In a note reflecting Francis' sense of humor as well as his missionary zeal, the Pope offered guidelines to the bishops of Argentina, gathered in their plenary assembly till Saturday.
Francis would have participated in the plenary assembly had he not been elected to the See of Peter. He jokes about his new role in the opening lines to the bishops, but assures his continued closeness.
"Dear Brothers: I am sending these lines of greeting and also to excuse myself for being unable to attend due to 'commitments assumed recently' (sounds good?). I am spiritually with you and ask the Lord to accompany you very much during these days," he wrote.
The Holy Father then expresses what he calls "a desire": "I would like the Assembly’s works to have as a frame of reference the Document of Aparecida and 'Go Into the Deep.' The guidelines are there that we need for this moment of history."
The Aparecida document was the result of the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in the Brazilian city of Aparecida in 2007. Benedict XVI opened the event.
The document calls for a "continental mission" and has become a blueprint for the Church's efforts in Latin America in the last five-plus years.
Francis' message reiterated the call from 2007: "Above all I ask you to have the special concern to grow in the continental mission in all its aspects: programmatic mission and paradigmatic mission. May the whole of ministry be in a missionary key. We must come out of ourselves to all the existential peripheries and grow in boldness."
"A Church that does not go out, sooner or later gets sick in the vitiated atmosphere of her enclosure," the Pope continued, echoing a message he has given more than once since his election. "It is true also that to a Church that goes out something can happen, as it can to any person who goes out to the street: to have an accident. Given this alternative, I wish to say to you frankly that I prefer a thousand times an injured Church than a sick Church.
"The typical illness of the shut-in Church is self-reference; to look at herself, to be bent over herself like the woman in the Gospel. It is a kind of narcissism that leads us to spiritual worldliness and to sophisticated clericalism, and then it impedes our experiencing 'the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.'"
Pope Francis said this joy of evangelizing -- though many times united to the cross -- saves one from resentment and sadness.
"This joy helps us to be each day more fruitful, spending ourselves and unraveling ourselves in the service of the holy faithful people of God. This joy will grow increasingly to the degree that we take seriously the pastoral conversion that the Church asks of us," he said.
Francis concluded with a request for prayer, as well as a "brother’s embrace and a special greeting to the faithful people of God that you have in your care."
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On ZENIT's Web page:
Full text: www.zenit.org/en/articles/francis-letter-to-argentine-bishops-assembly