The Pope in Brazil
By Father John Flynn
ROME, MAY 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Brazil, Benedict XVI announced upon arriving in São Paulo on May 9, has a very special place in his heart. The Pope explained that this is due to it being the country with the largest number of Catholics and because of its potential that gives joy and hope for the Church.
During his first trip to the Americas, the Pontiff addressed many important themes in his discourses and homilies. Some of them were directed more toward Brazil, but many of the points raised had implications for the Church as a whole.
Evangelization an urgent task
The need for the Church to be imbued by a missionary attitude was repeatedly mentioned by Benedict XVI. In his brief address upon arriving in Brazil, the Pope commented that the Church has a “deep commitment to the mission of evangelization at the service of the cause of peace and justice” (No. 3).
The Holy Father returned to this theme in his address to some 400 bishops, gathered on May 11 to pray vespers in the Cathedral of São Paulo. God desires all to be saved and to know the truth, he observed. “This, and nothing else, is the purpose of the Church: the salvation of individual souls” (No. 2).
Therefore, there is an urgent need to instruct people in the faith and to celebrate the sacraments. In fact, in explaining why so many have left the Church Benedict XVI argued that: “It seems clear that the principal cause of this problem is to be found in the lack of an evangelization completely centered on Christ and his Church” (No. 3).
In general, he noted, those who are most vulnerable to the activity of the sects or to falling victim to the temptation of secularism and relativism, have been insufficiently evangelized.
The Pope urged the bishops to put into practice a pastoral plan to seek out and welcome back those Catholics who have left the Church, or who know little about Christ.
What must we do to have eternal life?
During his encounter with youth, held at the Pacaembu stadium May 10 in São Paulo, the Pope reflected on the implications of the question the young man made to Jesus when he asked what he should do to have eternal life (cf. Matthew 19:16-22).
We can also understand this interrogatory as meaning: “What must I do so that my life has meaning?” noted the Pontiff (No. 3). “Jesus alone can give us the answer, because he alone can guarantee us eternal life,” he added.
Part of the answer, he continued, is to be open to goodness, and to see God in all that is around us and in all that happens. We also need to keep the commandments, but not just by knowing them, we must keep them and give witness in our own lives to them. This is much more than just obeying external rules, Benedict XVI commented. At the heart of the commandments we find both grace and nature, and by following them we fulfill our potential. We only have one life to live and it is important not to squander this opportunity, he urged.
The Pope also encouraged young people to evangelize, and to invite their friends and those around them to encounter Jesus, so they too can experience his love. He invited youth to demonstrate their faith in their commitment to marriage and the family, and to build a more just society.
In all of this it is important to remain close to Jesus through giving sufficient attention to the interior life: “The life of faith and prayer will lead you along the paths of intimacy with God, helping you to understand the greatness of his plans for every person” (No. 5).
The role of bishops
During his address on May 11 to bishops in the Cathedral of São Paulo, the Pope gave some advice on what he saw as the priorities for those chosen to be pastors of the Church. “Fidelity to the primacy of God and of his will, known and lived in communion with Jesus Christ, is the essential gift that we bishops and priests must offer to our people” (No. 2).
Bishops must also ensure that the work of catechesis is carried out properly. The catechist’s task, the Holy Father explained, is not to merely communicate “faith experiences,” but to be “an authentic herald of revealed truths” (No. 4). This means a faith that is characterized by conversion and discipleship.
Part of this catechesis, he continued, also consists in ensuring the correct implementation of liturgical principles. “For bishops, who are the ‘moderators of the Church’s liturgical life,’ the rediscovery and appreciation of obedience to liturgical norms is a form of witness to the one, universal Church that presides in charity” (No. 4).
Bishops should also avoid any reductive vision of the mission they have been entrusted with, the Pope advised. “It is not enough to look at reality solely from the viewpoint of personal faith; we must work with the Gospel in our hands and anchor ourselves in the authentic heritage of the apostolic Tradition, free from any interpretations motivated by rationalistic ideologies” (No. 5).
The Pope also recommended that the bishops apply the social teaching of the Church in dealing with the economic and social problems of Brazil, and consider issues from the viewpoint of human dignity, which is a vision that rises above the mere interaction of economic forces.
Christ the Savior
On May 13, Benedict XVI gave the inaugural address for the 5th General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, held near the shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. In his opening his remarks the Pope commented that the continent can count on a rich Christian culture, five centuries after the initial evangelization, but at the same time faces some serious challenges.
One interesting point raised by the Pontiff dealt with the arrival of the Christian faith in the region. This event meant the arrival of Christ, which the people living in those nations had been seeking, but without realizing it, in their local religious traditions. “Christ is the Savior for whom they were silently longing,” the Pope stated (No. 1).
Seen in this perspective, “the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture,” he argued.
Turning to the challenges to be considered by the bishops, the Holy Father mentioned globalization. This brings with it benefits, he noted, but at the same time the risk of economic priorities dominating society. Globalization, like other activities, must be guided by ethics, the Pope exhorted.
He also spoke of progress made towards democracy in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. There are, however, still some regimes that follow ideologies that do not correspond to the Christian vision of man and society.
We must, the Pontiff enjoined, avoid the error of considering material goods as the only reality in our lives. This is the mistake made in the last century by both the Marxist and capitalist systems. “Only those who recognize God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner,” he commented (No. 3).
Part of his address laid out what the Pope saw as priorities for the renewal of the Church. In this respect he mentioned the family, the role of priests and religious, and the mission entrusted to the laity.
In his words Benedict XVI observed that the region has been referred to as the continent of hope. He also augured that it could become the continent of love. An aspiration no doubt seconded by many.