Pope's Address to Evangelization Conference

«How many persons live in great suffering and ask the Church to be a sign of the Lords closeness, kindness, solidarity and mercy»

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Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave last Friday to participants in the “ Pastoral Plan of Evangelii Gaudium” conference, organized Sept. 18-20 by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good afternoon.

I am happy to take part in your works and I thank Monsignor Rino Fisichella for his introduction. I thank you also for this framework of “life”: this is life! Thank you.

You work in pastoral care in different Churches of the world, and you have gathered to reflect together on the pastoral plan of Evangelii Gaudium. In fact, I myself have written that this document has a “programmatic meaning and important consequences” (n. 25). And it could not be otherwise when it is a question of the main mission of the Church, namely, to evangelize! There are moments, however, in which this mission becomes more urgent and our responsibility is in need of being revived.

There comes to mind, first of all, the words of Matthew’s Gospel where he says that Jesus seeing “the crowds had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). How many persons, in the existential fringes of our days, are “harassed and helpless” and await the Church, await us! How can we reach them? How can we share with them the experience of faith, love of God and encounter with Jesus? This is the responsibility of our communities and of our pastoral care.

The Pope does not have the task to “offer a detailed and complete analysis on contemporary reality” (Evangelii Gaudium, 51), but he invites the whole Church to take up the signs of the times that the Lord offers ceaselessly. How many signs are present in our communities and how many possibilities the Lord puts before us to recognize His presence in today’s world! In the midst of negative realities, which as always make more noise, we also see so many signs that infuse hope and give courage. These signs, as Gaudium et Spes says, must be reread in the light of the Gospel (cf. nn. 4 and 44): this is the “favorable time” (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2), it is the moment of a concrete commitment, it is the context in which we are called to work to make the Kingdom of God grow (cf. John 4:35-36).

How much poverty and loneliness we see, unfortunately, in today’s world! How many persons live in great suffering and ask the Church to be a sign of the Lord’s closeness, kindness, solidarity and mercy. This is a task that concerns, in a particular way, all those who have the responsibility of pastoral care: the Bishop in his diocese, the parish priest in his parish, the deacons in the service of charity, the men and women catechists in their ministry of transmitting the faith … In sum, all those who are committed in different realms of pastoral care are called to recognize and to read these signs of the times, to give a wise and generous response.

In the face of so many pastoral needs, in the face of so many requests of men and women, we run the risk of being frightened and of withdrawing into ourselves in an attitude of fear and defense. And from there is born the temptation of sufficiency and of clericalism, the codifying of the faith in rules and instructions, as the Scribes, Pharisees and Doctors of the Law did in Jesus’ time.  We might have everything clear, everything ordered, but the believing and searching people will continue to hunger and thirst for God. I have also said sometimes that the Church seems to me to be a field hospital: so many wounded people close to us, who ask of us what they asked of Jesus: closeness, proximity. And with the attitude of the Scribes, of the Doctors of the Law and of the Pharisees, we will never give witness of closeness.

There is a second account that makes me reflect. When Jesus talks of the owner of a vineyard who, being in need of laborers, went out of his house at different hours of the day to hire laborers for his vineyard (cf. Matthew 20:1-16). He did not go out only once. In the parable Jesus says that he went out at least five times: at dawn, at nine, at midday, at three and at five in the afternoon – we still have time for him to come to us! There was so much need in the vineyard and this gentleman spent almost the whole time going to the streets and Squares of the country to find laborers. Think of those of the last hour: no one had called them; who knows how they would have felt, because at the end of the day they would not have taken anything home to assuage the hunger of their children. See, all those responsible for pastoral care can find a good example in this parable. To go out at different hours of the day to find all those in search of the Lord; to reach the weakest and the poorest; to give the support of feeling useful in the Lord’s vineyard, even if for only one hour.

Another aspect: Please, let us not run after the voice of the sirens that call to make of pastoral care a convulsed series of initiatives, without succeeding in gathering the essential of the commitment of evangelization. Sometimes it seems that we are more preoccupied to multiply activities rather than to be attentive to persons and to their encounter with God. Pastoral care that does not have this attention soon becomes sterile. Let us not forget to do as Jesus did with his disciples: after they had gone to the villages to proclaim the Gospel, they returned happy with their successes, but Jesus took them apart, to a solitary place to be awhile together with them (cf. Mark 6:31). Pastoral care without prayer and contemplation will never reach people’s hearts. It will stay at the surface without making it possible for the seed of the Word of God to take root, germinate, grow and bear fruit (cf. Matthew 13:1-23).

I know that you all work a lot, and, therefore, I want to leave you one last important word: patience — patience and perseverance. The Word of God entered in “patience” at the moment of the Incarnation, and so, to death on the Cross. Patience and perseverance. We do not have the “magic wand” for everything, but we have trust in the Lord who accompanies us and never abandons us. In the difficulties and disappointments that are not rarely present in our pastoral work, we must not fail to trust in the Lord and in the prayer that sustains it. Let us not forget, however, that help is given to us, in the first place, by all those we have come close to and sustained. Let us do good, but without expecting a recompense. We sow and give witness. Witness is the beginning of an evangelization that touches the heart and transforms it. Words without witness are not on, they are useless! Witness is that which takes and gives validity to the word.

Thank you for your commitment! I bless you and, please, do not forget to pray for me, because I must talk so much and I must also give some Christian witness! Thank you.

Let us pray to Our Lady, Mother of Evangelization: Ave Maria …

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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