Vatican City, 27 November 2014 (VIS) – This morning, in the Consistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis received in audience the participants in the second phase of the International Pastoral Congress on the World's Big Cities, held in Barcelona, Spain from 24 to 26 November. The Holy Father took the opportunity to explore in depth four challenges and possible prospects for urban pastoral ministry. “The places where God is calling us to … and the aspects to which we should pay special attention”.
Firstly, he mentioned the need to “implement a change in our pastoral mentality”. We are no longer in the era “in which the Church was the sole point of reference for culture”. Previously, “as an authentic teacher, she was aware of her responsibility to outline and to impose not only cultural forms but also values”. He continued, “Today we are no longer the only ones who produce culture, nor are we the first or the most listened to. We are therefore in need of a change in pastoral mentality, but not a 'relativist pastoral'”, that in its wish to be part of the cultural mix, “loses its evangelical perspective, leaving humanity to its own devices and freed from God's hand. No, this is the path of relativism, the easy route. This cannot be considered as pastoral ministry! He who acts in this way is not truly interested in man, but instead leaves him to the mercy of two equally grave dangers: concealing both Jesus, and the truth of man himself, from him – a way that leads humanity to solitude and death”. Therefore, the Pope added, “we need to have the courage to carry out an evangelising pastoral ministry, bold and without fear, as men, women, families and the various groups that inhabit the city expect from us, and need for their lives, the Good News that is Jesus and His Gospel”.
As a second challenge, he emphasised “dialogue with multiculturality” and the need for pastoral dialogue without relativism, that does not negotiate its own Christian identity, but that instead seeks to reach the heart of others, of those different to ourselves, and to sow the Gospel there. We need a contemplative attitude, that without denying the contribution of the different sciences in understanding the urban phenomenon – these contributions are important – seeks to discover the foundation of cultures, that in their deepest core are always open to and thirst for God”. To face this challenge, Francis underlined that it would help us greatly to know the “invisible cities, the groups or human territories that are identified by their symbols, languages, rites and ways of narrating life”.
“The religiosity of the people” was the third point he focused on. “We must discover, in the religiosity of our populations, the authentic religious substratum, that in many cases is Christian and Catholic. We must not fail to recognise, or regard with disdain, this experience of God that, although at times dispersed or mixed with other things, needs to be discovered and not constructed. He we find the semina Verbi sown by the Spirit of the Lord”. The Pope also commented on the many migrants and poor people who fill our cities, “pilgrims of life, in search of salvation”, who pose a “dual challenge”: that of “being hospitable to the poor and migrants, not generally the case in the city, which pushes them away, and of recognising the value of their faith”. “The urban poor”, who constitute the fourth point with which the Holy Father concluded his discourse, are “excluded and discarded. The Church cannot ignore their cry, nor can she enter into the game of unjust, mean and self-serving systems that seek to render them invisible”.
The Pope made two proposals for facing these challenges: to reach out to encounter God, “Who lives in the cities and in the poor”, to facilitate the encounter of others with God, making the Sacraments accessible, and to work towards a Samaritan Church, “with concrete witness of mercy and tenderness that endeavours to be present in the existential and poor peripheries, acting directly on the social subconscious, producing guidance and meaning for city life”.