Ad Limina Apostolorum: Bishops of Antilles

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Remember you are first and foremost priests: not corporate executives

On Tuesday, 7 May, the Holy Father received the Bishops of the Antilles, for their visit ad limina Apostolorum.The Pope first of all urged the bishops to remember that they are first and foremost priests, not corporate executives. He then spoke of the mission of the laity. "The primary place for the exercise of the lay vocation is the economic, social, political and cultural world. It is in this world that lay people are invited to live their baptismal vocation not as passive consumers but as active members of the great work that expresses what is distinctively Christian. It belongs to the office of the priest to preside over the Christian community so that lay people can carry out their own ecclesial and missionary task. In a time of continuing secularization, it might seem strange that the Church emphasizes so forcefully the secular vocation of lay persons. It is precisely the Gospel witness of the faithful in the world that is the heart of the Church's response to the malaise of secularization (cf. Ecclesia in America, n. 44)".Under the heading of evangelization, the Pope reminded the Bishops of the three criteria they can use to assess the validity of the inculturation that they are promoting. As a further help to evangelization, John Paul II called for a new apologetic that would win souls not just arguments. Here is the Holy Father's address to the Bishops in English with a translation of the 2nd paragraph of his address that he gave in French.

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. "Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 6,23). With the words of the Apostle Paul and in the joy of Easter, I welcome you, the Bishops of the Antilles, on the occasion of your visit ad limina Apostolorum. Through you, I greet all the faithful of Christ entrusted to your care. May the peace of the Risen Lord reign in every heart and every home throughout the Caribbean region!

I thank Archbishop Clarke for his gracious words expressing that spirituality of communion which is the very heart of the Church (cf. Novo Millennio ineunte, nn.43-45). It is this communion which draws you to Rome, on pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles, where you renew your fidelity to the apostolic tradition, the roots of which reach back to the Lord's commission (cf. Mt 28,19-20) and ultimately touch the inner life of the Trinity, the ground of all reality.

Priests not corporate executives

You come as Pastors who have been called to share in the fullness of Christ's eternal priesthood. First and foremost, you are priests: not corporate executives, business managers, finance officers or bureaucrats, but priests. This means above all that you have been set apart to offer sacrifice, since this is the essence of priesthood, and the core of the Christian priesthood is the offering of the sacrifice of Christ. That is why the Eucharist is the very essence of what we are as priests; it is why there is nothing more important that we do than offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice; and it is why our celebration of the Eucharist together lies at the heart of your ad limina visit. We can never forget that the tombs of the Apostles which we venerate in Rome are the tombs of martyrs,whose life and death was drawn more and more into the depths of Christ's own sacrifice, until they could say: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2,20). That was the womb of their extraordinary missionary work, which we as their Successors must emulate in our own times if we are to be faithful to the new evangelization for which the Second Vatican Council providentially prepared the Church.

Laity must not be clericalized by making the priest disappear as head of the community

2. The Council was "the great grace bestowed on the Church in the 20th century" (Novo Millennio ineunte,n. 57). Although the decades since then have not been exempt from problems, there were even periods in which important elements of Christian life seemed to be endangered, now many signs ate pointing to a new springtime of the spirit, having a prophetic character that the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 plainly manifested. In the years following the Council, the appearance of new spiritual aspirations and new apostolic energy among the faithful of the Church were certainly one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Lay people live the grace of their Baptism in forms that make the wealth of charisms in the Church appear more splendidly, and for this we never stop thanking God.

It is also true that the awakening of the lay faithful in the Church has coincided in your countries with some problems about the vocation to the priesthood, and also the reduction in numbers of those entering the seminary in the Churches entrusted to your care. As pastors, you are deeply concerned for, as you well know, the Catholic Church cannot exist without the priestly ministry, which Christ himself desires for her.

Some people, we know, affirm that the decreased number of priests is the work of the Holy Spirit and that God himself will guide his Church and will bring about the replacing of priests in the government of the Church with the lay faithful. Such an affirmation certainly fails to take into account what the Council Fathers said when they sought to promote greater lay involvement in the Church. In their teaching, the Council Fathers wanted to highlight the deep complementarity between priests and lay people which is implicit in the nature of the Church as communion. An erroneous understanding of this complementarity has at times led to a crisis of identity and confidence among priests, and also to forms of lay involvement that are too clerical or too politicized.

The involvement of the laity becomes a form of clericalism when the sacramental or liturgical roles that belong to the priest are taken over by lay faithful or when the laity start to perform tasks of pastoral governance proper to the priest. In such situations, what the Council taught on the essentially secular character of the lay vocation is often disregarded (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 31). It is the priest who, as an ordained minister and in the name of Christ, presides over the Christian community in the sphere of her liturgical and pastoral activity. The laity assist him in many ways in this work. The primary place for the exercise of the lay vocation is the economic, social, political and cultural world. It is in this world that lay people are invited to live their baptismal vocation not as passive consumers but as active members of the great work that expresses what is distinctively Christian. It belongs to the office of the priest to preside over the Christian community so that lay people can carry out their own ecclesial and missionary task. In a time of continuing secularization, it could seem strange that the Church emphasizes so forcefully the secular vocation of lay persons. It is precisely the Gospel witness of the faithful in the world that isthe heart of the Church's response to the malaise of secularization (cf. Ecclesia in America,n. 44).

The involvement of lay people is politicized when the laity become absorbed by the exercise of "authority" within the Church. This happens when the Church is no longer seen in terms of a "mystery" of grace that characterizes her, but in sociological or political terms, often on the basis of a misunderstanding of the notion of "People of God", a notion that has deep and rich biblical roots and was so opportunely put to use by the Second Vatican Council. When it is not service but power that shapes every form of government in the Church, whether exercised by the clergy or by the laity, opposing interests begin to make themselves felt. Clericalism for priests is the kind of governance that comes more from the use of power than from the spirit of service; it always gives rise to all sorts of antagonism between priests and people. Such clericalism is found in forms of lay leadership that do not reasonably respect the transcendental and sacramental nature of the Church and of her role in the world. Both these attitudes are harmful. On the contrary, what the Church needs is a deeper and more creative sense of complementarity between the vocation of the priest and the vocation of lay people. Without this, we cannot hope to be faithful to the teaching of the Council nor find a way out of the usual difficulties with the priest's identity, the people's confidence in him and the call to the priesthood.

Criteria for assessing inculturation

3. Yet we must also look far beyond the bounds of the Church, for the Council was essentially concerned to foster new energies for her mission to the world. You are well aware that an essential part of her evangelizing mission is the inculturation of the Gospel,and I know that there has been much attention in your region to the need to develop Caribbean forms of Catholic worship and life. In the Encyclical Fides et ratio, I stressed that "the Gospel is not opposed to any culture, as if in engaging a culture the Gospel would seek to strip it of its native riches and force it to adopt forms which are alien to it" (n. 71). I went on to point out that cultures are not only not diminished by the encounter with the Gospel, but are prompted to open themselves to the newness of the Gospel's truth and to be stirred by this truth to develop in new ways" (ibid.; cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America,n. 70).

To this end, it is important to keep in mind the three criteria for discerning whether or not our attempts to inculturate the Gospel are soundly based. The first of these is the universality of the human spirit, whose basic needs are no different even in vastly different cultures. Therefore, no culture can ever be made absolute in a way that denies that the human spirit is, at the deepest level, the same in every time, place and culture. The second criterion is that, in engaging newer cultures, the Church cannot abandon the precious heritage drawn from her initial engagement with Greco-Latin culture, for to do this would be "to deny the providential plan of God who guides his Church down the paths of time and history" (Fides et ratio,n. 72). It is not a question, then, of rejecting the Greco-Latin heritage in order to allow the Gospel to take new flesh in Caribbean culture. The challenge rather is to bring the cultural heritage of the Church into deep and mutually enriching dialogue with Caribbean culture. The third criterion is that a culture must not become enclosed in its difference, in a flight into isolation and opposition to other cultures and traditions. That would be to deny not only the universality of the human spirit but also the universality of the Gospel, which is alien to no culture and seeks to take root in all.

Need for new apologetic to win souls

4. In Ecclesia in America I noted that "it is more necessary than ever for all the faithful to move from a faith of habit ... to a faith which is conscious and personally lived. The renewal of faith will always be the best way to lead others to the Truth that is Christ" (D. 73). That is why it is essential in your particular Churches to develop a new apologetic for your people, sothat they may understand what the Church teaches and thus be able to give reason for their hope (cf. 1 Pt 3,15). For in a world where people are continuously subjected to the cultural and ideological pressure of the media and the aggressively anti-Catholic attitude of many sects, it is essential for Catholics to know what the Church teaches, to understand that teaching, and to experience its liberating power. A lack of understanding leads to a lack of the spiritual energy needed for Christian living and the work of evangelization.

The Church is called to proclaim an absolute and universal truth to the world at a time when in many cultures there is deep uncertainty as to whether such a truth could possibly exist. Therefore, the Church must speak in ways which carry the force of genuine witness. In considering what this entails, Pope Paul VI identified four qualities, which he called perspicuitas, lenitas, fiducia, prudentiaclarity, humanity [or meekness], confidence and prudence (cf. Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam suam,n. 81).

To speak with clarity means that we need to explain comprehensibly the truth of Revelation and the Church's teachings which stem from it. What we teach is not always immediately or easily accessible to people today. For this reason there is a need not simply to repeat but to explain. That is what I meant when I said that we need a new apologetic, geared to the needs of today, which keeps in mind that our task is not to win arguments but to win souls, to engage not in ideological bickering but a kind of spiritual warfare, concerned not to vindicate or promote ourselves but to vindicate and promote the Gospel.

Such an apologetic will need to breathe a spirit of humanity [meekness], that humility and compassion which understand the anxieties and questions of people and, at the same time, do not yield to a sentimentalized sense of the love and compassion of Christ sundered from the truth. We know that the love of Christ can make great demands, precisely because they are tied not to sentimentality but to the truth which alone sets us free (cf. Jn 8,32).

To speak with confidence willmean that we never lose sight of the absolute and universal truth revealed in Christ, and never lose sight of the fact that this is the truth for which all people long, no matter how uninterested, resistant or hostile they may seem.

To speak with that practical wisdom and good sense which Paul VI calls prudence and which Gregory the Great considers a virtue of the brave (Moralia,n. 22, 1) will mean that we give a clear answer to people who ask: "What must we do?" (Lk 3,10.12.14). In this, the heavy responsibility of our episcopal ministry appears in all its demanding challenge. We must daily pray for the light of the Holy Spirit, that we may speak the wisdom of God, not the wisdom of the world, "lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power" (1 Cor 1,17).

Pope Paul VI concluded by claiming that to speak with perspicuitas, lenitas, fiducia and prudentia "willmake us wise; it will make us teachers" (Ecclesiam suam,n. 83); and that is what we are called to be above all—teachersof the truth,who never cease to beg "the grace to see life whole and the power to speak effectively of it" (Gregory the Great, On Ezekiel,I, 11, 6).

Greater generosity in the missionary task

5. 1 am convinced, dear Brothers, that many of the problems facing your ministry—including the need for more priestly and religious vocations—will be solved by daring to give ourselves with still greater generosity to the missionary task.That was an important goal of the Council, and if there have been internal problems in the Church since then it has been in part perhaps because the Catholic community has been less missionary than the Lord Jesus and the Council intended.

Dear Brother Bishops, your particular Churches too must be missionary—in the sense of going out boldly into every corner of Caribbean society, even the darkest of them, armed with the light of the Gospel and the love which knows no bounds. It is time to cast your nets where there may seem to be no fish (cf. Lk 5,4-5): Duc in altum! In your planning for this mission , it is vital to keep in mind that we must "stake everything on charity" (NovoMillennio ineunte, n. 49), for "the century and millennium now beginning will need to see, and hopefully with still greater clarity, to what length of dedication the Christian community can go in charity towards the poorest" (ibid.).But it is even more vital that you keep your gaze firmly fixed on Jesus (cf. Heb 12,2), never losing sight of him who is the beginning and the end of all Christian mission.

Invoking upon you in this Easter season a fresh outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and entrusting your beloved communities, those "holy seeds of heaven" (St Augustine, Sermon 34,5), to the unfailing protection of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, I impart my Apostolic Blessing to you, the priests, the men and women religious and all the lay faithful of the Caribbean as a pledge of grace and peace in Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
15 May 2002, page 3

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069