The Holy Father Francis sent a message for the 36th Ordinary General Assembly of CELAM, which was held in El Salvador from May 9-12. In the message, the Pontiff says that “in the measure in which we involved ourselves in the life of our faithful people and feel the profundity of their wounds, we will be able to look without ‘clerical filters” at the face of Christ, go to His Gospel to pray, think, discern and allow ourselves to be transformed, from His face, in Pastors of hope.”
Here is a translation of the complete text:
My Brothers gathered in CELAM’s Assembly, dear Brothers,
I want to come close to you in these days of Assembly, which has as its background mysticism the celebration of the 300 years of Our Lady of Aparecida, and, with you, I would like to be able to “visit” that Shrine.
A visit of sons and disciples, a visit of brothers who like Moses want to take off their shoes in that holy land that is able to shelter God’s encounter with His people. I would also like it to be our “visit” to the feet of the Mother, so that she will engender hope in us and temper our hearts of sons. It would be as though “returning home” to look, contemplate but especially to allow ourselves to be looked at and to encounter Him who loved us first.
Three-hundred years ago, a group of fishermen left as usual to cast their nets,. “They went out to earn their living and were taken aback by a finding that changed their steps: in their routine they came across a small image covered in mud.
It was of Our Lady of the Conception, image that for 15 years stayed in the home of one of them, and the fishermen went there to pray and She helped them to grow in the faith. Still today, 300 years later, Our Lady Aparecida makes us grow, submerges us in the way of a disciple. Aparecida is altogether a school of discipleship. And, in this connection, I would like to point out three aspects. The first is the fishermen.
They were not many, a small group of men who went out daily to face the day and to confront the uncertainty that the river had in store for them. Men who lived with the insecurity of never knowing what would be the day’s “earnings”: an uncertainty not at all easy to manage when it is about taking food home and, especially, when in that home there are children to feed.
Fishermen are those men who know first hand the ambivalence that exists between the river’s generosity and the aggression of its overflows. Men accustomed to face inclemency with the toughness and certain holy “stubbornness” of those who, day after day, do not fail, because they can’t, to cast the nets.
This image brings us close to the center of the life of so many of our brothers. I see faces of persons who very early <in the morning> and well into the night go out to earn their living. And they do so with the insecurity of not knowing what the result will be. And what hurts most is to see that – virtually ordinarily – they go out to face the inclemency generated by one of the gravest sins that scourges our Continent today: corruption, that corruption that razes lives, submerging them in the most extreme poverty — corruption that destroys whole populations, subjecting them to precariousness; corruption that, like a cancer, goes eating away at the daily life of our people. And so many brothers of ours there are who, in an admirable way, go out to fight and face the “overflows” of many . . . of many who do not need to go out.
The second aspect is the Mother. Mary knows first hand the life of her children. In criollo I dare to say: she is “devoted Mother” — a Mother who is attentive and accompanies the life of her own. She goes where she is not expected.
In the account of Aparecida, we find her in the middle of the river surrounded by mud. There, she waits for her children; she is there with her children in the midst of their struggles and searches. She is not afraid to be submerged with two of them in the avatars of history and, if necessary, to be soiled to renew hope.
Mary appears there where the fishermen cast the nets, there where those men try to earn their living. She is there — finally, <there is> the encounter. The nets were not filled with fish but with a presence that filled their life and gave them the certainty that in their attempts, in their struggles, they were not alone. It was the encounter of those men with Mary. After cleaning and restoring her they took her to a home where she remained for a good while.
That home, that house, was the place where the fishermen of the region went to encounter <Our Lady> Aparecida, and that presence became community, Church. The nets were not filled with fish <but>they were transformed into community.
In Aparecida, we find the dynamics of the believing people who acknowledge themselves sinners, a tough and stubborn people, conscious that their nets, their life, is full of a presence that encourages them not to lose hope; a presence that hides in the daily <routine>, of the home and of families, in those silent places in which the Holy Spirit continues underpinning our continent.
All this presents to us a lovely icon that we, Pastors, are invited to contemplate. We came as sons and as disciples to listen to and to learn what this event, 300 years later, continues saying to us. Aparecida (be it that apparition or as today the experience of the Conference) does not bring us recipes but keys, criteria, little great certainties to illuminate and, above all, to “kindle” the desire to take off all unnecessary baggage and go back to the roots, to the essential, to the attitude that planted the faith at the dawn of the Church and then made of our continent the land of hope. Aparecida only wishes to renew our hope in the midst of so much “inclemency”
The first invitation that this icon gives us as Pastors is to learn to look at the People of God; to learn to listen to them and to know them, to give them their importance and place, not in a conceptual or organizational, nominal or functional way. Although it is true that today there is greater participation of the lay faithful, often we have limited them to the intra-ecclesial commitment without a clear stimulus for them to permeate, with the force of the Gospel, the social, political, economic <and> university environments.
To learn to listen to the People of God means to shed our prejudices and rationalism, our functionalist schemes to learn how the Spirit acts in the heart of many men and women who with great strength do not fail to cast the nets and fight to make the Gospel credible, to know how the Spirit continues moving the faith of our people, that faith that is not so concerned with earning and pastoral successes but with solid hope.
How much we have to learn from the faith of our people! The faith of mothers and grandmothers who are not afraid of getting dirty to have their children get ahead. They know that the world they must live in is full of injustices; they see and experience everywhere the want and frailty of a society that is being increasingly fragmentized, where the impunity of corruption continues to take lives and destabilize cities. Not only do they know it, they live it.
And they are the clear example of the second reality that, as Pastors, we are called to assume: let us not be afraid to be soiled by our people. Let us not be afraid of the mud of history as long as hope is rescued and renewed. He alone fishes who is not afraid to risk and to commit himself for his own. And this does not stem from heroism or the kamikaze character of some, nor is it the individual inspiration of someone who wants to immolate himself.
It is the whole believing community that is seeking its Lord, because only by going out and leaving insecurities <behind> (which so often are ‘worldly’) is how the Church centers herself; only by not being self-referential are we able to re-center ourselves in Him who is source of Life and Fullness.
To be able to live with hope it is crucial that we re-center ourselves in Jesus Christ who already dwells in the center of our culture and always comes to us again. He is the center. This certainty and invitation helps us, Pastors, to center ourselves in Christ and in His People. They are not antagonistic. To contemplate Christ in His people is to learn to de-center ourselves from ourselves, to center ourselves in the one Pastor.
To re-center ourselves with Christ in His People is to have the courage to go to the peripheries of the present and the future confident in the hope that the Lord continues to be present and His presence will be source of abundant Life.
From whence will come the creativity and strength to go where the new paradigms are gestating that are guiding the life of our countries and be able to reach, with the Word of Jesus, the deepest nuclei of the soul of the cities where, every day increasingly, the experience is growing of not feeling themselves citizens but, rather, “half way citizens’ or ‘urban leftovers.’ (Cf. EG 74).
It is true, we cannot deny it, the reality presents itself to us ever more complicated and disconcerting, but we are asked to live it as disciples of the Master without allowing ourselves to be aseptic and impartial observers, but men and women passionate for the Kingdom, desirous of impregnating society’s structures with the Life and Love we have known, and this, not as colonizers or dominators, but sharing the good scent of Christ and that that scent continue to transform lives. I reiterate again to you, as brother, what I wrote in Evangelii Gaudium (49):
“I prefer a rugged, wounded, and stained Church for going out to the street, rather than a sick Church because <she is> enclosed and in the comfort of holding fast to her securities. I do not want a Church concerned to be the center, which ends up cloistered in a tomorrow of obsessions and procedures. If something should make us holily anxious and worry our conscience it is that so many of our brothers live without strength, light and the consolation of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith that supports them, without a horizon of meaning and life. More than fear of being mistaken, I hope that we will be moved by the fear of being shut-in in structures that give us a false contention, in norms that make us implacable judges, in customs where we feel tranquil while outside there is a hungry multitude and Jesus repeats to us without tiring: “You give them to eat!’ (Mark 6:37)”
This will help to reveal the merciful dimension of the Church’s maternity that, on the example of Aparecida, is between the “rivers and mud of history” accompanying and encouraging hope so that each person, where he is, can feel at home, can feel himself a loved, sought and awaited child. This look, this dialogue with the faithful People of God, offers two very lovely attitudes to the Pastor to cultivate: courage to proclaim the Gospel and bear the difficulties and unpleasantness that preaching itself causes. In the measure in which we involve ourselves in the life of our faithful people and feel the profundity of their wounds, we will be able to look without “clerical filters” at the face of Christ, go to His Gospel to pray, think, discern and allow ourselves to be transformed, from His face, in Pastors of hope. May Mary, Our Lady of Aparecia, continue taking us to her Son so that our peoples have life in Him . . . and in abundance. And, please, I ask you not to forget to pray for me. May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin look after you.
Vatican, May 8, 2017