.- The Church in the Americas will be strengthened only by faithful Catholics whose lives of witness flow from their relationship with Jesus, the archbishop of Rio de Janeiro has said.
"A missionary disciple must live the encounter with Christ," Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta said Nov. 16 to a group of Catholic leaders gathered in Mexico City.
The Americas today are in urgent need of missionaries, and evangelization is critical, he stressed, pointing to those who have strayed from the faith, as well as those have have not yet received the good news of Jesus Christ.
When we see adults who have been baptized but not catechized, we realize the need for a renewal of faith, he explained, adding that while this is a daunting task, we can find hope in the Year of Faith, and in the Holy Father's teachings, including his encyclical on the theological virtue.
The archbishop was speaking Nov. 16 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe during a conference entitled "Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization on the American Continent."
The four-day conference drew bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders from across North, Central and South America to consider the role and mission of the Church throughout the region, giving particular attention to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Sponsored by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Knights of Columbus, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Higher Institute of Guadalupan Studies, the event builds on a similar gathering held in Rome last year, as well as Bl. John Paul II's apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America.
Pope Francis teaches us that our primary job as the Church is not to proselytize, but to provide a testimony of life that flows from a true encounter with Christ, Archbishop Tempesta said in his talk. All the people of God must therefore learn to see themselves as missionaries, called to spread the Gospel through their lives.
This requires a "culture of encounter," which Pope Francis talks about frequently, he added.
Bishops and other Catholic leaders should help foster this culture of encounter in order to address "the challenge of renewal within the Church."
"We must be pastors near the people," the archbishop emphasized – not distant or ambitious, but willing to "support with love and patience the steps taken by God in his people."
He encouraged his fellows bishops to "conduct ecclesiastic work which is truly pastoral and not just administrative" and to embrace pastoral work for the good of the Church.
He advised them to be proactive on problems that may arise in their dioceses and to "promote reconciliation and encounter with the mercy of God," while looking always for the good of the faithful and society.
Furthermore, the archbishop said, there is a need to renew a consciousness of the Holy Spirit present in the Word of God and the Sacraments. The laity can participate in this great task by being "missionary disciples" as well, he said.
The Pope also teaches us to recognize the importance of the youth, Archbishop Tempesta continued.
He encouraged his fellow bishops and other leaders in the Church to go out to young people, meeting them where they are at and listening to the joys and challenges of their lives.
"We must help young people rediscover the value and the joy of the faith," he said.
"This is very difficult," he acknowledged, but when a young person understands that he is personally loved by God, "this feeling goes with him throughout his entire life."
The young people are truly the future of the Church, Archbishop Tempesta said, adding that they can benefit from encountering another often-forgotten segment of society: the elderly.
The Church should foster inter-generational dialogue, he urged, because this allows the elderly to "offer the wisdom they have obtained over the course of their lives."
Only through dialogue, cultivated "with the heart of a pastor," will Church leaders succeed in reaching those who have fallen away from the faith through the "culture of encounter" promoted by the Pope, he said.