Francis to the National Ecclesial Congress: the traits of Christian humanism
Vatican City, 10 November 2015 (VIS) – Following his brief visit to Prato, the Pope travelled by helicopter to Florence, where he was received by the cardinal archbishop Giuseppe Betori, and by the other civil and religious authorities. He transferred by car to the Baptistery dedicated to St. John the Baptist in the square before the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, and paused a moment before the painting “The White Crucifixion”, currently on display in the “Divine Beauty” exhibition in Palazzo Strozzi. From there, he proceeded to Santa Maria del Fiore on foot to meet with the participants in the Fifth National Ecclesial Congress, dedicated this year to the theme “In Jesus Christ, the new humanism”. In the cathedral, where the 2,500 participants were gathered, he was greeted by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) and archbishop of Genoa, along with Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin and Bishop Nunzio Galantino, secretary of the CEI.
The Pope gave an address focusing on the theme of the Congress, extensive extracts of which are published below, in which he spoke about the features of Christian humanism and the temptations to which the Church is exposed.
“We can speak about humanism only by starting from the centrality of Jesus, discovering in Him the features of the authentic face of man. And the contemplation of the face of the dead and risen Jesus that recomposes our humanity, fragmented as it may be by the hardships of life, or marked by sin. We must not domesticate the power of the face of Christ. The face is the image of His transcendence. … I do not wish here to draw an abstract image of the 'new humanism', a certain idea of man, but to present with simplicity some features of Christian humanism, which is that of the sentiments, the mind of Jesus Christ. These are not abstract temporary sensations but rather represent the warm interior force that makes us able to live and to make decisions”:
“The first sentiment is humility. … The obsession with preserving one's own glory and 'dignity', one's own influence, must not form part of our sentiments. We must seek God's glory, that does not coincide with ours. God's glory that shines in the humility of the stable in Bethlehem or in the dishonour of Christ's cross always surprises us”.
“Another sentiment is selflessness. '… The humanity of the Christian is always outward-looking. … Please, let us avoid 'remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits that make us feel safe'. Our duty is to make this world a better place, and to fight. Our faith is revolutionary because of the inspiration that comes from the Holy Spirit”.
“Another of Jesus Christ's sentiments is beatitude. The Christian is blessed. … In the Beatitudes, the Lord shows us the path. By taking it, we human beings can arrive at the most authentically human and divine happiness. … For the great saints, beatitude is about humiliation and poverty. But also in the most humble of our people there is much of this beatitude: it is that of he who knows the richness of solidarity, of sharing also the little he possesses. … The beatitudes we read in the Gospel begin with a blessing and end with a promise of consolation. They introduce us to a path of possible greatness, that of the spirit, and when the spirit is ready all the rest comes by itself”.
“Humility, selflessness, beatitude … they also say something to the Italian Church that today meets to walk together, setting an example of synodality. These features tell us that we must not be obsessed with power, even when this assumes the appearance of a useful or functional power in the social image of the Church. If the Church does not assume Jesus' mind, she is disorientated and loses her way. A Church with these three features – humility, selflessness and beatitude – is a Church that recognises the action of the Lord in the world, in culture, in the daily life of the people. I have said this more than once, and I will repeat it again today to you: 'I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security'”.
“However, we know that there are many temptations we must resist. I will present you at least two of them. The first is that of Pelagianism, which leads the Church not to be humble, selfless and blessed. … Often it leads us even to assuming a style of control, of hardness, normativity. Rules give to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation. In this it finds its strength, not in the soft breath of the Spirit. Faced with the ills or the problems of the Church, it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated forms and conduct that have no capacity for meaning, even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts and uncertainties, but it is living, it knows how to disturb and to encourage. Its face is not rigid, it has a body that moves and develops, it has tender flesh; Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ”.
“A second temptation is the gnosticism that leads us to place our trust in logical and clear reasoning that, however, loses the tenderness of our brother's flesh. … The difference between Christian transcendence and any other form of gnostic spiritualism resides in the mystery of the Incarnation. Not putting into practice, not leading the Word to reality, means building on sand, remaining in the pure idea and degenerating into intimisms that do not bear fruit, that render its dynamism sterile”.
“The Italian Church has great saints whose examples help live faith with humility, generosity and joy, from St. Francis of Assisi to St. Philip Neri. But let us also think of invented characters such as Don Camillo and Peppone. I am struck by how, in the stories of Guareschi, the prayer of a good pastor unites with evident closeness to the people”.
“But then, you will ask, what must we do? What is the Pope asking of us? It is up to you to decide: people and pastor together. And I invite you, again, simply to contemplate the Ecce Homo above us”.
“I ask the bishops to be pastors. Nothing more: pastors. May this be your joy: 'I am a pastor'. It will be the people, your flock, who support you. … May nothing and no-one remove from you the joy of being supported by your people. As pastors, do not be preachers of complex doctrines, but rather announcers of Christ, Who died and rose again for us. Focus on the essential, the kerygma. There is nothing more solid, profound and sure than this announcement. But may it be all the people of God who announce the Gospel, people and pastors”.
“I recommend all the Italian Church what I indicated in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: the social inclusion of the poor, who occupy a special place in the People of God, and the capacity for encounter and dialogue to promote friendship and in your country, in search of the common good”.
“May God protect the Church in Italy from any kind of surrogate of power, image and money. Evangelical poverty is creative, it welcomes, supports and is rich in hope. The mother Church … recognises all her abandoned, oppressed and weary children. And this has always been one of your virtues, as you are well aware that the Lord shed his blood not for some, for few or for many, but for all”.
“I also recommend, in a special way, the capacity for dialogue and encounter. Dialogue is not negotiation. Negotiating is bargaining to obtain your own piece of the common 'pie'. That is not what I mean. Instead it is seeking the common good for all”.
“May the Church be a leaven for dialogue, encounter, unity. Indeed, our very formulations of faith are the fruit of dialogue and encounter between different cultures, communities and claims. We must not be afraid of dialogue; on the contrary, it is precisely comparison and criticism that helps us to preserve theology from being transformed into ideology. Also remember that the best way to engage in dialogue is not that of speaking and discussing, but rather of doing something together, of constructing something, of making projects: not alone, among Catholics, but along with all people of goodwill”.
“But the Church also knows how to give a clear answer to the threats that emerge within public debate: this is one of the forms of specific contributions that the faithful offer to the construction of common society. Believers are citizens. … I appeal above all to the young: overcome apathy. … Do not look down on life from the balcony, but rather get involved, immerse yourselves in broad social and political dialogue. … Our times require us to live problems as challenges and not as obstacles: the Lord is active and at work in the world. … Wherever you are, never construct walls or frontiers, but instead open squares and field hospitals”.
“I would like a restless Italian Church, ever closer to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect. I wish for a joyful Church with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies and caresses. May you too dream of this Church, believe in her, innovate freely. The Christian humanism that you are called upon to live radically affirms that dignity of every person as Son of God, establishes between all human beings a fundamental fraternity, teaches to understand work, to inhabit creation as our common home, and provides reasons for joy and humour, even in a life that is often very hard”.
Following his encounter with the representatives of the ecclesial congress, shortly before midday, the Pope went to the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata to pray the Angelus with various sick and disabled people, after which he lunched with the poor in the San Francesco Poverino refectory.
Pope Francis has strongly outlined anew a comprehensive vision for the future of the Catholic church, forcefully telling an emblematic meeting of the entire Italian church community here that our times require a deeply merciful Catholicism that is unafraid of change.
In a 49-minute speech to a decennial national conference of the Italian church — which is bringing together some 2,200 people from 220 dioceses to this historic renaissance city for five days — Francis said Catholics must realize: “We are not living an era of change but a change of era.”
“Before the problems of the church it is not useful to search for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally,” the pontiff said at one point during his remarks.
“Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, interrogatives — but is alive, knows being unsettled, enlivened,” said the pope. “It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ.”
“The reform of the church then, and the church is semper reformanda … does not end in the umpteenth plan to change structures,” he continued. “It means instead grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit — so that all will be possible with genius and creativity.”