From Brazil Resounds a Word Sharper than a Sword: JESUS
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, May 15, 2007 (http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it) - Among the twelve speeches, homilies, messages, and greetings pronounced by Benedict XVI during his four-day trip to Brazil, the one most keenly awaited was the inaugural address for the fifth conference of the bishops' conference of Latin American and the Caribbean, in Aparecida.
But the discourse that will be remembered in the future as the one most revealing of the pope's objectives was another. It was the one he delivered to the bishops of Brazil in the cathedral of Sao Paolo, at the end of Vespers on Friday, May 11.
It is the address reproduced further below.
The pope begins it with words "sharper than a sword": the words of the New Testament on perfect obedience to the Father of Jesus, the savior of all precisely because he was obedient in everything, even to the cross. The bishops, he asserts, are simply "bound" to this obedience: their mission is that of preaching the truth, baptizing, "saving souls one by one" in the name of Jesus.
"This, and nothing else, is the purpose of the Church," Benedict XVI emphasizes. Therefore, where the truth of the Christian faith is hidden, and where the sacraments are not celebrated, "the essential is also lacking for the solution of urgent social and political problems."
All of the instructions that the pope gave to the Brazilian bishops following the address descend from this foundation. Benedict XVI's clear intention is that of reestablishing Jesus, true God and true man, as the center of the Latin American Church: a Church that, in his judgment, has in recent decades strayed too far into political territory, under the influence of liberation theology.
For Benedict XVI, a strong effort of evangelization is the real response to the attacks against the family, to the crimes against life, to the abandoning of Catholicism in favor of the new "evangelical" and Pentecostal sects. And priestly celibacy also weakens when "the structure of total consecration to God begins to lose its deepest meaning." And the poor must also be offered "the divine balm of the faith, without overlooking material bread."
Evangelizing means teaching Christian truth in its entirety, as summarized in the Catechism. It means celebrating the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist: not collective Confession, but individual, because "sin is a profoundly personal reality," and the Eucharist in keeping with the norms, because it "is never anyone's private property, neither of the celebrant nor of the community."
The pope asks the bishops to keep watch over theological activity, to pay attention to the formation of priests, to practice ecumenism without forgetting that "the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him."
It is easy to intuit the situations that prompted each of these instructions given by Benedict XVI to the bishops of Brazil: from unbridled liturgical spontaneity to the widespread violation of priestly celibacy. The pope did not give himself over to describing these situations. Exactly as he did not say a single explicit word – contrary to the expectations of many – about liberation theology. He gave only the slightest outlines of an analysis of the success of the Pentecostal sects. And he did not meet with any of the leaders of these sects, not even in the brief encounter scheduled for Sao Paolo with the heads of other Christian confessions and other religions.
Instead, Benedict XVI centered all of his preaching on the foundation from which he began in his address to the bishops: Jesus. That is, he carried out the same work of concentrating on the essential that characterizes his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" and his book "Jesus of Nazareth."
He entrusts the analyses and the course of action to the bishops and delegates of the continental congress that he inaugurated in Aparecida on May 13. He merely pointed out the objective for them.
For example, in regard to the "aggressive proselytism" of the Pentecostal sects, he did not propose a counter-propaganda of the same kind. He instead said, in the homily for the Mass on Sunday, May 13:
"The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by 'attraction': just as Christ 'draws all to himself' by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfils her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord."
This is a message that Benedict XVI addresses, not only to Brazil or to Latin America, but to the Church all over the world.