Pope Francis has urged bishops and pastoral care workers to take up the challenge of bringing the Gospel into big cities with a profound change of attitude and renewed committment.
In a message to participants of the International Pastoral Congress on the World’s Big Cities, held in Barcelona this week, the Pope issued an encouragement to reflect creatively on the way they face the task of evangelization in great urban centers that are in increasing expansion, and in which everyone needs to feel the closeness and mercy of God.
Delivering his message to a group of Cardinals and bishops from big cities across the world whom he received in audience on Thursday morning, Pope Francis began with a reflection on his own personal experience as Archbishop of the “populous and multicultural city of Buenos Aires” with its dense population of 13 million.
He said that together with the bishops of the 11 dioceses that make up that ecclesiastical region, he searched for new ways with which to open pathways into urban realities, taking stock of possible fears that sometimes “confuse” or even “paralyze” us.
The Pope recalled a chapter of his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii gaudium” in which he drew attention to urban pastoral care and its many challenges: “challenges” – he said – “in places to which God is calling us”.
Pope Francis focused on four of these challenges. He described them as “making a change in our pastoral mentality”; “dialogue with multiculturalism”; “religiousness of people”; and “the urban poor”.
Regarding the first of these challenges he said that in big cities we need new maps to help us reposition our thoughts and our attitudes. “We must not be disorientated” – he said – “because that would lead us to take the wrong road” as well as confuse the people of God that is looking for Life, Truth and the Sense.
He pointed out that our pastoral practice is based and rooted in times gone by: “We are no longer in that era. We are not in Christianity. Today we are not the only ones that produce culture, we are not the first nor the most listened to”. Thus, he said, we need a change in pastoral mentality. But he pointed out that we do not need “relativistic pastoral care” which would leave man alone and “emancipated from God’s hands: “This would not be pastoral care!” He said it would leave man in danger of treading a road of solitude and death.
And Pope Francis said we must have the courage to evangelize at a pastoral level with audacity and fearlessness, because that’s what men, women and families, as well as the various groups that live in cities expect from us. “We must work without shame or shyness as we announce Jesus Christ.
Regarding the dialogue with multiculturalism , Pope Francis pointed to a pastoral dialogue without relativisms, without compromising one’s Christian identity, but aiming to reach the heart of the other, of he who is different to us, and there “sow the seeds of the Gospel”.
Within this realm the Pope said we need a contemplative attitude that makes use of the contribution of diverse sciences to be able to understand the urban phenomenon. This will help us – he said – to get to know “the invisible cities: the groups or the human territories who find identity in symbols, idioms, rites and forms to tell the stories of life”.
In respect to the religiousness of people, Pope Francis said: “God lives in cities. We must go and look for him and remain where He is operating”. He said it is important to discover within the “religiosity of our people, the authentic religious under layer, which in many cases is Christian and Catholic”. He said we must not ignore or despise experiences of God that may be dispersed or mixed up: they ask to be “revealed and not constructed”.
Regarding the issue of religiosity Francis said it differs enormously in the five continents, and he pointed out that the Church in Latin America and in the Caribbean has recognized its strength that comes above all from poor majorities.
God – he said – continues to talk to us today through the poor. And he said large cities today are inhabited by numerous migrants and poor people who come from rural areas, from other continents, with other cultures. “They are pilgrims of life in search of ‘salvation’, who often find the force to go forward and to struggle thanks to a simple and profound experience of faith in God” the Pope said. So, it is a double challenge: to be hospitable towards the poor and towards migrants; and to give value to their faith. And Pope Francis expressed his belief that within the faith of these men and women there is enormous potential for evangelization in urban areas.
Finally, the Pope dedicated a passage to urban poor. He said that amongst its precious offers for life, in the folds of large cities there are many poor people, marginalized people, people who have been “thrown away”. The Church, he said: “cannot ignore their cry, nor can it be part of unjust systems” that try to render them invisible. And he spoke of cycles of new poverty that are excluding generations of families. Of economic, social, moral and spiritual poverty that exclude God’s children: “In cities, the future of the poor is even poorer” he said.
Concluding, Pope Francis proposed two pastoral nuclei: “Go out and facilitate” and “The Samaritan Church. To be there”.
Calling it a real “ecclesial transformation” the Pope said it’s all about going out and meeting God who lives in cities with the poor. Meeting, listening to, blessing, walking with the people; facilitating the encounter with the Lord are his rule of thumb.
He tells pastoral workers to render the Sacrament of Baptism accessible; to make sure churches are open and that administrative offices have opening hours that suit the needs of people who go to work; that the Catechesis be suitable in content and accessibility to the time limitations of people who live in big cities.
And he asked for witness. With the right kind of witness – the Pope said – we can reach the deepest nuclei, we can go where culture is born and sow the mustard seed in the heart of new cultures generated by urban reality.
It must be a concrete witness of mercy and tenderness and it must be present in the poorest and most peripheral existential realities. We must take care of the aged with significant actions and learn to work together with those who are already doing things in favour of the poor.
The big city – Pope Francis said – is a propitious space for ecumenical charitable pastoral work, and we have the responsibility of committing to service for the poor together with our brothers of other Churches.
Vatican Radio (Linda Bordoni)