A poor Church, a living Church

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Here are excerpts from an interview with Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg and President of the Commission of Episcopal Conferences of the European Union, published in the daily edition of L’Osservatore Romano, Monday 24 October. The interview was conducted by Andrea Monda and Roberto Cetera.

Cardinal Zuppi was interviewed on the Synod of the Italian Church. With great honesty, he did not hide that there had been less participation than expected, both in quantity and quality. What is your impression of the progress of the Synod in the European context?

Yes, I read this interview with great interest. With equal honesty, it seems to me that Zuppi’s observations may also be valid for other European countries, albeit with some necessary distinctions between countries. You see, I think that today in Europe we are affected by a pathology, that is to say that we do not see clearly the mission of the Church. We always talk about structures, which is certainly not bad, because structures are important and they should certainly be reviewed. But we do not talk enough about the mission of the Church, which is to announce the Gospel, to announce and above all to witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. […]

The teaching of Pope Francis is nothing less than the explanation of the Gospel. It is not difficult to understand it. In today’s secularized world, direct proclamation is not always understood, but our witness is. We are observed and evaluated in the world by how we live the gospel. […] Take the encyclical Laudato Si’ for example. Many have read it, even among the unbelievers, even among those who do not know the Gospel. And everyone who has read it has shared its value, importance and urgency. […] And the same goes for Fratelli Tutti. […] But it is up to us to know how to explain that the humanism of Francis is not only a political proposal, but the proclamation of the Gospel. Those outside the Church sometimes understand the gospel better than those inside. Pope Francis thus indicated this way of announcing the Gospel, which starts from reality, this reality which sees us all as creatures and children of the same Father. But to answer your initial question, in the synods of all European countries, there was much talk of communion, of participation, but very little of mission.

Certainly, the difficulty observed in the synods of various countries was influenced by a certain instinctive defense of its status on the part of the clergy…

The concept of synodality was introduced by Pope Paul VI as a requirement of collegiality, of communion between bishops. The Second Vatican Council had the preliminary task of completing what had been suspended with the First Vatican Council, whose object was entirely the figure and the prerogative of the Roman Pontiff. Therefore, the assembly’s efforts were first and foremost to define the role of the bishop. But in Lumen gentium, the concept of “people of God on the way” and of the Church as “temple of the Holy Spirit” was introduced, as well as the “universal priesthood”, which concerns all the baptized. I think that these immense intuitions of the Council Fathers are not yet sufficiently developed. However, I completely agree with Pope Francis when he says that it takes 100 years to set up a Council. […]

Here, too, we turn to Pope Francis: In Europe, we often hear that Francis is a liberal pope. Pope Francis is not a liberal; it is a radical. He lives the radicality of the Gospel. It is the integral paradigm not only of his mission, but also of his life, because he internalized the radicality of the Gospel. Think of his radicalism in mercy, and also of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. You see, you can’t keep a young person secluded from the world, in a monastic type of life for six years, and then complain that he ends up believing himself to be different. There too, I repeat, it is not a problem of structures but of mission. We need to understand, or better understand anew, what it means to be a pastor today. Because, on the other hand, we must all ask ourselves what it means to be a Christian today. That’s the point. And this question is also the style of this pontificate: to accept the inadequacy of the pastoral care of yesteryear and to rethink the mission. A choice that has serious and courageous theological implications.

You speak of a pastoral unsuited to the times. Why? What era are we living in?

[…] You see, my generation has lived and is living through changes that no one has experienced before. I would say the biggest since the invention of the wheel. […] There will be very, very big anthropological transformations. In the awareness that man can only partially influence his own evolution. […] Our pastoral action speaks to a man who no longer exists. We must be able to announce the Gospel and make it understood by the man of today who is most often unaware of it. This implies a greater openness on our part and also the availability — while being firm in the Gospel — to allow ourselves to be transformed too.

When we speak of anthropological changes, our thoughts turn first to the relations between men and women. Paul VI had already anticipated the greatest change.

Yes, Humanae Vitae is a wonderful text. It is really sad that he only went down in history for his judgment on contraception. […] Today, things in the world have changed dramatically. First, sexuality and the giving of life were separated, and now also sexuality and affection. Many young people experience their sexuality completely independent of feelings. And they didn’t invent it on their own but rather learned it from the adult world. Marriage, and not just sacramental marriage, is an obsolete practice in much of Europe. And the same goes for the transmission of heritage. Europeans now know how to live without the cultural heritage of their parents. Every generation is practically a new beginning. And the age gap resulting from an increasingly older population further slows down this transmission.

And to stay on this theme, Cardinal Hollerich, there is the theme of the adaptation of pastoral action to these anthropological changes.

Certainly. And it is precisely a pastoral need that has given rise to reflection on the theme of gender, which has given rise to some criticism. You see, there is a hypothesis that inspired me. I try, as much as possible, in the struggles of my role, to keep alive a personal relationship with young people. Because before being a cardinal, I was a priest, a pastor. And I constantly see that young people stop heeding the Gospel if they feel that we discriminate. For young people today, the greatest value is non-discrimination. Not only gender, but also ethnicity, origin, social status. They really get angry at discrimination! A few weeks ago, I met a 20 year old young woman who said to me, “I want to leave the Church because it does not welcome homosexual couples”. I asked him: “Do you feel discriminated against because you are gay? and she replied, “No, no! I’m not a lesbian, but my best friend is. I know her suffering and I do not intend to be one of those who judge her”. It made me think a lot.

However, the Protestant Cardinal Churches which have a more liberal approach and bless homosexual couples do not seem to be more appreciated by young people.

Certainly not. Because that’s not enough. A profound cultural paradigm shift is needed and a conversion in mind. It is not a question of canon law, norms or structures. […] We are called to proclaim the Good News, not a set of norms and prohibitions […]

Thus, to give an example, the question of the blessing of homosexual couples which was discussed; frankly, I don’t think the question is decisive… If we reflect on the etymology of “blessing” (from the Latin bene dicere, literally: to say good things), do you think that God can ever “male dicere” (literal Latin translation: to say bad things) two people who love each other. I would be more interested in discussing other aspects of the problem. For example, what is causing the dramatic increase in homosexual orientation in society? Or why is the percentage of homosexuals in church institutions higher than in civil society?

Thus, leaving an empty tomb in Jerusalem on a spring Sunday morning.

Certainly. That’s the good news! And I would like to add: everyone is called. No one is excluded: even divorced people who have remarried, even homosexuals, everyone. The Kingdom of God is not an exclusive club. It opens its doors to everyone, without any discrimination. To everybody. Sometimes in the Church there are discussions about the accessibility of these groups to the Kingdom of God. And this creates the perception of the exclusion of a part of the People of God. They feel left out, and that’s not fair! It’s not about theological niceties or ethical dissertations. Here, it is simply a question of affirming that the message of Christ is addressed to all!

However, objectively, there is a theological problem. You yourself have referred to it in past interviews, hoping for a re-examination of the doctrine.

[…] Many of our brothers and sisters tell us that whatever the cause of their sexual orientation, they definitely did not choose it. These are not “rotten apples”. They too are the fruit of creation. And in Berseshit, we read that at every stage of creation, God was pleased with his world and said, “…and he saw that it was a good thing.” That said, I want to be clear. I don’t think there’s room for sacramental same-sex marriage because there’s no procreative purpose that sets it apart, but that doesn’t mean their emotional relationship is worthless.

Populism seems to be growing in many European countries.

Wherever populism prevails, it must face the challenge of government. The problem with populism is that it provides simplified answers to increasingly complicated questions posed to us by today’s world. […] I worry about what might happen if the populists fail in their challenge to the government. Desperately, they would blame someone else: migrants, refugees, Brussels, further aggravating social tensions.

One last question, Cardinal. How do you see the Church in Europe in 20 years?

It will be much smaller. The majority of Europeans will not know God or his Gospel. Smaller, but also more alive. I think this decrease in number is according to God’s plan, a necessity to achieve greater momentum. In parts of northern Europe it will be mostly a church of migrants. The wealthy locals are the first to abandon ship as the Gospel clashes with their interests. This is the wish of Pope Francis: a poor Church. A living Church.

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