The Holy Father used his visit to Brazil where he opened the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM), as a springboard for talking about how the Church should engage the modern world.
Pope Benedict XVI recalled the theme of the conference, “Disciples and missionaries in Jesus Christ, that in Him our peoples may have life,” and then mentioned some possible objections to this choice of subject: “Was it not,” he asked, “perhaps excessively concentrated on interior life at a time in which the great challenges of history – the urgent problems of justice, peace and freedom – require the complete commitment of all men and women of good will, and in particular of Christianity and the Church?”
To answer this objection, the Holy Father proceeded, “it is necessary to understand the true meaning of the theme.” The key idea is that of “finding life,” he said, “and the theme presupposes that this objective … is to be attained through discipleship of Jesus Christ and through commitment to His word and His presence.”
Being a disciple of Christ, the Pope said, “means in the first place coming to know Him” by listening to the Word. And to meet Christ “we must listen, then reply through prayer and through practicing what He tells us.”
Disciples of Christ are Missionaries
“The disciple of Christ must also be a ‘missionary,’ a messenger of the Gospel,” said the Pope. On the other hand, the Holy Father raised an objection to evangelizing: “Here too the objection could be made as to whether it is still legitimate to ‘evangelize’ today? Should not all the religions and philosophies of the world coexist peacefully and together seek what is best for humanity, each in its own way?”
In answer to this objection, Benedict XVI mentioned the letter sent to him by 138 Muslim religious leaders in October. In his reply, the Pontiff explained how two different faiths should co-exist: “I expressed my convinced adherence to such noble sentiments, at the same time underlining the urgent need for a harmonious commitment in order to safeguard values, mutual respect, dialogue and collaboration. The shared recognition of the existence of the One God … is a premise for joint action in defense of … the dignity of all human beings, for the edification of a more just and united society.”
Pope Benedict went on to say that, “Those who have recognized a great truth, those who have discovered a great joy, must pass it on, they cannot keep it to themselves. … In order to reach fulfillment, history needs the announcement of the Good News to all peoples, to all men and women. How important it is for forces of reconciliation, of peace, of love and of justice to come together in humanity. … How important it is, … in the face of the sentiments and the reality of violence and injustice, for rival forces to be mobilized and reinforced.”
People should not be afraid to evangelize, the Pope said, because it marshals the forces of good against violence and injustice. Indeed, “through the encounter with Jesus Christ and His saints, ‘humankind’ is re-equipped with those forces for good without which none of our plans for social order is realized but, faced with the enormous pressure of other interests contrary to peace and justice, remain as abstract theories.”
Then, the Pope definitively answered the question he had posed at the start of his talk, saying that the Aparecida meeting was right “to give priority to discipleship of Jesus Christ and to evangelization,” and that this was in no way a “misguided retreat into interior life.” This, he explained, “is because the renewed encounter with Jesus Christ and His Gospel – and only that – revives the forces that make us capable of giving the right response to the challenges of our time.”
China and Austria
The Holy Father also considered the Letter he sent in June to Catholic Church faithful in the People’s Republic of China, saying, “It is my hope that, with the help of God, the Letter may produce the desired fruits.”
At the end of his address to the Curia, the Pope briefly mentioned his visit to Austria in September, and his meeting with young people in the Italian town of Loreto, “a great sign of joy and hope,” he said.
“We must not delude ourselves,” the Holy Father said, “the secularism of our time and the pressure of ideological presumption (to which the secularist mentality with its exclusive claim to definitive rationality tends), present no small-scale problem.” Nonetheless, he concluded, “we also know that the Lord maintains His promise: ‘Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’.”