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2019.01.23 Viaggio Apostolico a Panama Pope Francis address the Bishops of Central America   (Vatican Media)

A Church that allows itself to be hurt

Pope Francis’ address to the Bishops of Central America, interwoven with citations from Saint Oscar Romero, offers a key to aid in understanding the Message for the World Communications Day, and the meeting for the protection of minors.

By Andrea Tornielli

“To think with the Church” was the episcopal motto of Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador martyred by death squads while he celebrated at the altar. And it’s the thread that runs through the comprehensive discourse delivered by Pope Francis to the bishops of Central America in the Church of San Francisco de Asìs in Panama City, on his first day of his public engagements during his WYD 2019 journey. Once again the Pope has traced out a kind of “identikit” of the pastor, offering keys for reading the current situation in the Church.

Pope Francis has emphasized above all that “to think with the Church” means to experience having received a totally gratuitous gift, that “does not belong to us”, and that frees us from every pretension and temptation “to think that we are its proprietors or its sole interpreters”. In an era in which many messages are reduced to slogans, and where accusations and prejudices run rampant on the web, recalling—as the Pope does—that “We did not invent the Church; she was not born with us and she will carry on without us”, helps us to come down from the pedestal of self-sufficiency, hyper activism, functionalism, and entrepreneurial and managerial logic. In order to recall, with Saint Ambrose, that the Church, like the moon, can never shine with its own light, but only reflect that of Christ.

For Romero, Pope Francis explained yet again, “to think with the Church” consists in carrying in the depths of one’s being all the kenosis of Christ. The kenosis, that is, the “emptying” that the Son of God accomplished in Himself with the incarnation and the death on the Cross. It is important, the Pope said, “that we not be afraid to draw near and touch the wounds of our people, which are our wounds too, and to do this in the same way that the Lord himself does.  A pastor cannot stand aloof from the sufferings of his people; we can even say that the heart of a pastor is measured by his ability to be moved by the many lives that are hurting or threatened”. This was the style of Romero, this is the indication that Pope Francis gives today to the bishops to bear witness to a humble and poor Church, fleeing the risk of pride, of arrogance, of self-sufficiency. Fundamentally, this is also the most authentic way to approach the meeting for the protection of minors at the Vatican with the presidents of the episcopal conferences of the world, which will be strongly characterized precisely by listening to victims who have survived abuse, and therefore to their wounds by which we allow ourselves in turn to be wounded.

But the Pope, in his discourse, also wanted to emphasise that the kenosis of Christ “involves giving up ‘virtual’ ways of living and speaking, in order to listen to the sounds and repeated cries of real people who challenge us to build relationships”.  So the social networks “help to build relationships, but not roots; they are incapable of giving us a sense of belonging, of making us feel part of a single people”—a reference to the virtual world and to the self-referential bubbles that are often created. The antidote to this risk is contained in the phrase of Saint Paul, “We are members one of another,” significantly chosen for the Message of Pope Francis for the 53rd World Communications Day, which invites us to reflect on the Christian identity founded on communion, in order to pass “from social network communities to the human community.”

24 January 2019, 18:05