Pope Francis met with the participants in Catholic Action’s 2nd International Congress on the theme “Catholic Action Is Mission with All and for All” on the morning of Thursday, April 27, 2017. Speaking in Spanish and off-the-cuff, the Pontiff addressed some 300 participants and said: ”I’m going to permit myself to put the text aside and to tell you what I feel.”
He divided his address into six points: charism in the light of Evangelii Gaudium, guidelines for action, the subjects or agents, the recipients and the style Catholic Action must have and its Plan.
Below is a Zenit working translation of Pope Francis’ improvised remarks:
The Holy Father’s Address
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
I greet you on the occasion of the celebration of this International Congress of Catholic Action, whose theme is: “Catholic Action Is Mission with All and for All.” I would like to share with you some anxieties and considerations.
Charism – Recreation in the Light of Evangelii Gaudium
Historically, Catholic action has had the mission to form laymen to assume their responsibility in the world. Today it is, concretely, the formation of missionary disciples. Thank you for assuming decidedly Evangelii Gaudium as Magna Carta.
Catholic Action’s charism is the charism of the Church herself, deeply incarnated in the today and here of each diocesan Church that discerns in contemplation and looks attentively to the life of its people, and seeks renewed ways of evangelization and mission from the different parish realities.
Catholic Action has had, traditionally, four pillars or legs: Prayer, Formation, Sacrifice and Apostolate. In keeping with each moment of its history, it has leaned first on one leg and then on the others. Thus, in some moment, prayer or doctrinal formation was the strongest. Given the characteristics of this moment, the apostolate must be what is distinctive; it is the leg on which to lean on first. This is not to the detriment of the other realities, but, very much to the contrary, what causes them. The missionary apostolate needs prayer, formation and sacrifice. This seems very clear in Aparecida and in Evangelii Gaudium. There is an integrating dynamism in the mission.
Form: by offering a process of growth in the faith, a permanent catechetical itinerary oriented to the mission, appropriate for each reality, supported by the Word of God, to encourage a happy friendship with Jesus and the experience of fraternal love.
Pray: in that holy extroversion that puts the heart in the needs of the people, in their anguishes <and> in their joys. A prayer that walks, that takes you very far. Thus, you will avoid looking at yourselves continually.
Sacrifice yourselves: but not to feel ‘cleaner’; generous sacrifice is what does good to others. Offer your time, seeking what to do to make others grow; offer what you have in <your> pockets, sharing with those who have less; offer sacrificially the gift of <your> personal vocation to embellish <our> common home and make it grow.
Renew the Evangelizing Commitment — of Dioceses — Parishes
The mission is not just a task among many in Catholic Action, but it is the task. Catholic Action has the charism of taking forward the Church’s pastoral. If its mission is not this, its distinctive strength the essence of Catholic Action is spoiled and it loses its raison d’etre.
It is vital to renew and actualize Catholic Action’s commitment to evangelization, truly reaching everyone, everywhere, on all occasions, in all the existential peripheries and not as a simple formulation of principles.
This implies re-thinking its plans of formation, its forms of apostolate and even its prayer itself, so that you are essentially, and not occasionally, missionaries. Abandon the old criteria: “because it has always been done like this.” There have been things that have been really good and meritorious, which today would be out of context if we wished to repeat them.
Catholic Action must assume the totality of the Church’s mission in generous belonging to the diocesan Church from the Parish.
The universal Church’s mission is actualized in each particular Church with its own color; likewise, Catholic Action has an authentic life by responding and assuming as its own the pastoral of each diocesan Church in its concrete insertion from the parishes.
Catholic Action must offer the diocesan Church a mature laity that serves willingly the pastoral projects of each place as a way of realizing its vocation. You must be incarnated concretely.
You cannot be like those very universal groups that do not have a foothold anywhere, which do not respond to anyone and seek what they like most in each place.
All Agents without Exception
All Catholic Action’s members are dynamically missionaries. Youngsters evangelize youngsters; young people young people, adults adults, etc. Nothing better than a pair to show that it is possible to live the joy of the faith.
Avoid falling into the perfectionist tendency of eternal preparation for the mission and the eternal analyses, which when they are finished are already out of fashion or are or de-actualized. The example is Jesus with the Apostles: He sent them with what they had. Then He gathered them again and helped them to discern what they had lived.
May reality mark the rhythm for you and allow the Holy Spirit to lead you. He is the interior Teacher that illumines our action when we are free of presuppositions or conditionings. One learns to evangelize by evangelizing, as one learns to pray by praying if the heart is well disposed.
All can missionize although not all can go out on the street or the field. Very important is the place you give to older persons who have been members for a long time or are being incorporated. The expression fits: they can be the contemplative and intercessory section within the different sections of Catholic Action. They are the ones who can create the patrimony of prayer and grace for the mission — likewise the sick. God listens to this prayer with special tenderness. They must all feel they are a part, discover themselves active and necessary.
Recipients – All Men and All Peripheries
It is necessary that Catholic Action be present in the political, entrepreneurial <and> professional world, but not to think of themselves as the perfect and formed Christians but to serve better.
It is indispensable that Catholic Action be in prisons, hospitals, the street, villages, factories. If this is not so, it will be an institution of the exclusive that does not say anything to anyone, not even to the Church herself.
I want a Catholic Action in this village, parish, in the diocese, in the country, neighborhood, in the family, in study and in work, in the rural, in the ambits proper to life. It is in these new [areopagi] where decisions are taken and culture is built.
Simplify the ways of incorporation. Do not be <like> the customs. You cannot be more restrictive than the Church herself or more papists than the Pope. Open the doors, do not give examinations in Christian perfection because you will be promoting a hypocritical pharisaism. Active mercy is necessary.
The commitment that lay persons assume, who join Catholic Action, looks forward. It is the decision to work for the building of the Kingdom. This particular grace must not be “bureaucratized” because the Lord’s invitation comes when we least expect it; neither can we “sacramentalize” the <officialization> with requirements that respond to another realm of the life of the faith and not to the evangelizing commitment. All have a right to be evangelizers.
May Catholic Action offer the space of containment and of Christian experience to those who, for personal reasons, feel like “second-class Christians.”
Way – In the Midst of the People
The way depends on the recipients. As the Council said to us, and we often pray at Mass: attentive and sharing men’s struggles and hopes to show them the way of salvation. Catholic Action cannot be far from the people, but it issued from the people and must be in the midst of the people. You must popularize Catholic Action more. This is not a question of image but of veracity and charism. Neither is it demagogy, but to follow the footsteps of the Teacher who found nothing disgusting.
To be able to follow this way it is good to receive a neighborhood of the people. To share people’s lives and learn to discover where their interests and searches lie, what their longings are and their deepest wounds, and what it is that they need from us. This is essential to not fall into the sterility of giving answers to questions that no one asks. The ways of evangelizing can be thought out from a desk but after having been in the midst of the people and not the other way around.
A more popular, more incarnated Catholic Action will bring you problems, because persons are going to want to form part of the institution that apparently are not in [set-standard] conditions: families in which the parents are not married in the Church, men and women with a difficult past or present by who are struggling, disoriented and wounded young people. It is a challenge to Catholic Action’s ecclesial maternity; to receive everyone and to accompany them on the journey of life with the crosses they bear.
All can form part from what they have with what they can.
You form yourselves for these concrete people. You pray with and for these people.
Sharpen your look to see God’s signs present in the reality, especially in the expressions of popular religiosity. From there you will be able to understand men’s heart more and you will discover the surprising ways in which God acts beyond our concepts.
Project – An Outgoing Catholic Action – Passion for Christ, Passion for Our People
You have thought of an outgoing Catholic Action, and this is very good because it places you on your axis. To go out means openness, generosity, encounter with the reality beyond the four walls of the institution and the parishes. This means giving up controlling things too much and planning the results. It is that freedom, which is fruit of the Holy Spirit, which will make you grow.
Catholic Action’s evangelizing project must pass through these steps: to get there first, be involved, accompany, fructify and celebrate — a step forward in going out, incarnated and walking together. This is already a fruit that is celebrated. Infect with the joy of the faith, the joy of evangelizing must be seen on all occasions, in season and out of season.
Do not fall into the temptation of structuralism. Be bold. You are not more faithful to the Church because you wait at each step to be told what you must do.
Encourage your members to enjoy the fortuitous body to body mission or from the missionary action of the community.
Do not clericalize the laity. May the aspiration of its members not be to form part of the Sanhedrin of the parishes that surround the priest but the passion for the Kingdom. However, do not forget to give serious thought to the vocational topic – school of holiness that passes necessarily by discovering one’s own, which is not to be a director or a churchwarden with a diploma, but above all things: an evangelizer.
You must be a place of encounter for the rest of the institutional charisms and those of Movements that exist in the Church without fear of losing your identity. Moreover, from your members must issue the evangelizers, catechists, missionaries, social workers that will continue to make the Church grow.
It has often been said that Catholic Action is the long arm of the Hierarchy and this, far from being a prerogative that makes one look at the rest over one’s shoulder, is a very great responsibility that implies fidelity and coherence to what the Church shows in each moment of history, without pretending to anchor yourselves in past forms as if they were the only possible ones. Fidelity to the mission calls for “good plasticity” in one who has one ear in the people and the other in God.
In the publication: “Catholic Action in the Light of Thomist Theology, of 1937, there appears” “Should Catholic Action become Catholic Passion?” Catholic passion, the Church’s passion is to live the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing. This is what we need from Catholic Action.
Thank you very much.[Original text: Spanish] [Working Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]