.- The Catholic Church in the U.S. is growing, and should evangelize by showing the “joy of living” and becoming “a Church of the poor,” said Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga at a recent conference.
“Every year the Church is growing, like a forest, not making noise,” the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, said at the University of Dallas Oct. 25.
“There is more noise of a tree that is falling down, but not noise of a full forest that is growing up. This is the situation of the Church.”
Archbishop Rodriguez, who is also the coordinator of the group of eight cardinals advising Pope Francis on the reform of the Roman Curia, spoke on the importance of the New Evangelization to several thousand participants at a ministry conference hosted by the university.
“(N)ot everything is gloom, not everything is scandal and sin. No! Here, the Gospel of Christ is also alive and effective,” he said, citing the 200,000 Americans who joined the Catholic Church in 2002.
“We need to radiate our faith,” he urged. “We have to make a step forward.”
Cardinal Rodriguez suggested that Pope Francis’ pontificate is “the beginning of a new, dynamic period in the history of Catholicism, where the Church will constitute a missionary movement for the conversion of culture.”
Such a movement would include a “very active” and committed laity whose parishes “understand faith as a firebrand that should shine around.”
He said that the Church, to become authentic, “needs only to return to Jesus. Every day.”
“There is no possible reform of the Church without a return to Jesus. The Church only has a future and can only consider herself great by humbly trying to follow Jesus.”
The cardinal outlined several priorities for the Church, saying it should work in “a spirit of service to humanity.”
“Too many times she gives the impression of having too much certitude and too little doubt, freedom, dissension or dialogue. No more excommunicating the world, then, or trying to solve the world’s problems by returning to authoritarianism, rigidity and moralism, but instead keeping always the message of Jesus as her sole source of inspiration.”
Cardinal Rodriguez said the Church must be “open” and in “constant dialogue,” following the Second Vatican Council’s example in rejecting attitudes of “arrogance and superiority.”
“Instead, she should go out into the common arena, plainly and humbly, and share in the common search for truth.”
“We are called to share the treasures we have. To evangelize means to share the treasures, to give them freely as we have received them.”
The Church will convert the world “not by argument, but by example.”
“There is no doubt that doctrinal argument is important, but people will be attracted by the humanity of Christians, those who live by the faith, who live in a human way, who irradiate the joy of living, the consistency in their behavior.”
Cardinal Rodríguez said the Gospel is the standard to discern infidelity and abuse within the Church.
“Many of the traditions established in the Church could lead her to a veritable self-imprisonment. The truth will set us free; humility will give us wings and will open new horizons for us.”
The cardinal also saw evidence of a media “ambush” of the Catholic Church, given the widespread “contempt” and “merciless criticism” directed toward the Church, especially under Benedict XVI’s “virtuous and heroic” papacy.
He lamented that “the mass media have been so influential in their insidiousness that many Catholics have distanced themselves from the practice of their Christian faith, and have retreated emotionally from their own communities, parishes, and commitments.”
The cardinal’s remarks touched on many global changes, including the shift in Catholicism from being a “European Church” to a “universal Church, with multiple cultural roots.”
Citing Swiss sociologist Jean Ziegler, he spoke of globalization and the “world dictatorship of financial capital” whose leaders have “a power of life and death” over billions of people because of their financial power.
“The effects and consequences of the neoliberal dictatorships that rule democracies are not hard to uncover: they invade us with the industry of entertainment, they make us forget about human rights, they convince us that nothing can be done, that there is no possible alternative.”
To counter these forces, Cardinal Rodriguez urged “living the globalization of mercy and solidarity” and a return to “a Church of the poor” that puts a primacy on those who are considered “the last.” Those who suffer poverty and exclusion “will be the first,” he reminded his audience.
“If Jesus calls the poor ‘blessed,’ it is because he is assuring them that their situation is going to change, and consequently it is necessary to create a movement that can bring about such a thing, restoring dignity and hope to them.”
The cardinal endorsed “common efforts and sacrifices” to raise up the marginalized and to advance solidarity. These efforts can then create an “international politics of solidarity, of economic democracy, the assumption of evangelical poverty” that is “inspired in Christ and his beatitudes.”
He said the Church must address “penultimate” human needs like hunger, housing, clothing, health and education in order to be able to care for “ultimate” spiritual needs. Catholics must support “a culture of the Good Samaritan” for those in need and feel as their own “the pain of the oppressed” in order to grow close to them and to free them.
“Without this commitment, all religiousness is not true,” he said.
“A culture of compassion cannot develop, the pain of others cannot be taken on, nor can we implicate ourselves in the reality of the suffering if we do not act out of love, like the Good Samaritan.”