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Monday, May 6, 2013

TRUE EVANGELICAL, ECCLESIAL, AND MISSIONARY SPIRIT: CHARACTERISTICS OF CONFRATERNITIES

Vatican City, 6 May 2013 (VIS) – Yesterday, under incessant rain, thousands of persons, members of confraternities from Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, Malta, Poland … paraded up Via della Conciliazione to gather in St. Peter's Square for the Mass presided by the Holy Father for the confraternities' pilgrimage to Rome on the Year of Faith.

In his greeting to the Pope, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, said that “here are represented ten centuries of history that few know about because it is made of simple, everyday gestures, etched nevertheless, in people's hearts. Confraternities have been an expression of faith's most genuine fruit: charity toward the poor, the abandoned, the suffering, and the marginalized.”

It is brave of you to come here in this rain,” the Bishop of Rome responded. “May the Lord bless you abundantly! As part of the journey of the Year of Faith, I am happy to celebrate this Eucharist dedicated in a special way to confraternities: a traditional reality in the Church, which in recent times has experienced renewal and rediscovery.”

Continuing, the Pope recalled that “whoever loves the Lord Jesus welcomes him and his Father interiorly and, thanks to the Holy Spirit, receives the Gospel in his or her heart and life. Here we are shown the centre from which everything must go forth and to which everything must lead: loving God and being Christ’s disciples by living the Gospel. When Benedict XVI spoke to you, he used this expression: 'evangelical spirit'. Dear confraternities, the popular piety of which you are an important sign is a treasure possessed by the Church, which the bishops of Latin America defined, significantly, as a spirituality, a form of mysticism, which is 'a place of encounter with Jesus Christ'. … Down the centuries, confraternities have been crucibles of holiness for countless people who have lived in utter simplicity an intense relationship with the Lord. Advance with determination along the path of holiness; do not rest content with a mediocre Christian life, but let your affiliation serve as a stimulus, above all for you yourselves, to an ever greater love of Jesus Christ.”

He then commented on the passage of the day's Liturgy from the Acts of the Apostles that “speaks to us about what is essential. In the early Church there was immediately a need to discern what was essential about being a Christian, about following Christ, and what was not. … Difficulties were overcome: not from without, but from within the Church. And this brings up a second element which I want to remind you of, as Benedict XVI did, namely: 'ecclesial spirit'. Popular piety is a road which leads to what is essential, if it is lived in the Church in profound communion with your pastors. Dear brothers and sisters, the Church loves you! Be an active presence in the community, as living cells, as living stones. The Latin American Bishops wrote that the popular piety which you reflect is 'a legitimate way of living the faith, a way of feeling that we are part of the Church'. This is wonderful! ... Love the Church! Let yourselves be guided by her! In your parishes, in your dioceses, be a true 'lung' of faith and Christian life, a breath of fresh air! In this Square I see a great variety: earlier on it was a variety of umbrellas, and now of colours and signs. This is also the case with the Church: a great wealth and variety of expressions in which everything leads back to unity; the variety leads back to unity, and unity is the encounter with Christ.”

Finally, he touched upon the third characteristic of the confraternities: “missionary spirit”.” You have a specific and important mission,”he explained, “that of keeping alive the relationship between the faith and the cultures of the peoples to whom you belong. You do this through popular piety. When, for example, you carry the crucifix in procession with such great veneration and love for the Lord, you are not performing a simple outward act; you are pointing to the centrality of the Lord’s paschal mystery, his passion, death and resurrection which have redeemed us, and you are reminding yourselves first, as well as the community, that we have to follow Christ along the concrete path of our daily lives so that he can transform us. Likewise, when you express profound devotion for the Virgin Mary, you are pointing to the highest realization of the Christian life.”

You express this faith, born of hearing the word of God, in ways that engage the senses, the emotions and the symbols of the different cultures … In doing so you help to transmit it to others, and especially the simple persons whom, in the Gospels, Jesus calls “the little ones”. In effect, 'journeying together towards shrines, and participating in other demonstrations of popular piety, bringing along your children and engaging other people, is itself a work of evangelization'.”

May you also be true evangelizers! May your initiatives be 'bridges', means of bringing others to Christ, so as to journey together with him. And in this spirit may you always be attentive to charity. Each individual Christian and every community is missionary to the extent that they bring to others and live the Gospel, and testify to God’s love for all, especially those experiencing difficulties. Be missionaries of God’s love and tenderness! Be missionaries of God’s mercy, which always forgives us, always awaits us and loves us dearly.”

Evangelical spirit, ecclesial spirit, and missionary spirit,” the pontiff repeated. “Three themes! Do not forget them! Let us ask the Lord always to direct our minds and hearts to him, as living stones of the Church, so that all that we do, our whole Christian life, may be a luminous witness to his mercy and love. In this way we will make our way towards the goal of our earthly pilgrimage, towards that extremely beautiful shrine, the heavenly Jerusalem.”

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