The Church a unity of diversities, Pope tells Brazil's bishops

Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day on July 24 2013 Credit Alex Mazzullo via JMJ Rio 2013 Flickr CC BY NC SA 20 CNA 7 27 13 Pope Francis in Rio for World Youth Day July 24, 2013. | Alex Mazzullo via JMJ Rio 2013-Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Pope Francis told an assembly of the Brazilian bishops that the Church must be founded on unity in the abundance of diversity, rather than a narrow uniformity.

"The Church in Brazil … needs a network of regional 'testimonies' which speak the same language and in every place ensure not unanimity, but true unity in the richness of diversity, Pope Francis told the more than 300 bishops gathered at the John Paul II building of the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro July 27.

The Bishop of Rome opened his remarks to his brother bishops, the bulk of which he delivered in Spanish, by making known his wish to "enjoy this moment of repose, exchange of ideas and authentic fraternity" with them, adding that "I want to embrace each and every one of you," especially the bishops emeritus.

He spoke at length about the story of Our Lady of Aparecida, emphasizing that "only the beauty of God" can attract man's heart, and that the Church's power resides not in herself but is "hidden in the deep waters of God."

Having said this, Pope Francis thanked them for their efforts as pastors, and began to look forward to what God is asking of them.

The Pope urged them not to yield to "disillusionment, discouragement and complaint" in the face of situations which "appear to be failures." He noted the situation of persons leaving the Church who, "under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church … can no longer offer them anything meaningful," comparing them to the disciples of the Emmaus story.

For these people, he advised, the Church must be unafraid of entering into "their night" and be capable of "meeting them on their way … entering into their conversation" and having dialogue with them.

The Pope lamented that globalization and urbanization have contributed to alienation and "personal dissolution," and that in these situations people have sought "shortcuts" around the lofty vision of man proclaimed by the Church. 

They seek out, he said, "a poor imitation" of the Church, and go astray with "disappointed hearts."

The Church cannot respond to this situation by complaining, Pope Francis said, but by realizing that "the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return."

Pope Francis encouraged a return to the Church's roots in Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles.

"Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?"

Many have left the Church, the Pope said, because they were promised something more lofty, powerful, and fast. Yet the Church is called to show that nothing is loftier than the cross of Jesus, and nothing more powerful than "the strength hidden within the weakness of love, goodness, truth and beauty."

Pope Francis added that there is actually a need for slowness and calmness – for repose.

"Is the Church herself caught up in the frantic pursuit of efficiency?"

In light of all that, the Pope looked at the challenges facing the Church in Brazil, noting the priority of formation; collegiality and solidarity in the bishops' conference; a permanent state of mission and pastoral conversion; the Church in society; and the importance of the Amazon Basin.

He said the first priority is to train priests who are "capable of warming people's hearts, of walking with them in the night, of dialoguing with their hopes and disappointments, of mending their brokenness."

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Minister must be formed, the Pope taught, to be able to accompany people through darkness and hurt in their lives without themselves being "overcome by the darkness."

He also addressed the importance of collegiality across the nation, saying that there must not be "unanimity, but true unity in the richness of diversity," with "a greater appreciation of local and regional elements."

Pope Francis said the Church must rediscover "the maternal womb of mercy," without which "we have little chance … of becoming part of a world of 'wounded' persons" in need of forgiveness and love.

He added that the family is essential to the Church and advised, "let us not reduce the involvement of women in the Church, but instead promote their active role in the ecclesial community."

The Church has a responsibility to society, the Pope said, to offer its understanding of humanity to address issues of education, health, and social harmony.

He also stressed that the Amazon Basin should be a place of mission and be made a "garden" rather than a place which is "indiscriminately exploited."

Pope Francis concluded by encouraging the bishops in hope, and reminding them that "the Church is never uniformity, but diversities harmonized in unity."

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