelty, although I received the news with a feeling of gratitude and also, so to speak, of unworthiness in regard to the dignity of being a cardinal. For which reason I believe that this gesture of the Holy Father is due primarily to the Congregation of which I am prefect. In particular, I believe, it is connected with all the priests, those men and women missionaries, men and women Religious, laywomen and laymen who dedicate their lives daily to the Gospel in all the countries and territories under our oversight. I am certain this honor goes, in the first place, to them.

ZENIT: What does the taking of possession of a parish mean for each cardinal?

Cardinal Filoni: Every cardinal has a title. My title is connected to the parish of Our Lady of Coromoto, in Saint John of God. This means that a cardinal becomes part of the clergy of Rome and, as such, is following a very ancient tradition that cardinals are members of the Pope’s diocese, they assist the Supreme Pontiff in his pastoral ministry, in his supreme ministry as head of the whole Church. Being linked to a church, to a parish, means, later, involving the whole population that is part of it in prayer, in love and in support to the Holy Father’s ministry. It is a form of participation that seems necessary to me, so that the Pope can feel that his mission is supported and loved by the whole Church, especially by this community, this specific parish.

ZENIT: The Pope gave you the cardinal’s ring with a new design.

Cardinal Filoni: The design is what the Pope wanted, and it shows two figures, one of Saint Peter and the other of Saint Paul, who, as we know, are the witness of the faith here in Rome. Therefore, it is a symbol closely united to the Apostolic See, Peter with his faith, Paul with his preaching to the Gentiles. These two aspects are joined in the person of the Pope and of course the cardinals participate in this same reality. There is also a small star, which is the symbol of the faith.

ZENIT: In his messages, the Pope has asked cardinals not to follow the logic of the world but the logic of Jesus. How have you understood this message?

Cardinal Filoni: I think it is in the style of Pope Benedict. He has always said that the Church is not an end in herself, but that the Church has been willed by Jesus in order that men, knowing the Gospel, can know God. Spirituality is central in Pope Benedict’s mission. Thus to call the faithful, priests, bishops and cardinals to this reality seems to me the most beautiful thing, very much in line with Benedict XVI’s pastoral ministry.

ZENIT: What does the Pope emphasize in his message for October’s World Mission Day?

Cardinal Filoni: The Pope says that the Church has a mission, so that her center and horizon is the proclamation of the Gospel. The Pope begins from Vatican Council II, so that fifty years later he asks us a question: How was the missionary Church fifty years ago and what is the missionary Church today? And here, of course, the Holy Father, following the meaning of this question, speaks of a «missionary ecclesiology,» placed by the Council at the center of the reflection of the whole Church: missionary work not only as the activity of Religious Institutes, but of the whole Church. 

Let us consider, for example, how lay people have been involved: whereas before they were somewhat on the margin of missionary activity, today they are at the forefront. We can say that given the lack of traditional missionary vocations, lay missionary vocations have increased enormously. There are many movements who see now, in the proclamation of the Gospel, the center of their activities. There is a second point in the message: «The priority and proclamation of the Gospel,» knowing that more than five billion people don’t know it. The third point is «faith and the proclamation.» That is, we cannot proclaim the Gospel if there is no coherence in our life, if one’s faith isn’t loved; from this love of one’s faith stems the duty to communicate it; thus, from the richness of knowledge of one’s faith comes the impulse to proclaim it to others. Finally, «Proclamation that becomes charity.» That is, from the moment in which I proclaim the Gospel I am not indifferent to others and, as a consequence, I also take become responsible for their material needs.

ZENIT: There are so many places where the Church suffers, where her members cannot express their faith because they are persecuted and expelled from their land. What should our attitude be in these places?

Cardinal Filoni: In my address of welcome and gratitude to the Holy Father on Sunday, February 19, at one point I said that red is a sign of martyrdom, which the Church always experiences. Also in the Church today, because of fidelity to the Lord, there is no lack of martyrdom, tribulations and persecutions of many of her members. Therefore, it seems inherent that the life of the Church cannot be separated from a witness that sometimes is dyed in purple, in red, in blood.

ZENIT: Many recall your attitude during the attack on Iraq, and also that of the whole Church, when you ran the risk of martyrdom.

Cardinal Filoni: In such a moment, one doesn’t think of martyrdom; one thinks of being faithful, both to the mission received — which was the mission that at that time Pope John Paul II had entrusted to me: peace — as the mission to keep the bishops, priests and faithful united. I always recall with profound spiritual emotion, the way in which all the priests stayed in their parishes, in their churches; many opened their church so that people could bring their mattresses and blankets and find refuge in them, with the hope that at least those places would be safe from the bombings. Not only Christians but also Muslims found refuge in the churches, with whom moments of prayer and singing were shared. It was an extraordinary testimony, which is kept in the memory of our Christians. All this, seen today, reminds us that, despite the fact that in Iraq, Christians were a minority, they gave fantastic witness not only to the whole Church, but also to the Iraqi people.

ZENIT: Let’s talk about China, North Korea, Vietnam, where the faithful cannot express their faith. Has there been some progress in these countries?

Cardinal Filoni: They are very different societies from our own, both from the political point of view, as well as from the cultural point of view. In those countries, the Church is in the minority. So it is not powerful in terms of numbers, but what the Church asks for in these places is for that liberty which is inherent to each person and, of course, to each believer. We continue to hope, otherwise it would make no sense to continue working for this. And, of course, together with hope we believe in dialogue at all levels, in mutual understanding, in knowing why such situations exist. We hope that the difficulties will be able to be overcome one day. The Church assures the governments that they have nothing to fear from Catholics. Catholics are men and women who, professing their faith, become loyal citizens of their country and to its authority; they only want to be able to have the liberty to pray and to organize themselves, according to the practices of their Church, in particular of the Catholic Church.

NIT: Can you send a message to the many missionaries who read ZENIT?

Cardinal Filoni: Yes, this is a beautiful opportunity to tell all missionaries: know how much we appreciate and love your mission. We are here to support it, to help. Sometimes we help it, other times not so much; this is part of a natural evolution of things. But you are the most important part, the most beautiful part of our ecclesial activity. You are the best of our Congregation!

[Translation by ZENIT]
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