The Church exists to evangelize: that’s its identity and mission.Since his election to the Chair of St Peter, Pope Francis has constantly invited all members of the Church to participate actively and joyfully in this mission.
The Christian message is called the “Gospel”, namely “good news”, so the Church is not a haven for sad people, the Church is a joyful home! And those who are sad find joy in her, they find in her true joy!
However, the joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God (Angelus, 15 December 2013).
I believe these words aptly sum up the Evangelii Gaudium, the first Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis who has been received by the Church and the world at large as a refreshing message, encouraging us to imagine what seems impossible in a world where bad news constantly makes headlines in all the media.
We should all read, reflect on and take ownership of the five chapters that comprise this extraordinary document to learn about the key elements of:
- The Pope’s theology which affirms the centrality of Jesus Christ, shows us a merciful God who never tires of being compassionate, makes the connection between faith and justice, and focuses attention on the hierarchy of truths, etc.
- The spirituality of Pope Francis and his call for discernment, his support for popular piety, and his concern for the inculturation of faith and the Christian message.
- The Pope’s vision of the world and his teachings on the economy, the common good, participation by everyone, rejection of all forms of exclusion, and paying attention to the poor. This point, which regards the specific mission of Caritas Internationalis and its members in the Church, will be the focus of this brief reflection on Evangelii Gaudium.
- The institutional reform needed to ensure greater collegiality and decentralisation in the running of the Church.
- The way Pope Francis communicates, with words that are easy to understand and full of imagery, and his abundant use of references.
In a recent discussion about this important document with a friend, we agreed that the main key to reading this Apostolic Exhortation is for everyone to concentrate above all on the challenges and questions that personally concern “me” as a Christian, and for us, as people committed to Caritas! We then shared some of the things we had discovered in reading Evangelii Gaudium, including:
- Being explicit with Jesus and his message (121). Didn’t he once say that you don’t light a lamp to hide it under a bushel?
- Refusing the status quo, examining the dynamics of the society of Jesus and accepting missionary conversion, “which cannot leave things as they presently are” (25). This also means patiently committing oneself to processes that only produce results in the long term (223).
- Going forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel (20). Here we are at the heart of the mission of Caritas Internationalis and its members. This is clearly a renewed appeal to go forth and meet the poor and the marginalised in order to evangelize them and let ourselves be evangelized by them.
This concern runs throughout the Apostolic Exhortation, as the Gospel commits us not so much to our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all to the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). The poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel (Lk 4:10) the Pope recalls (48). He continues later on in the same vein: For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. Inspired by this divine preference, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them (198).
No excuse should justify abandoning and being indifferent to the cause of the poor. No-one should feel exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice. Like Pope John Paul II who called for a new imagination of charity (Novo Millenio Ineunte), Pope Francis says we should not be satisfied with commenting on his words, but rather seek new ways together to give back dignity to the poor. Indeed, the relief plans aimed at tackling certain emergencies should only be considered as temporary responses. Hence the urgent need to resolve the structural causes of poverty and inequality which are the root of social ills (201, 202).
I see the Pope’s invitation to look after the fragility of people and world we live in as particularly inspiring for us. This means paying attention to new forms of poverty and fragility: the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, victims of human trafficking, excluded women, babies about to be born, etc. (209–216). Christians don’t have the time to keep a “prudent distance from the wounds of the Lord”, nor to stay far away from human tragedies. They must accept entering into the reality of other people’s lives and know God’s tenderness (270). Hence The Holy Father’s invitation to look at Mary and like her believe in the revolutionary power of tenderness and affection (288).
May Caritas, always and everywhere, bear witness to a Church sent to proclaim the good news and to be the good news “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).
Fr. Pierre Cibambo is the Ecclesiastical Assistant for Caritas Internationalis