As examples he gave Korea, Japan, Angola, and Guatemala, where the laity were essential.
He noted that the Church in Korea got its start thanks to layman Yi Seung-hun, who was baptized in China and baptized other Catholics. “For 51 years (1784-1835) since its foundation the Church in Korea was evangelized by lay people, with the occasional presence of some priest. This Catholic community flourished and expanded enormously despite the terrible persecutions, thanks to the leadership of the baptized,” Lasarte said.
In the case of Japan, after the martyrdom of the last priest in 1644, priests did not return until 200 years later, finding “a living Church” made up of “hidden Christians.”
Regarding his 25 years of experience in Angola, the priest said that “when the civil war was over in 2002, I had the possibility of visiting Christian communities, which for 30 years did not have the Eucharist, nor did they see a priest, but they were strong in faith and were dynamic communities guided by the 'catechist,' an essential ministry in Africa (...) A living Church, laity with the absence of priests.”
In Latin America he gave as an example “the Quetchi from central Guatemala (Verapaz), where despite the absence of priests in some communities the lay ministers also had living communities” where the evangelicals “were little able to penetrate.” He said that despite the shortage of priests “it is a local Church rich in indigenous priestly vocations” and “men and women religious congregations of totally indigenous origin.”
In that regard, he noted that in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis pointed out that the shortage of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life is often “due to the absence of contagious apostolic fervor in communities which lack enthusiasm and thus fail to attract.”
“The Holy Father gives the key to the problem. It's not the lack of vocations but the poor proposal, the lack of apostolic fervor, the lack of fraternity and prayer; the lack of serious and profound processes of evangelization,” the Salesian priest said.
Thus with regard to the question why after 200 to 400 years of evangelization vocations are lacking in the Amazon, the priest said that “one of the pastoral problems in various parts of Latin America, and in particular in Amazonia, is the insistence on the 'old ways'. There is a great conservatism in various churches and ecclesial structures, I'm not referring just to pre-conciliar traditionalists, but to pastoral lines, mentalities, that remain stuck in '68 and in the 1970-1980 decade,” Lasarte pointed out.
The Salesian priest indicated three kinds of “Alzheimer pastoral ministry” which affect evangelization in the Amazon.
The first is “cultural anthopologism,” which originated after the 1971 Barbados Declaration, put together by 12 anthropologists, which “claimed that the Good News of Jesus is bad news for the indigenous peoples.”
Although “from this provocation emerged in various places a fruitful dialogue between anthropologists and missionaries, which served mutual enrichment,” in other places “it fell into a self-censorship, losing 'the joy of evangelizing,” with “cases of religious that decided to not announce Jesus Christ, or give catechesis 'out of respect for the indigenous culture,'” and that “they would limit themselves to witness and service” claiming that this “substitutes for the proclamation.”
The missionary recalled that in Evangelii nuntiandi Saint Paul VI said that “the Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.”
(Story cotinues below)
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Fr. Lasarte said that the second kind of “Alzheimer pastoral ministry” is “social moralism.” “In more than one place I have heard similar expressions from pastoral workers: 'When people require services they come to us (the Catholic Church), but when they are looking for meaning to their lives, they go to others (evangelicals, etc.)' It is evident and observable that the church that wants to be a 'Samaritan Church' has forgotten to be a 'Magdelene Church', a Church providing services that doesn't announce the joy of the Resurrection of the Lord,” he pointed out.
The missionary reaffirmed that the social commitment of the Church and the option for the poorest continues to be “a constitutive aspect of the evangelizing process” and a richness; but “the problem is when this kind of activity has absorbed the rest of the life and dynamism of the Church, leaving in the shadows, silencing, or taking for granted the other dimensions: kerygmatic, catechetical, liturgical, koinonia. We are in an unresolved tension of Martha and Mary.”
He said that the “great hemorrhaging” of Catholics toward evangelical communities has to do with several factors, certainly “the lack of a much 'more religious' pastoral ministry and a 'less sociologized' one has had a very great influence”.
“I visited a diocese where at the beginning of the 1980's, 95% of the population was Catholic, today they are 20%. I remember the comment of one of the European missionaries that systematically had 'de-evangelized' the region: 'We do not foster superstition but human dignity'...I think that says everything,” he said. “The Church is some places has been transformed into a grand manager of services (healthcare, educational, development, advocacy...) but little as a mother of the faith.”
Finally there is secularism. He said, “a church secularizes when its pastoral workers interiorize dynamics from a secularized mentality: the absence or a very timid, almost apologizing, manifestation of the faith.”
He said that the consequences “are reflected in vocational sterility or the lack of perseverance in the path undertaken, because of a lack of deep motivations,” since “no one leaves everything to be a social director, no one dedicates his existence to an 'opinion,' no one offers what is absolute in his life for what is relative, but only to the Absolute which is God.”