Evangelical, Missionary Pope Francis Calls Europe to Return to Jesus Christ and Christian Roots
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I believe that Europe has many resources for going forward. It's like a sickness that Europe has today. A wound. And the greatest resource is the person of Jesus. Europe, return to Jesus! Return to that Jesus whom you have said was not in your roots! And this is the work of the pastors: to preach Jesus in the midst of these wounds. I have spoken of only a few, but there are tremendous wounds. To preach Jesus. And I ask you this: don't be ashamed to proclaim Jesus Christ risen who has redeemed us all. (Pope Francis)
The European Parliament building
STRASBOURG, France (Catholic Online) - On Tuesday, November 25, 2014, Pope Francis will give two very important addresses in Strasbourg, France. He will address the European Parliament and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
The speculation over what Francis will say is filling European news sources. European journalist Sandro Magister recently provided a translation of a mostly spontaneous address which Francis gave to the Bishops of Europe on October 3, 2014. Magister contends it provides a key to understanding the way this Pope Views Europe.
I believe he is correct. In fact, it goes beyond Europe.
There are two versions of the papal address. The official Vatican version can be found here. Then, there is the actual address, as delivered by Francis. It can be read in its entirety in an article written by Magister entitled "What Francis Really Thinks About Europe."
Francis begins this address to his fellow Bishops with these words: "I will have this address distributed to you and permit myself to say a few things that are in my heart."
These messages "from the heart" are becoming food for prayerful reflection and action - or fodder for speculation and clarification - depending upon your perspective on this unique presidency.
Francis speaks with disarming candor to some - and with great insight,refreshing honesty, and prophetic urgency to others. Same words, different responses, depending upon ones perspective.
The address was transcribed by a participant. It gives us a clue as to what is in the heart of this Argentinian Pope as he looks at the state of European culture and prepares to address these two governing bodies.
Pope Francis sees what is increasingly obvious, Europe needs conversion. Europe needs a Christian revival.
This need is being addressed repeatedly by this Argentinian Pope. Here are some poignant excerpts from this October 3d address to the Bishops of Europe:
"What is happening today in Europe? What is going on in the heart of our mother Europe? Is she still our mother Europe, or grandma Europe? Is she still fertile? Has she fallen into sterility? Is she unable to give new life? For one thing, this Europe has committed a few sins.
"We must say this with love: it has not wanted to recognize one of its roots. And because of this it feels and does not feel Christian. Or it feels Christian somewhat in secret, but doesn't want to recognize it, this European root.
"The Europe of today has been invaded. It may be the second invasion of the barbarians, I don't know. First it opened its doors in order to profit from labor. But now it feels this "invasion" of people who are coming to look for work, who are fleeing from their homeland in search of freedom and a better life.
"Europe is wounded. I'll go back to that image that says so much to me, and I say that the Church today seems to me like a field hospital because there are so many wounded in the Church. But Europe is wounded too. Wounded by all the trials it has undergone.
"It has gone from the time of prosperity, of great well-being, to a worrying crisis in which young people too are discarded. In the newspapers the other day it said that here in Italy youth unemployment is up to 43 percent, I think. In Spain it's 50 percent. And the Spanish bishops have told me that in Andalusia it is almost at 60 percent.
"Cardinal Erdo talked about the discarding of children and the elderly. And it's true. But now there is also the discarding of a whole generation of young people. I don't know if it is only in Europe, or in Europe and in the developed countries, that there is talk of 75 million from the age of twenty-five and down. But it's a whole generation.
"As European bishops, what are we doing for the young people? Giving them something to eat? Yes, that's the first thing. But that doesn't give dignity to a young person, to anyone. Dignity comes from work. And there is the danger that the children of mother, today practically grandma Europe, are losing their dignity because they do not have jobs and cannot bring bread home.
"Europe has discarded its children...I remember that when I was studying in one country the clinics that did abortions then prepared everything to send it to cosmetic factories. Makeup made with the blood of innocents. And this was something to brag about, because it was progressive: the rights of the woman, the woman has the right over her body.
"I don't know about here in Italy, I don't want to say because I'm not sure, but what will happen when the state is unable to pay the pensions, because there aren't enough young people working according to the law, because there is that black market for labor that they do, not always but.
"And the elderly - I've said this about Latin America, about my country, but I believe it's a universal problem or of many countries or some other continents - the elderly are discarded with stealth euthanasia. The social services cover medical treatment up to a certain point, and then you're on your own!
"A Europe weary with disorientation. And I don't want to be a pessimist, but let's tell the truth: after food, clothing, and medicine, what are the most important expenditures? Cosmetics, and I don't know how to say this in Italian, but the "mascotas," the little animals.
"They don't have children, but their affection goes to the little cat, to the little dog. And this is the second expenditure after the three main ones. The third is the whole industry to promote sexual pleasure. So it's food, medicine, clothing, cosmetics, little animals, and the life of pleasure. Our young people feel this, they see this, they live this.
"I believe that Europe has many resources for going forward. It's like a sickness that Europe has today. A wound. And the greatest resource is the person of Jesus. Europe, return to Jesus! Return to that Jesus whom you have said was not in your roots!
"And this is the work of the pastors: to preach Jesus in the midst of these wounds. I have spoken of only a few, but there are tremendous wounds. To preach Jesus. And I ask you this: don't be ashamed to proclaim Jesus Christ risen who has redeemed us all. And for us too that the Lord may not rebuke us, as today in the Gospel of Luke he rebuked these two cities.
"The Lord wants to save us. I believe this. This is our mission: to proclaim Jesus Christ, without shame. And he is ready to open the doors of his heart, because he manifests his omnipotence above all in mercy and forgiveness.
"Let's go forward with preaching. Let's not be ashamed. So many ways of preaching, but to mama Europe - or grandma Europe, or wounded Europe - only Jesus Christ can speak a word of salvation today. Only he can open a door of escape."
This kind of evangelical Christian message characterizes the preaching, prayer and teaching of Pope Francis. He is a missionary Pope raised up for a new missionary age of the whole Church.
In a talk he gave to the Missionary Congress of Italy on November 23, 2014, he said:
"I exhort you not to let yourselves be robbed of the hope and the dream of changing the world with the Gospel, starting with the human and existential peripheries. To go out means to overcome the temptation to speak among ourselves, forgetting the many who wait for a word of mercy from us, a word of comfort, of hope.
"The Gospel of Jesus is realized in history. Jesus himself was a man in the periphery, from Galilee, far from the centers of power of the Roman Empire and from Jerusalem. He met the poor, the sick, the possessed, sinners, prostitutes, gathering around him a small number of disciples and some women who listened to him and served him.
"And yet, his word was the beginning of a turning point in history, the beginning of a spiritual and human revolution, the Good News of a Lord, who died and rose for us."
The Catholic Church has always taught that every single human being on the face of the earth has a right to hear the liberating Gospel message of Jesus Christ as found in its its fullness within the Church.
She has also taught her sons and daughters that all of us, by virtue of being baptized into Jesus Christ, are now enlisted in that evangelizing mission, no matter what our state in life or vocation.
In order to be able to engage in such a missionary task, many Catholic Christians need to be renewed in their own Baptismal faith. That can happen through a personal and transformational encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ - an evangelical encounter.
Such an evangelical encounter needs to be strengthened and secured by solid catechesis on what it means to live as a Christian in the entirety of life. This call to encounter and ongoing instruction is what is meant by the phrase New Evangelization.
The New Evangelization challenges each one of us to be completely given over to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot be halfway disciples.
Jesus continues His redemptive mission through His Body, the Church, of which we are all members. The New Evangelization is meant to bring about an authentic evangelical and spiritual renewal of the Catholic Church precisely so she can undertake a new missionary outreach to the whole world - through you and me!
Only a Church which is fully alive in the Lord and filled with His Holy Spirit can carry out such an evangelical mission in the world of this hour.
Pope Francis is an evangelical Catholic Pope who is enlisting us for this vital work in a new missionary age. Do we hear the call? Are we responding?
Do we have a dynamic, living, personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Do we know what the Church teaches, embrace it, and make it our own? Is the Holy Spirit truly at work in our daily lives?
For years I have proposed to fellow believers that it is time to stop opining over whether we are living in a post-Christian, neo-pagan or post modernist age. Instead, I suggest that we realize we are living in a Pre-Christian age - and then respond to the invitation the Lord has given in this hour in history.
We are by sent God to deliver His message of authentic freedom and the fullness of God's Love as revealed in Jesus Christ to a world which is wounded and waiting to be reborn.
This missionary spirit is alive and well in the Catholic Church. It is alive in the New Ecclesial movements. It is alive in the religious communities which are springing up as new shoots in the One Vine - and in the renewed ones which are rediscovering their charism.
It is alive on the authentically Catholic Colleges and Universities which are forming the new saints, missionaries and martyrs for the Third Millennium. Some of them are new, others are being renewed.
The question we need to ask ourselves is whether this missionary spirit is alive in us?
In his second letter to the Christians in Corinth St Paul gave a firm direction to the early Christians and then asked a blunt question:
"Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? -unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed." (2 Cor. 14:5)
We need to ask ourselves that question. Then we need to consider whether we actually view our own lives as missionary?
All of us can - and should - burn with the same missionary fire which animated the great men and women of faith from the very beginning of the Church.
It is the fire of the Holy Spirit.
When that Holy Spirit is at work in us we cry out those words of the great Apostle Paul "Woe unto me if I do not preach the Gospel." (1 Cor. 9:16)
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the authentic liberating message which the whole world of our own age needs to hear. In Jesus Christ we can all be made new! (2 Cor. 5:17, Rev 21:5)
The West is staggering under a new expression of a very old paganism which offers the same old slavery of sin and despair.
The Church of Jesus Christ offers New Life and True Freedom in the Gospel!
What the West needs is Christian conversion, the kind which only comes through encountering the Savior of the whole world. Jesus Christ is that Savior - and He is alive!
He lives His Risen Life in the hearts of believers who choose to live in the Heart of His Church for the sake of the world. God still loves the world and he still sends His Son! (John 3:16)
Those of us who are Catholic Christians have the highest of obligations. The words of Jesus, "To those to whom much is given, much more will be required!" should have a special resonance for us. (Luke 12:48)
Our mission field is our own back yard. If the West really is pre-Christian, let us not waste any more time bemoaning this fact. Instead let us enter into the new missionary age which stretches out before us and get to work.
I look forward to reflecting upon and even reporting on what Pope Francis says to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. I believe it will flow right out of the heart of this servant of the servants of God who is helping to stir the sleeping giant of the Catholic Church to a new missionary age.
Keith A. Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate who served as the first and founding Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice in the nineteen nineties. He has long been active at the intersection of faith, values and culture and was recently appointed Special Counsel to Liberty Counsel. He is also the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online.
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