THE CHURCH’S MISSION: CHANGE THE WORLD
The Second Vatican Council was less about changing the Church than about changing the world, according to Cardinal Francis GEORGE.
“It was a missionary council,” said Chicago’s cardinal — an Oblate Missionary — to more than 100 directors and staff of the Pontifical Mission Societies gathered for their national meeting April 17-19 in Miami, Florida USA.
The meeting featured talks by the cardinal — who serves as the U.S. bishops’ liaison to the Societies — as well as Oblate Missionary Father Ron ROLHEISER, author and president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas; blogger Mark Shea of “Catholic and Enjoying It”; and Oblate Missionary Bishop Bejoy D’CRUZE of Sylhet, Bangladesh. Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami celebrated the opening Mass. Oblate Missionary Father Andrew SMALL, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the U.S., also spoke to members of the group during the meeting.
In a wide-ranging talk that touched upon missions, evangelization, the new evangelization and secularism, Cardinal George cited the definition of Church written in the first paragraph of the council document, Lumen Gentium: “The sacrament of the unity of the human race.”
He said that after experiencing the rise of nationalism, Fascism, Nazism and Communism, Pope John XXIII was under “no illusions as to this world being a place of freedoms.” In fact, he knew “the modern world was a terrible place,” and he saw the Church’s role as reminding humanity of its common brotherhood, its true freedom under God.
“All the ministries that come out of the council are based upon dialogue,” Cardinal George said — but no longer a dialogue between the Church and the nation-states, rather a dialogue between faith and culture, “introducing the world to its Savior in such a way that the world will change.”
If the divisions among the human race were the missionary challenge 50 years ago, the challenge today is secularism, Cardinal George said. “There’s a new call to address cultures that are closed in on themselves, cultures that are not open to transcendence.”
That is the reason Blessed Pope John Paul II called for a “new evangelization” in 1992, the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the New World. Pope Benedict XVI has continued that call, and in fact designated a Year of Faith that will begin October 11 and include a synod of bishops on evangelization. The Year of Faith coincides with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church — events that remind Catholics of the importance of mission and catechesis.
“If the mission impulse dies, that’s a bad sign for the vitality of the faith,” Cardinal George said.
The new evangelization means “going back to societies that had once been Christian” and reminding them of the responsibilities that entails. This new evangelization is needed in Europe as well as the U.S., where the culture of individualism has led to a majority of people describing themselves as spiritual but not religious.
“We are stuck in our spiritual experiences,” Cardinal George said. He likened it to a parallel emphasis on economic individualism where “selfishness is something to be pursued — and not so much for the common good.”
But in the Catholic tradition, “Christ never comes alone.” Catholics are “saved,” as the Protestants would say, but within a sacramental system that teaches that “intimacy with Christ is found through one another in a visible Church,” Cardinal George said. It is in creating those “ecclesial relationships,” in sharing Christ with one another, that “everybody learns that they are truly — not just metaphorically — brothers and sisters in Christ.”
That is why the Church is “not just a private club for believers,” and why it has a public voice, a moral voice. The missionary challenge is “how to be a moral voice without being political,” Cardinal George said. “We have to do our best not to be captured by any political party.”
He added that while the Church has gotten away from thinking of missionary activity as a going out to far-off places — since missionary work must be done everywhere — it is still important to remember that in Asia, the continent where the vast majority of the human race resides, only two to three percent of the population is Christian.
As a fellow Oblate put it at a General Chapter meeting back in 1972, Cardinal George said, “The greatest poverty is not to know Jesus Christ.” (Ana Rodriguez Soto,
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