Pope's Address on Ministry in Big Cities

«I will speak to you from my personal experience, as one who was pastor of a populous and multi-cultural city»

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Last week, Pope Francis addressed participants in the second phase of the International Congress on Pastoral Ministry in Great Cities, held in Barcelona, November 24-26.

Here is a translation of the Pope’s address.

* * *

Dear Brothers,

I thank you for your participation in this meeting, which reconnects with the preparatory phase that took place in Barcelona last May.  I thank Cardinal Sistach for his introductory words.

Rather than giving a formal address – in part because I would like to be somewhat spontaneous and in part because I have not had time to prepare a formal address — between the addresses for Turkey, those for Europe [the visit to Strasbourg], I was full … — I will speak to you from my personal experience, as one who was pastor of a populous and multi-cultural city like Buenos Aires. And also of the experience we had together as bishops of the 11 dioceses that make up that ecclesiastical region. With them, beginning from different ambits and proposals, we sought, in ecclesial communion, to address some pastoral aspects for the evangelization of that urban agglomeration with a population of close to 13 million people, in all the 11 dioceses: Buenos Aires has 3 million at night and almost 8 million during the day, who come to the city. However, in total they are 13 million. It is in the 13th place in the world, among the most densely populated cities. In reflecting with you, I would like to enter into this “current” to open new ways; I also want to help to sift possible fears, which all of us often suffer in one way or another, and which confuse and paralyze us.

In Evangelii Gaudium I wished to recall attentionto the urban pastoral outreach, but without opposition to the rural pastoral. This is an optimal occasion to reflect further on the challenges and possible horizons of an urban pastoral ministry. Challenges, that is, places to which God is calling us; horizons, that is, aspects to which I believe we must give special attention. I will mention only four, but you will discover others, I’m sure!

First, perhaps the most difficult: to effect a change in our pastoral mentality. We must change!

In a city we are in need of other “maps,” other paradigms, which help us to reposition our thoughts and our attitudes. We cannot remain disoriented, because such disorder leads us to mistake the way, first of all for ourselves, but then to confuse the People of God and those that seek with a sincere heart the Life, the Truth and the Way.

We come from a secular pastoral practice, in which the Church was the only referent of culture. It’s true; it’s our heritage. As authentic Teacher, has felt the responsibility to delineate and impose, not only the cultural forms, but also the values and, more profoundly, to sketch the personal and collective imaginary, that is to say the histories, the foundations on which people lean to find the ultimate meanings and the answers to their vital questions.

However, we are no longer in that age. It has passed. We are in Christianity, no more. Today we are no longer the only ones that produce culture, nor the first or the most listened to. Therefore, we are in need of a change of pastoral mentality, but not of a “relativistic pastoral” – no, not this – that wishing to be present in the “cultural kitchen” loses the evangelical horizon, leaving man entrusted to himself and emancipated from God’s hand. No, not this. This is the relativistic way, the most comfortable. This cannot be called a pastoral ministry! Whoever does this, has no real interest in man, but leaves him at the mercy of two equally grave dangers: they hide Jesus from them and the truth about man himself. And to hide Jesus and the truth about man are grave dangers! – a way that leads man to the solitude of death (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 93-97).

We must have the courage to carry out an audacious evangelizing pastoral outreach without fears, because man, woman, families and the various groups that inhabit the city expect from us, and are in need for their life, the Good News that is Jesus and his Gospel. So often I hear it said that one feels shame to reveal oneself. We must work not to be ashamed or reluctant in proclaiming Jesus Christ; we must seek how to do it … This is a key work.

2. Dialogue with the multi-cultural. At Strasbourg I spoke of a multi-polar Europe. However, the great cities are also multi-polar and multi-cultural. And we must dialogue with this reality, without fear. It is, then, about acquiring a pastoral dialogue without relativisms, which does not negotiate its Christian identity, but which wants to reach the heart of the other, of the others who are different from us, and sow the Gospel there.

We are in need of a contemplative attitude, which without rejecting the contribution of the different sciences to know the urban phenomenon – these contributions are important –seeks to discover the foundation of cultures, which in their most profound nucleus are always open and thirsty for God. It will help us a lot to know the imaginary and the invisible cities, namely, the human groups or territories that identify themselves in their symbols, languages, rites and ways to relate life. Very often I think of the creativity and courage that Paul had in his address at Athens. Poor soul … it didn’t go well for him, but he had creativity, because to pause before the idols … Let us put ourselves in a Judeo-Christian mentality … He entered in their culture … It wasn’t a success, certainly, but his creativity! He sought to make himself understood by that multi-culturalism that was so far from the Jewish-Christian mentality.

The third aspect is the people’s religiosity. God dwells in the city. We must go to seek him and pause where he is working. I know that it’s not the same in the different Continents, but we must discover, in the religiosity of our peoples, the genuine religious substratum, which in many cases is Christian and Catholic – but not in all. There is non-Christian religiosity. But we must go there, to the nucleus. We must not disregard or scorn such an experience of God that, though at times is dispersed and mixed, asks to be discovered and not built. They are the seeds of the Word sown by the Lord’s Spirit. It’s not good to make hasty and generic appraisals of the type: “This is only an expression of natural religiosity.” No, this cannot be said! We can begin the evangelizing dialogue from there, as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman and surely with many others beyond Galilee. And, necessary for the evangelizing dialogue is the awareness of one’s own Christian identity and also empathy with the other person. I believe I have said this to you, to the Bishops of Asia, no? The empathy to find in religiosity this substratum.

For some decades, the Church in Latin America and in the Caribbean has been aware of this religious force, which comes especially from the poor majorities.

God continues to speak to us today, as he has always done, through the poor, the “least.” In general, the great cities of today are inhabited by numerous migrants and poor people, who come from rural areas, or from other Continents, with other cultures. Rome also … The Vice Bishop of Rome can say it, no? So many homeless everywhere … They are pilgrims of life, in search of “salvation,” who often have the strength to go forward and to struggle thanks to an ultimate sense that they receive from a simple and profound experience of faith in God. The challenge is twofold: to be hospitable to the poor and migrants – in general the city isn’t so – it rejects them! – and to appreciate their faith. It’s very probable that this faith is mixed with elements of magic and immanentist thought, but we must seek it, recognize it, interpret it and, certainly, also evangelize it. However, I have no doubt that in the faith of these men and women there is an enormous potential for the evangelization
of urban areas.

Fourth – continuing – with the urban poor. The city, together with the multiplicity of lovely offers for life, has an implication, which cannot be hidden and which in many cities is ever more evident: the poor, the excluded, the discarded. Today we can speak of the discarded. The Church cannot ignore their cry, or enter into the game of unjust, mean and self-interested systems that seek to make them invisible.

There are so many poor, victims of old and new poverties. There are the new poverties! — structural and endemic poverties that are excluding generations of families; economic, social, moral and spiritual poverties, poverties that marginalize and discard persons, children of God. In the city, the future of the poor is more poverty. We must go there!

Some Proposals

I propose to you two pastoral nuclei, which are actions but not only that. I think that pastoral outreach is more than action; it is also presence, contents, attitudes and gestures.

A first thing: to come out and facilitate.

It is about a real ecclesial transformation –all thought out in the key of mission. A change of mentality: from receiving to going out; from waiting for them to come to going out to seek them. This, for me, is key!

To go out to encounter God who dwells in the city and in the poor; to go out to meet one another, to listen, to bless, and to walk with the people, and to facilitate the encounter with the Lord; to render accessible the Sacrament of Baptism; to have open churches, secretariats with schedules for people who work, and  catecheses adapted to the contents and schedules of the city.

One succeeds more easily in making the faith grow than in helping it to be born. I think we must continue to reflect further on the necessary changes in our various catecheses, essentially in our pedagogical ways, so that the contents are better understood, but at the same time we must learn to reawaken in our interlocutors curiosity and interest in Jesus Christ. This curiosity has a holy patron: it is Zacchaeus. Let us ask him to help us reawaken it and then invite to adhere to Him and to follow Him. We must learn to arouse faith – to arouse faith! And then not go here and there … No! We must sow! If faith begins, it is the Spirit who will then see if a person turns to me or turns to another to ask for a further step, a further step … But to arouse faith.

Second Proposal: the Samaritan Church. To be there.

It is about a change in the meaning of witness. The quality of the urban pastoral ministry will be measured by the capacity of witness of the Church and of every Christian. When Pope Benedict said that the Church does not grow by proselytism but by attraction, he was speaking about this – a witness that attracts, which makes people curious.

Here is the key. With witness we can cut into the most profound nuclei, where culture is born. Through witness the Church sows the mustard seed, but she does so in the very heart of the cultures that are being generated in the cities. The concrete witness of mercy and tenderness, which seeks to be present in the existential and poor fringes, acts directly on the social imaginations, generating direction and meaning for the life of the city — just as we Christians contribute to build a city in justice, in solidarity and in peace.

With the social pastoral, with Caritas, with different organizations, as the Church has always done in the course of centuries, we can take charge of the poorest with significant actions, actions that render present the Kingdom of God, manifesting and dilating it. Also by learning to work together with all those who are already doing very effective things in favor of the poorest. It is a very propitious area for the ecumenical charitable pastoral, in which we assume commitments of service to the poorest together with brothers of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities.

Very important in all this is the role of the laity and of the poor themselves – and also the freedom of the layman, because what imprisons us, what does not make us open wide the doors, is the sickness of clericalism. It is one of the gravest problems.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is what the reflection on my pastoral experience has suggested to me. It gives me joy to think that we are going together on the path, and that we do so in the wake of so many holy pastors who have preceded us. I only mention, as an example, Blessed Giovanni Battista Montini, who during his episcopate at Milan took care with passionate zeal of the great citizen mission. In the writings of Blessed Paul VI, when he was Archbishop of Milan, there is a wealth of things that can help us in this. May their example and their intercession, with that of our heavenly Mother, help us to realize a fruitful change of mentality, to increase our capacity to dialogue with the different cultures, to appreciate the religiosity of our peoples, and to share the Gospel and bread with the poorest of our cities. Thank you.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation