ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS
Church of San Francisco de Asís (Panamá)
Thursday, 24 January 2019
I thank Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador for his words of welcome in the name of all. I find here some old friends: this is a wonderful thing. I am happy to be able to be with you and to share in a closer and more direct way your hopes, projects and dreams as pastors to whom the Lord has entrusted the care of the holy people. Thank you for your fraternal welcome.
Meeting with you also gives me the opportunity to embrace your peoples and feel closer to them, to make my own their aspirations, but also their disappointments, and above all the unshakable faith that restores hope and encourages charity. Thank you for letting me be close to that tested yet simple faith seen on the faces of your people, who, though poor, know that “God is here; he is not sleeping, he is active, he watches and helps” (SAINT OSCAR ROMERO, Homily, 16 December 1979).
This meeting reminds us of an important ecclesial event. The bishops of this region were the first in America to create a means of communion and participation that continues to bear rich fruit: the Episcopal Secretariat of Central America (SEDAC).
It has provided a forum for sharing, discernment and agreement that nurtures, revitalizes and enriches your Churches. Farsighted bishops gave a sign that, far from being merely programmatic, showed that the future of Central America – or of any area of the world – necessarily depends on clear thinking and the ability to broaden horizons and to join in a patient and generous effort to listen, understand, engage and involve. And, as a result, to discern the new horizons to which the Spirit is leading us (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 235).
In the 75 years since its establishment, SEDAC has sought to share in the joys and sorrows, the struggles and the dreams of the peoples of Central America, whose history has been interwoven with and forged by the history of your own faithful. Many men and women, priests, consecrated and lay, have devoted their lives and even shed their blood to keep the Church’s prophetic voice alive in the face of injustice, the spread of poverty, and the abuse of power.
I remember as a young priest how some of your surnames were a bad word, and how your perseverance indicated the way: thank you! They remind us that “those who really wish to give glory to God by their lives, who truly long to grow in holiness, are called to be single-minded and tenacious in their practice of the works of mercy” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 107). And this, not simply as almsgiving, but as a true vocation.
Among these prophetic fruits of the Church in Central America, I am happy to mention Saint Oscar Romero, whom I recently had the privilege of canonizing during the Synod on Young People. His life and his teachings remain a source of inspiration for our churches and, in a special way, for us as bishops. He too was a bad word, suspected, excommunicated by the secretive gossip of many bishops. His episcopal motto, inscribed on his tombstone, clearly expresses the principle that guided his life as a pastor: to think with the Church. It was the compass for his life and fidelity, even in times of great turmoil.
His legacy can become an active and life-giving witness for us, who are likewise called to the daily martyrdom of serving our people, and on it, I would like to base the reflection, thinking with the Church. It is a reflection that I wish to share with you with the figure of Romero very much in mind. I know that some among us knew Archbishop Romero personally, like Cardinal Rosa Chávez, of whom Cardinal Quarracino told me of his candidature for the Nobel Prize for Fidelity! Your Eminence, if you think that I am mistaken in any of my assessments, you can correct me, without hesitation. To appeal to the figure of Romero is to appeal to the holiness and prophetic character present in the DNA of your particular churches.
Thinking with the Church
1. Recognition and gratitude
When Saint Ignatius sets out the rules for thinking with the Church – forgive the publicity - he tries to help the retreatant overcome any type of false dichotomy or antagonism that would reduce the life of the Spirit to the habitual temptation to make God’s word serve our own interest. This can give the retreatant the grace to recognize that he is part of an apostolic body greater than himself, while at the same time being aware of his own strengths and abilities: an awareness that is neither feeble nor selective or rash.
To feel part of a whole that is always more than the sum of its parts (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 235), and is linked to a Presence that will always transcend him (cf. Gaudete et Exsultate, 8).
So, I would like to focus this preliminary thinking with the Church, along with Saint Oscar, on thanksgiving, or rather gratitude, for all the unmerited blessings we have received. Romero instinctively knew how to understand and appreciate the Church, because he loved her deeply as the wellspring of his faith. Without this deep love, it would be difficult to understand the story of his conversion.
It was that same love that led him to martyrdom: a love born of receiving an utterly free gift, one that does not belong to us but instead frees us from any pretension or temptation to think that we are its proprietors or its sole interpreters. We did not invent the Church; she was not born with us and she will carry on without us. This attitude, far from encouraging laziness, awakens and sustains boundless and unimaginable gratitude.
Martyrdom has nothing to do with faintheartedness or the attitude of those who do not love life and cannot recognize its value. On the contrary, the martyr is one who is capable of incarnating and living fully this act of thanksgiving.
Romero “thought with the Church,” because before all else he loved the Church as a mother who had brought him to birth in the faith. He felt a member and a part of her.
2. A love flavored by people
This love, loyalty and gratitude brought him to embrace passionately, but also with hard work and study, the currents of renewal authoritatively proposed by the Second Vatican Council. There he found a firm guide for Christian discipleship. He was neither an ideologue nor ideological; his actions were born of a thorough familiarity with the Council documents. Against this ecclesial horizon, thinking with the Church meant, for Romero, contemplating her as the People of God. For the Lord did not want to save us alone and apart from others, but to establish a people who would profess him in truth and serve him in sanctity (cf. Lumen Gentium, 9).
A people that as a whole possesses, guards and celebrates the “anointing of the Holy One” (ibid., 12), and to whom Romero carefully listened, so as not to be deprived of the inspiration (cf. SAINT OSCAR ROMERO, Homily, 16 July 1978).
In this way, Romero showed us that the pastor, in order to seek and discover the Lord, must learn to listen to the heartbeat of his people. He must smell the “odor” of the sheep, the men and women of today, until he is steeped in their joys and hopes, their sorrows and their anxieties (cf. Gaudium et spes, 1), and in so doing, ponder the word of God (cf. Dei Verbum, 13).
His must be an approach that listens to the people entrusted to his care, to the point of identifying with them and discovering from them the will of God who calls us (cf. Address at the Meeting on the Family, 4 October 2014). An approach free of dichotomies or false antagonisms, for only the love of God is capable of integrating all our loves in a single feeling and gaze.
For Romero, in a word, to think with the Church means to take part in the Church’s glory, which is to live, heart and soul, the kenosis of Christ. In the Church, as the saint expressed in his homily of 1 October 1978, Christ lives among us, and so she must be humble and poor, since an aloof, prideful and self-sufficient Church is not the Church of kenosis.
(To be continued in the next edition).