«I now realize how true it is that God shows no partiality, rather in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. .»(Acts 10,34). In this text of the Acts, Peter uses the verb αγαπάω which means to welcome with affection, love with tenderness; it is repeated many times in the Gospels and the Acts. In John’s letter, the same word is repeated ten times. “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love”(1Jn 4,8).
To transmit faith means to show the same love for our brothers, indeed for all mankind. When Peter met the pagan, Cornelius the centurion and his family, he was conquered by a revelation of the Spirit, not by his own reasoning. It was revealed to Peter that the love of God does not let itself be limited by the laws or traditions of any doctrine whatsoever and does not, because of this, become do-goodism or relativism.
These simple quotations from the Scriptures seem to us sufficient to dismantle the basis of those objections from some parts which see the Catholic Church during the Pontificate of Francis on the brink of descending into relativism, delivered into the arms of a world, depicted, who knows why, in a prejudiced manner as being totally hostile to the Church.
We will try to answer some of these concerns:
1) The Pope has been accused of speaking little and badly about our Christian roots as a foundation of our freedom, as opposed to his predecessors.
The answer that can be given is twofold; first and foremost the “foundations of our freedom”, are not, strictly speaking, our Christian roots, but Christ himself and this makes the difference. The foundations are Christ himself who also respected other roots, first and foremost Judaic roots, and who, if he claimed any primacy, let us say, of foundation, it was only the primacy of love and service; Christians are the salt of the earth and the yeast in the dough and do not claim any dominant or exclusive position which would even be contrary to the Gospel.
In fact, the real problem, especially in some national churches, is that they talked, on the contrary, about Christian roots too much and badly, particularly the so-called devout atheists and conservative Catholics, who defended hanging the crucifix on walls and in their writings but whose lifestyle often contradicted the message of the crucifix in a blatant manner or theorized separation between public and private morality. To forget this is unacceptable. This certainly does not mean putting the so-called European roots before all else.
“Jesus of Nazareth, Him ye have taken and nailed to the cross “(Acts 2,23) says Peter; the devout atheists and conservative Catholics have seen fit to take him down from the wooden cross, that is to say from the humility and simplicity and from the suffering of so many poor people who carry the cross every day, in order to hang him on the walls of cheap politics and even on the shields of armies, thus depriving the crucifix of its profound meaning. Pope Francis talks about Christian roots when it is necessary and in an appropriate manner, not in an ideological way or by making sterile assertions but asks us to rediscover and truly live those roots today. In this regard, we wish to recall the long speech he made during his pontificate to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 25th November 2014, in which he quoted many passages from John Paul II and made them his own.
2) The contribution of Christianity to any culture is that of Christ with the Washing of Feet, said Pope Francis to La Croix during an interview. According to some, the Pope had forgotten to evoke the Sermon on the Mount and The Beatitudes, the basis for the Washing of Feet.
Here, we will be very brief since it is obvious that such objections are prejudiced. It is clear that the Pope places the foundations of the Gospel on Love without any ambiguousness in his actions and speeches. One of many is when he reminds us that the church is not a NGO and emphasizes the primacy of Charity in his mandate – incidentally, totally in line with Pope Benedict XVI. Moreover, we cannot, naturally, read the Gospels only with the before-and-after principle. It is clear for all to see that Pope Francis is the Pope of the Beatitudes, since he talks and writes so much about them and above all tries to live them.
3) The Pope sustains that there is no fear of Islam as such but of ISIS and its war of conquest and, the Pope continues:” it is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam but it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus sends his disciples forth to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest”. It would appear that some people have interpreted this “provocation” of Pope Francis literally, as in so many old and new fundamentalisms, as if the Pope was putting the Gospel’s message on the same level as fundamentalist violence. This is clearly another striking attempt to twist the facts. They are attributing to the Pope – and not in a particularly efficient way, expressions and convictions which clearly do not belong to him. These prophets of doom refer to Benedict XVI’s Regensburg speech in 2006 in which he sustained that Islam had a problem with violence of a religious origin and state that today instead Francis is affirming that Christianity and Islam reflect each other on the problem of religious violence. In support of this bizarre theory, they have not quoted any words used by Pope Francis other than those already mentioned. They haven’t quoted them because they simply don’t exist.
To accuse Pope Francis of putting religious violence in Christianity and Islamic fundamentalism on the same level is misleading and incorrect. The true problem in our opinion concerns those who do not wish to dialogue with Islam, those who are incapable of seeking the common ground for confrontation and who are not even able to recognize the great cultural tradition of the Arab World (let it suffice to think just of Avicenna and Averroes). To wind back the clock of history to a climate of war among religions is very dangerous and counterproductive. All the popes knew this very well and have always been careful never to refer to a scenario or a risk of this kind.
On the other hand, referring back to his previous teaching, Benedict XVI had affirmed in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Church in the Middle East”, signed in The Lebanon during his apostolic journey in 2012, that fundamentalism: “afflicts all religious communities and denies their long-standing tradition of co-existence”. He then exhorted the Lebanese young people to be:“servants of peace and reconciliation is an urgent need to make a commitment for building together a free and humane society ” (Address to the Young People of The Lebanon 2012). We know today, just how dangerous a slide there is in several Christian groups towards forms of fundamentalism in expressing their faith, above all in the more recent ones.
Let us also recall the famous words of Imam Mohammad Mehdi Chamseddine, Head of the Sciite Islamic Council in The Lebanon from 1994 to 2001 ; he declared that “ the Christians of The Lebanon are the responsibility of the Muslims”, meaning their right to exist and express themselves.
We feel that instead of exploiting the pontificates by comparing one to the other and attributing them with the presumed licence of Defenders of the Faith or of relativists, or fomenting religious fears and divisions, it would be better and more evangelical to contribute to dialogue and better knowledge between Islam and Christianity. We can take an example, in fact, from the great testimony to this proposal of the Maronite Church in the Lebanon, by sustaining also the greatest strengths existing in Islam. And we should look at ourselves and strive to be better Christians , individually and as nations and societies which profess to be coherent Christians, without merely using a facade of banner waving and revendications. Let us look at the problem of the migrants, for example. What are so many Nations in “Christian Europe” replying?
4) In Amoris Laetitia, according to some people, the logic of the et et is being replaced by that of the non solum sed etiam. In short there is a bit of everything and also its opposite in order to keep everybody happy. Let us quote as an example number 308 of the document: “the Church’s Pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full idea of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravations or unduly harsh and hasty judgements”. Must we therefore deduce, comments one famous journalist that:“ the most efficient way to be compassionate is not exactly that of proposing the full ideal of the Gospel?”.
First of all, let us ask ourselves what is meant by the Gospel. In our opinion, this question does not take into account Francis’ logic of inclusion which is, naturally, fully evangelical and in the Tradition of the Church. John Paul II, when addressing the Italian bishops after the Convention of Palermo in 1995, already affirmed that:”Jesus Christ is the Truth of God which is Love and the truth of men and women who are called upon to live, together with God, in charity”. Amoris Laetitia is a great contribution to the Church which Pope Francis made on St. Joseph’s Day on 19th March last. At the heart of the document is the Pope’s desire to :”bring help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges” (AL 4). Furthermore, we must not forget that we are in the midst of the Holy Year of Mercy and we are all called upon in a special way to be the sign and instrument of Grace. It is not the weaknesses of men and women, or their inability to carry out their mission perfectly which are at the centre of Christianity , nor is it the past with its load of good and evil done. What counts is our profession of faith, to profess like Peter in front of Jesus: you are the son of the living God. As soon as we do so, that is by saying with conviction to Jesus: you are Christ, the Saviour, we discover, like Peter, the greatness of God’s project with each one of us. Whoever is used to relating to situations, happenings and people, on the basis of traditions and laws, cannot understand the face of a God who is Love.
In our parishes, we can touch the fruits of mercy with our hands, in particular for the many Zaccheos we meet. Zaccheo felt himself to be loved, like Peter and Paul felt it, as the adulteress and the man blind from birth felt it and many others as told in the Bible and in our daily life. To feel loved by God is the true beginning of any conversion which has a foundation in Christ. The “conversions” founded on rules or on moral principles result in fanaticism, inflexibility and elitist forms of pseudo Christianity.
5 ) During a visit to the Lutheran Church in Rome, in answer to a question about the possibility of taking holy communion together with a Catholic, a journalist said that the Pope assumed an ambiguous position, moreover on a crucial issue.
Rereading the Pope’s reply, we can easily see that Francis is starting from Baptism which is common to the faith of both Catholics and Lutherans, and was only and simply auguring that we continue to march at the head of which is the Holy Spirit who will guide us towards the complete truth. No-one’s conscience may be left out of this truth. The Pope doesn’t want to create divisions, nor does he want to place barriers against the Holy Spirit. There isn’t perhaps a definitive word now to define why we are marching. But we trust in the Spirit and how Christians, Catholics and Lutherans, march together, questioning each other and trying to understand the will of God for us. Anyone who knows and frequents our Lutheran brothers knows from direct experience that in dialogue we have more future than past and that the Sensus fidei of God’s People is not a marginal accessory. In this regard, we suggest reading the document issued by the International Theological Commission entitled “ il Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church” published in 2014. And the ecumenical celebration on 31 October – 1 November last in Lund is already history overcoming by far any hysteria and misleading interpretations.
To conclude, some people are recounting that our parishes are being besieged by people who expect to be godfathers and godmothers, to take Holy Communion or to enrol their children in summer camps without having the necessary requisites. All this is happening, they say, because of the confusion into which Pope Francis has thrown us. In the past, no-one has ever berated situations where we have seen VIP’s without the basic requisites get married in church, even with “top level” celebrants, or the very bad habit, also widespread in our Church of Rome, of getting married in a “beautiful church” with exorbitant costs for flowers and decorations, far removed from a serious and coherent path towards faith.
We know many parishes, including our own, and we can affirm that today it is not the People of God who are confused, they only ask to be respected and valued, but rather the remaining devout atheists and Catholics who sit in the front pews of the Church and still, after many years, do not want to accept a Church that has made a strong 360 degree return to the Gospel and which is seeking to implement the Council (always praised at first but then often forgotten in reality, walking alongside today’s men and women, guiding them in the trustworthy company of the Church).
It is these defenders of an old church which no longer exists who are in confusion today, who have given it exclusive space for too many years, ignoring sensitivity and different voices. Many pseudo lay Catholics and clerics who behind the backs of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, reduced the Church to a cavern of thieves during their pontificates, taking care of their own interests with the current powers-that-be, selling the Gospel for a handful of coins, scheming in both the gay and financial lobbies, putting any evangelizing activities in the hands of ecclesiastic movements, humiliating parishes and the people of God; pseudo Catholics defending principles they do not follow and and making judgements on the tragedies of people to whom they don’t listen.
Worn out by an exhausting battle, Pope Benedict XVI resigned, performing an extraordinary evangelic action. Many lay and clerical lobbyists are still in their places and this is why the People of God no longer believe them and follow the good shepherds and the Gospel: : “a stranger will they not follow but will flee from him”(Gv10,5).
Thank you, Pope Francis, Good Shepherd following in Christ’s footsteps. We will always continue to pray for you.