That voice from the Third World

Over the years I’ve known many  priests and even bishops like Pope Francis. Priests who came out to the mission territories or  were sent to informal settlements or refugee camps to do pastoral  work and who found themselves transformed. The much-publicised and polarised  issues of the West left them unmoved as  they lived and worked amongst those  battling war, destitution, homelessness, starvation. Poverty transformed them and in the suffering and struggles of the poor they met Christ and  began to preach about hope and mercy. This isn’t my phrasing, these are expressions I have  heard over and over  again from  priests and  women religious working in hard and  seemingly hopeless places. Where the First World only hears   the language of  a dangerous liberation theology, those who live  at the margins  know and  speak of another kind of reality.

So the  moving and  deeply sincere  convictions voiced by  Francis in his interview with the Italian Jesuit Antonio Spadaro are as familiar to me as the prayers in my breviary. Wonderful to hear and  very much to be expected  from a Latin American  priest who  knew the  barrios  like the pam of his hand.

“How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organizational reforms are secondary—that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.

“Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”


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