Embrace 'missionary spirit,' Pope tells Latin American bishops

Pope Francis addresses members of CELAM July 28 2013 Credit EWTN 2 CNA 7 28 13 Pope addresses leading bishops of CELAM. | EWTN

Pope Francis told leading Latin American bishops that all Catholics must renew the Church with a "missionary spirit," acknowledging that he and other bishops are "lagging somewhat" in spiritual renewal.

"Bishops must be pastors, close to people, fathers and brothers, and gentle, patient and merciful. Men who love poverty," the Pope said.

He praised bishops with "simplicity and austerity of life," urging them not to act like "princes" or to be "ambitious" in seeking to lead another diocese.

Rather, bishops should be "pointing the way" for their people, preventing them from "being scattered" while "ensuring that no one is left behind." They should be men capable of guarding and protecting their congregation while also instilling hope "so that light will shine in people's hearts," the Pope said July 28.

Pope Francis' words came in his address the bishops of the coordinating committee of the Latin American Bishops' Council (CELAM) Sunday afternoon at the Sumare Residence in Rio de Janeiro. CELAM is an umbrella organization for the 22 bishops' conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean.

He reflected on the legacy of CELAM's Fifth General Conference, held in Aparecida in May 2007. He said the gathering launched a "continental mission" that called for the creation of "a sense of
a Church which is organized to serve all the baptized, and men and women of goodwill."

The Pope criticized pastoral plans that "clearly lack nearness, tenderness, a warm touch" and are incapable of sparking "an encounter with Jesus Christ" and with other people.

"Christ's followers are not individuals caught up in a privatized spirituality, but persons in community, devoting themselves to others," the Pope said.

Pope Francis focused on two challenges to missionary discipleship: the "inner renewal" of the Church and dialogue with the world. He noted the Second Vatican Council's guidance in engaging modern life.

"Responding to the existential issues of people today, especially the young, listening to the language they speak, can lead to a fruitful change, which must take place with the help of the Gospel, the magisterium, and the Church's social doctrine," the Pope said.

He noted the need to engage the many subcultures of the modern city on their own terms.

"If we remain within the parameters of our 'traditional culture,' which was essentially rural, we will end up nullifying the power of the Holy Spirit," he warned. "God is everywhere: we have to know how to find him in order to be able to proclaim him in the language of each and every culture; every reality, every language, has its own rhythm."

Pope Francis praised the spread of Bible groups, ecclesial base communities and pastoral councils. He said these advance the responsibility of the laity and help overcome "clericalism." He particularly praised expressions of popular piety as a "healthy thing" that shows greater lay autonomy.

He also warned against several temptations that are false visions of the missionary spirit.

He said clericalism, an excessive lay dependence on or privileging of priests, is "a temptation very present in Latin America."

"The phenomenon of clericalism explains, in great part, the lack of maturity and Christian freedom in a good part of the Latin American laity," he said.

Both laity and priests take refuge in clericalism "because it is easier," he lamented. This causes some Catholics to fail to grow in Christian life or to take refuge in ideology.

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The Pope warned against turning the message of the Gospel into an "ideology," whether it is "market liberalism" or Marxism.

He said the psychology-focused tendencies of some spirituality courses and spiritual retreats reduce the encounter with Jesus Christ to "self-awareness," a "self-centered approach" that "has nothing to do with the missionary spirit." He mentioned the new age practice of the Enneagram as one example.

He criticized the "gnostic solution" of elite groups of "enlightened Catholics" who offer a "higher spirituality." He said some advocates of ordaining nuns to the priesthood or of giving communion to the divorced and remarried fall into this error.

He also warned against the "Pelagian solution" that seeks a "purely disciplinary solution" through "the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful."

Repeating his previous criticisms, he warned against reducing the Church to "the structure of an NGO" focused on quantifiable results, statistics, and a business-like organization. He said some bishops' conferences open more and more departments that do not help the mission of Church.

Concerning the inner renewal of the Church, Pope Francis stressed the need for "pastoral conversion" focused on "Jesus Christ as the bearer of God's Kingdom" and trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

He posed many questions to the bishops for their own self-examination.

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He said bishops should ask whether they and their priests are working to ensure that their work is "more pastoral than administrative" and whether they serve "the People of God as a whole" rather than "the Church as an organization."

He asked the bishops to examine whether they "manipulate" or "infantilize" the laity.

"In practice, do we make the lay faithful sharers in the mission?" he asked.

He said bishops should not simply react to complex problems, but should promote opportunities to "manifest God's mercy."

The Pope concluded with an exhortation: "I beg that we take seriously our calling as servants of the holy and faithful people of God, for this is where authority is exercised and demonstrated: in the ability to serve."

Pope Francis addressed the bishops hours after celebrating Sunday Mass for millions of World Youth Day pilgrims gathered on Rio's Copacabana Beach.