The Last Word of History
Francis reminds Apostolic Nuncios that the heart of mankind yearns for unity and not conflict
He denounces complicit silence before the violent siege that is aimed at Christians in the East
“The last word of history and of life is not conflict but unity, for which the heart of every man yearns”. Pope Francis spoke these words to the papal representatives he received in an audience on Saturday morning, 17 September , in the Clementine Hall, at the conclusion of their Jubilee meeting. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s address, which he delivered in Italian.
Dear Brother Bishops,
I am happy for this moment of Jubilee prayer which, in addition to reminding us as Pastors to rediscover the roots of Mercy, is the occasion to renew, through you, the bond between the Successor of Peter and the various local Churches of which you bear and forge that communion, which is the lymph of the life of the Church and the proclamation of her message. I thank Cardinal Parolin for his words and the Secretariat of State for the generosity with which it has organized these days of meetings.
Welcome to Rome! To re-embrace it in this time of Jubilee has a special meaning for you. Present here are many of your origins and your memories. You came here when you were still young with the purpose of serving Peter; you often return here to meet him; and from here you continue to go forth as his envoys taking his message, his closeness and his testimony. In fact, Peter has been here since the dawn of the Church; Peter is here today in the Pope, as Providence wished him to be; Peter will be here tomorrow; he will always be here! As the Lord desired: that weak humanity, which on its own would only be a stumbling block, might become an indomitable rock by Divine disposition.
I thank each one of you for the service you render to my ministry. Thank you for the care with which you receive, from the Pope’s lips, the confession on which the Church of Christ rests. Thank you for the fidelity with which you interpret with an undivided heart, an honest mind, with unambiguous words all that the Holy Spirit asks Peter to say to the Church at this moment. Thank you for the delicacy with which you “listen to” my heart as universal Pastor and try to convey this breath to the Churches that I am called to preside over in charity.
I thank you for the dedication and the prompt and generous availability of your life, full of commitments and often marked by difficult schedules. You touch firsthand the flesh of the Church, the splendour of the love that renders her glorious, but also the sores and wounds that make her beg for forgiveness.
With a genuine ecclesial sense and in humble search of knowledge about the various problems and issues, you make the Church and the world present to the Pope’s heart. I read daily, mainly in the early morning and in the evening, your “com- munications" with news of the realities of the local Churches, of events in the countries to which you are accredited, and of the debates that concern the life of the International Community. I am grateful for all of this! Know that I accompany you every day — often with name and face — with friendly remembrance and confident prayer. I remember you in the Eucharist. As you are not diocesan Pastors and your name is not pronounced in any particular Church, know that the Pope remembers you in every anaphora as an extension of his person, as his envoys who serve with sacrifice and competence, accompanying the Bride of Christ and the Peoples in whom she lives.
I should like to say some things to you.
1. Serve with sacrifice as humble envoys
Blessed Paul VI, in reforming the diplomatic service of the Holy See, wrote: “The activity of the Pontifical Representative provides first of all valuable service to the local bishops, priests, Religious and faithful, who find in him a support and a safe- guard since he represents a superior authority which is an advantage for all. His mission does not put itself above the exercise of the powers of the bishops, nor does it take its place nor hamper it, but respects it and sustains it with brotherly and discreet counsel” (Apostolic Letter Sollicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum: AAS 61 , 476).
Therefore in your work, you are called to take to each person the tender charity of the person you represent. In this way you become one who supports and guides, who is ready to help and not merely to correct, who is prepared to listen before deciding, ready to take the first step to eliminate tension and promote understanding and reconciliation.
No service is possible and fruitful without humility. A Nuncio’s humility passes through love for the country and for the Church in which he is called to serve. It passes through the serene attitude of being where the Pope wished him to be and not with the heart distracted by the wait for the next destination. Be fully present, with undivided mind and heart; unpack his bags in order to share the riches that he brings with him, but also to receive what he does not yet possess.
Yes, it is necessary to assess, compare, raise those who may be at the limit of an ecclesial course, of a culture, of a religiosity, of social and political life to form oneself and be able to report a situation precisely. To look, analyze and report are essential qualities in the life of a Nuncio, but these alone are insufficient. It is also necessary to encounter, listen, dialogue, share, propose and work together in order to develop sincere love, sympathy and empathy which transpires with the population and the local Church. What Catholics, but even civil society at large, want and need to perceive is that the Nuncios feel at ease in their country, as if they were at home; that they feel free and happy to establish constructive relations, to share the daily life of the place (cuisine, language, customs), to express their opinions and impressions with great respect and a sense of closeness, and accompany them with a gaze that helps them grow.
It is not enough to point the finger or attack someone who does not think as we do. That is a miserable tactic of today’s political and cultural wars, but it cannot be the method of the Church. Our gaze must be broad and profound. Our primary duty of charity is the formation of consciences and that requires of us delicacy and perseverance.
Certainly there is still present the threat of the wolf from outside which seizes and attacks the flock, confuses it, creates disarray, disperses and destroys it. The wolf retains the same appearancc: incomprehension, hostility, evil, persecution, removal of truth, resistance to goodness, closure to love, inexplicable cultural hostility, diffidence and so on. You know well of what stuff the snare of every sort of wolf is made of. I think of the Christians in the East, against whom the violent siege seems aimed, with the complicit silence of many, toward their eradication.
What is asked of you is not the ingenuity of lambs but the magnanimity of doves and the shrewdness and prudence of the wise and faithful servant. You would do well to keep your eyes open to see where forms of hostility come from and to discern possible ways to thwart its effect and confront its deception. Nevertheless I advise you not to assume a defensive attitude nor to fall into the temptation of sulking, of being the victim of those who criticize, goad and at times denigrate us. Devote your best energies to making the joy and power of the beatitude proclaimed by Jesus resound again in the soul of the Churches you serve (cf. Mt 5:11).
Be ready and happy to spend (sometimes even waste) time with bishops, priests, religious, parishes, cultural and social institutions; in short, all that “is the work” of the Nuncio. On these occasions conditions are created for learning, listening, sending messages, understanding personal problems and situations or those of Church administration that need to be addressed and resolved. And there is nothing that facilitates discernment and eventual correction more than closeness, availability and fraternity. Therefore, I feel that these are very important: closeness, availability and fraternity with the local Churches are very important. This is not a weak strategy for gathering information and manipulating realities or people, but the fitting behaviour of one who is not merely a career diplomat, or just an instrument of Peter’s solicitude, but also a Pastor gifted with the interior capacity to witness to Jesus Christ. Rise above the logic of bureaucracy, which often can take hold of your work — you know, it is natural — rendering it closed, formal and impermeable.
May the headquarters of the Apostolic Nunciature be truly the “House of the Pope”, not only for its traditional annual celebration, but as a permanent place, where the entire ecclesial team can find support and advice, and the public authorities a point of reference, not only for its diplomatic function, but for the proper and unique character of papal diplomacy. Make sure that your Nunciatures never become a refuge for “friends and friends of friends”. Flee from gossipers and social climbers.
May your relations with the civil community be inspired by the evangelical image of the Good Shepherd, capable of knowing and representing the demands, the needs and the condition of the flock, especially when the only criteria that determine them are contempt, precariousness and rejection. Do not be afraid to reach out to complex and difficult frontiers, because you are Pastors who are truly concerned with the good of individuals.
In the enormous task of guaranteeing the freedom of the Church in the face of every form of power that seeks to silence the Truth, do not deceive yourselves that this freedom is only achieved through understanding, agreements and diplomatic negotiations, no matter how perfect and successful. The Church will be free only if her institutions can work to “preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 23), but also if she manifests herself as a true sign of contradiction in regard to recurrent fashions, to the negation of the evangelical Truth and to easy comforts that often also infect Pastors and their flocks.
Remember that you represent Peter, the rock that survives the pressure of ideologies, the reduction of the Word only for convenience, the submission to powers of this passing world. Therefore, do not espouse political lines or ideological lobbies, because the permanence of the Church does not rest on the consensus of salons and squares, but on fidelity to her Lord that, as opposed to foxes and birds, does not have dens or nests to rest her head (Mt 8:18-22).
The Church-Bride cannot rest her head except on the pierced breast of her Spouse. Her true power gushes from there, the power of Mercy. We do not have the right to deprive the world, including in the forums of bilateral and multilateral diplomatic action and in the great arena of international debate, of this richness that none other can give. May this awareness impel you to dialogue with all, and in many cases to be the prophetic voice of those marginalized because of their faith or their ethnic, economic, social or cultural condition: “May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism” (Bull Misericordiae Vultus, n. 15).
2. Accompany the Churches with the heart of Pastors
The multiplicity and complexity of the problems to be faced daily must not distract you from the heart of your apostolic mission, which consists in accompanying the Churches with the gaze of the Pope, which is none other than that of Christ, the Good Shepherd.
And in accompanying, it is necessary to move. The cold paper of letters and reports is not enough. It is not enough to learn by hearsay. It is necessary to see in loco how the good seed of the Gospel is being spread. Do not wait for people to come to you to explain a problem or because they wish to have a question settled. Go to the dioceses, to the religious institutes, to the parishes, to the seminaries, to understand what the People of God experience, think and ask. That is, be the true expression of a Church “going forth”, a Church that is a “field hospital”, capable of living the dimension of the local Church, of the country and of the Institutions to which you have been sent. I know the great volume of work that awaits you, but do not let your spirit of generous and close Pastors be suffocated. In fact this closeness — closeness! — is an essential condition today for the Church’s fruitfulness; people need to be accompanied. They need a pat on the back so as not to get lost on the way or not to feel discouraged.
Accompany the Bishops by supporting their best efforts and initiatives. Help them to address challenges and to find solutions that are not in manuals, but which are the fruit of patient and suffered discernment. Encourage every effort for the qualification of the clergy. Profundity is a decisive challenge for the Church: profundity of faith, of adherence to Christ, of the Christian life, of the sequela and of discipleship. Vague priorities and theoretical pastoral programmes are not enough. It is necessary to focus on the concreteness of the presence, companionship, of the closeness of accompanying.
An earnest concern of mine regards the selection of future Bishops. I spoke to you about it in 2013. Speaking to the Congregation for Bishops some time ago, I outlined the profile of Pastors that I consider necessary for today’s Church: witnesses to the Risen One and not bearers of a curriculum; praying Bishops, familiar with the things of “on high” and not crushed by the weight of “the low”; Bishops capable of entering “in patience” into the presence of God, therefore have to have the freedom not to betray the Kerygma entrusted to them; Pastor Bishops, not princes and functionaries, I beg you!
In the complex task of finding in the midst of the Church those whom God has already singled out in his heart to guide his people, you play an essential part. You must be the first to scrutinize the fields to ascertain where the little Davids are hidden (cf. 1 Sam 16:11-13): they exist, God does not let them lack! But if we always go to fish in an aquarium, we will not find them!
It is necessary to move about to find them. To go around the fields with the heart of God and not with some predetermined headhunters’ profile. The look with which one searches, the criteria to assess, the features of the sought-for countenance cannot be dictated by the vain attempts with which we think we can plan on our desks the Church of which we dream. Therefore, it is necessary to let down the nets into the deep. One cannot be content to fish in an aquarium, in a reserve or in the breeding ground of “friends of friends”. At stake is trust in the Lord of history and of the Church, who never neglects their good; therefore, we must not beat about the bush. The practical question that comes to me now is to ask: but is there no other? That question that Samuel put to David’s father: “But is there no other?” (cf. 1 Sam 16:11). Go out to find them, and they exist! They exist!
3. Accompany the people in whom the Church of Christ is present
Your diplomatic service is the vigilant and lucid eye of the Successor of Peter on the Church and on the world! I beg you to live up to the challenge of this noble mission, for which you must prepare yourselves continually. It is not just a matter of learning the contents of subject matter, which among other things are changeable, but a discipline of work and of a way of life that enables one to also appreciate routine situations, to grasp the current changes, to assess novelties, and to be able to interpret them in a balanced way and suggest concrete action.
The fast pace of the times calls for a permanent formation, to avoid taking everything for granted. Sometimes the repetition of work, numerous commitments, a lack of new stimulation foster an intellectual sloth that is not slow to produce its negative fruits. A serious and continuous deep reflection would help in overcoming that fragmentation caused by individually seeking to carry out one’s work to the best of one’s ability, but without any, or with very little, coordination and integration with others. Do not think that the Pope is unaware of the solitude (not always “blessed” as for the hermits and Saints) in which many Papal Representatives live. I always think of your status as “exiles”, and I ask continually in my prayer that you may never lack that supporting column, which favours interior unity and gives a sense of profound peace and fecundity.
The exigency we must increasingly make our own is to work in a unitary and coordinated network, which is necessary to prevent a personal vision, which often does not hold up in the face of the reality of the local Church, of the country or of the International Community. One risks proposing an individual vision that can certainly be the fruit of a charism, of a profound ecclesial sense and intellectual capacity, but which is not immune from a certain personalization, from emotiveness, from different sensibilities and not least, from personal situations that inevitably influence the work and the cooperation.
Great are the challenges that await you in our days, and I do not feel like listing them. You know them. Perhaps it is wiser to tackle their roots. As it is being progressively designed, papal diplomacy cannot be extraneous to the urgency of rendering mercy palpable in this wounded and crushed world. Mercy must be the cipher of the diplomatic mission of the Apostolic Nuncio, who, in addition to his personal ethical effort, must have the firm conviction that God’s mercy is inserted in this world’s affairs, in society’s affairs, in human groups, families, peoples, nations. In the international sphere also, it implies never considering anything or anyone as lost. The human being is never irrecoverable. No situation is impermeable to the subtle and irresistible power of the goodness of God, who never gives up in what concerns man and his destiny.
This radical novelty of perception of the diplomatic mission frees the Papal Representative from geopolitical, economic or immediate military interests, calling him to discern first in his government, political and social interlocutors, and in public institutions, the longing to serve the common good and to exert leverage on this trait, even if sometimes it presents itself obfuscated or burdened by personal and corporate interests or by ideological, populist or nationalistic trends.
The Church, although without undervaluing the present, is called to work long-term, without obsessing over immediate results. She must patiently endure difficult and adverse situations, or changes of plan that the dynamism of the reality imposes. There will always be tension etween fullness and limitations, but it is not for the Church to occupy places of power or self-affirmation, but rather she must make the good seed germinate and grow; she must accompany its development patiently, rejoice over the provisional harvest that can be obtained, without being discouraged when an unexpected or cold storm ruins what seemed golden and ready for harvest (cf. Jn 4:35). She must begin new processes again confidently; start again from the steps already taken, without retreating, fostering all that brings out the best of. people and institutions, “without anxiety, with clear and tenacious convictions” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 223).
Do not be afraid to converse confidently with officials and public institutions. We face a world in which it is not always easy to identify ccntres of power and many are discouraged, thinking that they are anonymous and unreachable. Instead I am convinced that people are still approachable. An interior space subsists in man, where God’s voice can resound. Dialogue with clarity and do not be afraid that mercy might confound or diminish the beauty and strength of the truth. Truth is finds its fullness only in mercy. And be sure that the last word of history and of life is not conflict but unity, for which the heart of every man yearns. Unity conquers, transforming the dramatic conflict of the Cross into the source of our peace, because there the dividing wall was broken down (cf. Eph 2:14).
Dear Brother Bishops, in sending you out again to your mission, after these days of fraternal and happy meetings, my conclusive word is to entrust you to the joy of the Gospel. We are not salesmen of fear and of night, but custodians of the dawn and of the light of the Risen One.
The world has so much fear — so much fear! — and it spreads it. It often makes it the key to the reading of history and not rarely adopts it as a strategy to build a world resting on walls and moats. We can even understand the reasons for fear, but we cannot embrace it, because “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7).
Draw from this spirit and go: open doors; build bridges; knit bonds; engage in friendships; promote unity. Be men of prayer: never neglect it, especially silent Adoration, the true source of all your work.
Fear always dwells in the darkness of the past, but it has a weakness: it is temporary. The future belongs to the light! The future is ours, because it belongs to Christ!
I invite you to pray the Angelus together. It is midday.
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14 October 2016, page 3
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