ADDRESS OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF ITALIAN CATHOLIC ACTION
Sala Clementina - Friday, 30 April 2021
Dear brothers and sisters,
I greet you with affection, happy to meet you in the days of your seventeenth National Assembly, and I thank the National President and the General Ecclesiastical Assistant for their introductory words. I would like to offer you some ideas to return to reflect on the task of a reality like the Italian Catholic Action, especially in a time like the one we are experiencing. I will follow the three words action , Catholic and Italian .
We can ask ourselves what this word “action” means, and above all whose action is it. The last chapter of the Gospel of Mark, after recounting the apparition of Jesus to the Apostles and the invitation that He addressed to them to go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature, ends with this affirmation: "The Lord he acted together with them and confirmed the Word with the signs that accompanied it "(16:20). Whose action is it then? The Gospel assures us that acting belongs to the Lord: it is He who has the exclusive right, walking "incognito" in the history we live in.
Remembering this does not take our responsibility away, but brings us back to our identity as missionary disciples. In fact, Mark's account adds immediately after the disciples "departed" promptly "and preached everywhere" ( ibid. ). The Lord acted and they left. Remembering that action belongs to the Lord allows us never to lose sight of the fact that the Spirit is the source of the mission: his presence is the cause - and not the effect - of the mission. It allows us to always keep in mind that "our ability comes from God" ( 2 Cor 3: 5); that history is guided by the love of the Lord and we are co-protagonists of it. Your programs, therefore, also aim to rediscover and announce the signs of the Lord's goodness in history.
The pandemic has destroyed many projects, it has asked everyone to deal with the unexpected. Welcoming the unexpected, rather than ignoring it or rejecting it, means remaining docile to the Spirit and, above all, faithful to the life of the men and women of our time.
The evangelist emphasizes that Jesus "confirmed the Word with signs". What does it mean? That what we do has a precise origin: listening to and welcoming the Gospel. But it also means that there must be a strong link between what you hear and what you experience. Live the Word and proclaim the Word [connected] to life. I therefore invite you to ensure that the search for a synthesis between Word and life, which makes faith an incarnate experience, continues to characterize the formative paths of Catholic Action.
And speaking of the Spirit, which is what carries us forward, and speaking of the Lord who acted, who accompanies us, who is with us, we must be very careful not to fall into the illusion of functionalism.. The programs, the organization charts serve, but as a starting point, as an inspiration; what brings forth the Kingdom of God is docility to the Spirit, it is the Spirit, our docility and the presence of the Lord. The freedom of the Gospel. It is sad to see how many organizations have fallen into the trap of organization charts: all perfect, all perfect institutions, all the necessary money, all perfect ... But tell me: where is the faith? Where is the Spirit? “No, we are looking for it together, yes, according to the organization chart we are doing”. Beware of functionalisms. Be careful not to fall into the slavery of organigrams, of “perfect” things… The Gospel is disorder because the Spirit, when it arrives, makes a noise to the point that the action of the Apostles seems like the action of drunks; so they said: "They're drunk!" (cf At2.13). Docility to the Spirit is revolutionary, because Jesus Christ is revolutionary, because the Incarnation is revolutionary, because the Resurrection is revolutionary. Your mailing must also be with this revolutionary feature.
What characteristics must the action, the work of Catholic Action have? I would say first of all free of charge . The missionary thrust does not lie in the logic of conquest but in that of the gift. Gratuitousness, the mature fruit of the gift of self, asks you to dedicate yourselves to your local communities, assuming the responsibility of proclamation; it asks you to listen to your territories, feeling their needs, weaving fraternal relationships. The history of your Association is made up of many “saints next door” - many! -, and it is a story that must continue: holiness is an inheritance to be preserved and a vocation to be welcomed.
A second characteristic of your actions that I would like to emphasize is that of humility , meekness . The Church is grateful to the Association to which you belong, because your presence often does not make noise - let the Spirit make the noise, you do not make noise - but it is a faithful, generous, responsible presence. Humility and meekness are the keys to living the service, not to occupy spaces but to start processes. I am happy because in recent years you have taken seriously the path indicated by Evangelii Gaudium . Continue along this road: there is a long way to go! This, as far as the action is concerned.
2. Catholic - second word.
The word "catholic", which qualifies your identity, says that the mission of the Church has no boundaries. Jesus called the disciples to an experience of strong sharing of life with him, but he reached them where they lived and worked. And he called them what they were. You too are asked to become ever more aware that being "with everyone and for all" (cf. Evangelii gaudium , 273) does not mean "diluting" the mission, "watering it down", but keeping it well linked to concrete life, to the people with whom live.
The word "catholic" can therefore be translated with the expression "to become neighbor", because it is universal, "to be neighbor", but of all. The time of the pandemic, which has asked and still asks to accept forms of distancing, has made the value of fraternal closeness even more evident: between people, between generations, between territories. Being an association is precisely a way to express this desire to live and believe together. Through your being an association, today you are witnessing that distance can never become indifference, it can never translate into strangeness. There is the bad distance, that of looking the other way, the indifference, the coldness: I have mine, I don't need to…, I go on.
You can do a lot in this area, precisely because you are a lay association. The danger is the clericalization of Catholic Action, but we will talk about this another time, because it will be too long ... It is an everyday temptation. There is still a widespread temptation to think that the promotion of the laity - in the face of so many ecclesial needs - involves a greater involvement of the laity in the "things of the priests", in clericalization. With the risk that we end up clericalizing the laity. But you, in order to be valued, do not need to become something other than what you are by Baptism. Your secularity is a richness for the catholicity of the Church, which wants to be leaven, "salt of the earth and light of the world".
In particular, you lay people of Catholic Action can help the whole Church and society to rethink together what kind of humanity we want to be, what land we want to inhabit, what world we want to build. You too are called to make an original contribution to the realization of a new "integral ecology": with your skills, your passion, your responsibility.
The great human and social suffering generated by the pandemic risks becoming an educational catastrophe and an economic emergency. We cultivate a wise attitude, as did Jesus, who "learned obedience from the things he suffered" ( Heb 5: 8). We too must ask ourselves: what can we learn from this time and suffering? “He learned obedience”, says the Letter to the Hebrews, that is, he learned a high and demanding form of listening, capable of permeating action. Listening to this time is an exercise in fidelity which we cannot escape from. Above all, I entrust to you those who have been most affected by the pandemic and those who risk paying the highest price: the little ones, the young, the elderly, those who have experienced fragility and loneliness.
And let's not forget that your associative experience is "Catholic" because it involves children, young people, adults, seniors, students, workers: an experience of the people. Catholicity is precisely the experience of the holy faithful people of God: never lose your popular character! In this sense, to be God's people.
3. Third word: Italian
The third term is "Italian". Your Association has always been inserted in Italian history and helps the Church in Italy to be a generator of hope for your whole country. You can help the ecclesial community to be a leaven of dialogue in society, in the style I indicated at the Florence Convention. And the Italian Church will resume, in this Assembly [of Bishops] in May, the Florence Convention, to remove it from the temptation to archive it, and it will do so in the light of the synodal journey that the Italian Church will begin, which we do not know how it will end and we do not know the things that will come out. The synodal journey, which will begin from every Christian community, from below, from below, from below to above. And the light, from top to bottom, will be the Florence Convention.
A Church of dialogue is a synodal Church, which listens to the Spirit and to that voice of God who reaches us through the cry of the poor and of the earth. In fact, the synodal plan is not so much a plan to be programmed and implemented, but above all a style to be embodied. And we must be precise when we speak of synodality, of synodal journey, of synodal experience. It is not a parliament, synodality is not a parliament. Synodality is not the only discussion of problems, of various things that exist in society ... It is beyond. Synodality is not looking for a majority, an agreement on pastoral solutions that we have to make. Only this is not synodality; this is a nice "Catholic parliament", okay, but it is not synodality. Because the Spirit is missing. What does that the discussion, the "parliament", the search for things to become synodality is the presence of the Spirit: prayer, silence, discernment of all that we share. There can be no synodality without the Spirit, and there is no Spirit without prayer. This is very important.
The Church of dialogue is a synodal Church, which listens to the Spirit and to that voice of God who reaches us through the cry of the poor and of the earth. Generally, even sinners are the poor of the earth. In fact, the synodal plan is not so much a plan to be programmed and implemented, a pastoral decision to be taken, but above all a style to be embodied.
In this sense your Association constitutes a "training ground" of synodality, and this attitude of yours has been and will continue to be an important resource for the Italian Church, which is wondering how to develop this style in all its levels. Dialogue, discussion, research, but with the Holy Spirit.
Your most precious contribution can come, once again, from your secularism, which is an antidote to self-referentiality. It is curious: when true secularism is not lived in the Church, one falls into self-referentiality. Making a synod is not looking in the mirror, not even looking at the diocese or the Episcopal Conference, no, that's not it. It is walking together behind the Lord and towards the people, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Secularism is also an antidote to abstractness: a synodal path must lead to making choices. And these choices, to be practicable, must start from reality, not from the three or four ideas that are fashionable or that have come up in the discussion. Not to leave it as it is, reality, no, evidently, but to try to affect it, to make it grow in the line of the Holy Spirit,
Brothers and sisters, I wish your Assembly good work. May it help to develop the awareness that, in the Church, the voice of the laity must not be listened to "by concession", no. Sometimes the voice of the priests, or of the bishops, must be heard, and in some moments "by concession"; it must always be "by right". But also that of the laity "by right", not "by concession". Both. It must be listened to by conviction, by right, because all the people of God are "infallible in credendo ". And I cordially bless you and all your territorial associations. And please don't forget to pray for me, because this job is not easy at all! Thank you.