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Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops of Canada 2015

Address of the Apostolic Nuncio, Msgr Luigi Bonazzi

Cornwall, September 16 2015

 

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

I greet you with profound fraternal affection, very grateful to God and to you all for this meeting which I have anxiously awaited. In the joy of this new encounter, my first desire is always to know you better, to listen to you, so as to be able to support – with more awareness of the facts – your work as Pastors in the vineyard which the Lord has entrusted to you.

I must, however, share with you some words, with the principle aim of conveying to you the esteem, gratitude and fraternal encouragement of Pope Francis.  He has sent me as his representative among you and how I would like that it was he himself – Pope Francis – speaking to you.

Carrying within me this desire, I was reminded of the words that Pope Francis – then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – spoke in the days previous to the Conclave of 2013. These are words that refer to the mission of the Pope, but they refer at the same time, to the mission of the Church and to our mission as bishops. Cardinal Bergoglio said: “Thinking of the next Pope:  He must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing”.

These words are in profound harmony and are a wonderful echo of those which, at the beginning of the third millennium, Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte which I like to consider as his spiritual testament:  “No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us:  I am with you!  It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new program’.  The program already exists:  it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever.  Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem” (no. 29).

In the aforementioned statements of Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis two fundamental and inseparable guidelines for the pastoral activity of the Church and therefore, of our Episcopal ministry, are recalled.

First and foremost, the centrality and primacy of Christ himself, who is to be “known, loved and imitated”, according to the words of St. John Paul II, and “to be contemplated and adored”, according to Pope Francis, who never misses an opportunity to recall that “The sun is Jesus Christ and if the Church moves away or hides from him, she will be in darkness and no longer able to offer witness” (Address upon arrival in Quito, July 5, 2015).  The Church is of Christ.  She grows in the world by virtue of His grace.  She lives in the world as a reflection of His light.  “Fulget Ecclesia non suo sed Christi lumine” St. Ambrose had already written (the Church shines not with her own light but with the light of Christ).  For Pope Francis, the words of Jesus:  “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5), is not a mere phrase, and in his homily of June 29 last, in his own characteristic language, he once again forcefully proclaimed:  “The Church does not belong to Popes, bishops, priests nor the lay faithful; the Church in every moment belongs solely to Christ.  Only the one who lives in Christ promotes and defends the Church by holiness of life, after the example of Peter and Paul”.

Secondly and contemporaneously – we have here the second fundamental guideline – knowledge, love and imitation of Christ – according to the pastoral mandate entrusted by Pope John Paul II to the Church on the threshold of the Third Millennium – must lead “to live in Him the Trinitarian life and transform history with Him.”  Here there is a fundamental affirmation of serious consequences, sometimes not sufficiently observed in our pastoral praxis: human history is transformed to the degree we are capable of welcoming and living the Trinitarian life.

As it is known, the Trinitarian life is made visible and active in the communion of the Church.  The ecclesial communion, in fact, is “the reflection in time of the eternal and ineffable communion of the love of God One and Three” (Christifideles Laici, no. 31).  Heaven, descending to earth, has fixed its home within the Church, making it, to use that beautiful expression of Origen – “full of the Trinity”, a living icon of the unity that joins the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.   The Church, therefore, is constitutively, “a mystery of Trinitarian communion in missionary tension” (Pastores dabo Vobis, no. 12).   For this reason – as Pope Francis exhorts us to do – the Church must go out of itself, just like the Trinity overflowed itself to draw close to humanity, first in the mystery of creation, and then, more wonderfully, in the Redemption.

How to go out of oneself? By loving as Jesus loved us (John 13: 34-35). And charity, let us remember, is a love that transcends human dimensions, since it comes from on high: it arises, in fact, from the very heart of the Trinity (Rom 5.5). Since we have been made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1.4), charity makes us capable of loving as God “loves himself” and as He “loves us”; charity enables us to love God in God; God in us, and in others; we and others in God.

By participating in the same dynamism of Trinitarian communion, charity possesses in itself, a prodigious “force for internal cohesion and external growth” (Christifideles Laici, no. 32).  Therefore the human-divine relations that charity arouses within us are also punctuated by two typical Trinitarian movements: one directed “internally” (which aims to build unity within the community), and the other, projected “externally” (designed to communicate unity “outside”). So, then, the more charity grows “within” the community, the more it radiates “from” the community, thereby becoming the light that evangelizes, energy that propels concord, mysterious power conquering evil and building up the Kingdom of God in history.

In order for the Church to be a Mother, that “fruitful mother” who lives and experiences the “sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing”, we are therefore called to live with ever renewed zeal and creativity the two movements typical of Trinitarian love:

  1. the centripetal, convergent one, directed towards “the internal”, which aims to build more and more a real affective and effective communion among us bishops, with our priests and with the faithful. Our fundamental pastoral plan is and must be “communion”.  Not “the word” communion, which risks becoming an overused and inflated word, but “the reality” of communion, the Trinitarian communion. From here, in particular, comes the daily work of a bishop to build communion with his priests, so as to lead his priests to desire to build communion with their Bishop.   This is a program that requires fatigue, sweat, method and systematic engagement.  It is a never-ending program, calling to constant conversion, both the bishop and his priests. Pope Francis expressly referred to this program in a speech to the Italian Episcopal Conference when he developed in detail the theme of “ecclesial sensibility”, asserting among other things: “Ecclesial sensitivity is revealed concretely in the collegiality and communion between the Bishops and their Priests; in the communion among the Bishops themselves; between rich Dioceses – on the material level and in vocations – and those in difficulty; between the peripheries and the centre; among the bishop’s conferences, and the Bishops with the Successor of Peter” (May 18, 2015).
  2. the centrifugal, divergent one, projected towards “the external”, intended to reach the existential peripheries, and to which we are especially exhorted in the approaching Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. This is the “missionary transformation of the Church” (EG, 19-49) to which Pope Francis invites us.  He who does not cease proclaiming that the joy of the Church “is giving birth” and “going out of herself to give life”, and “to go out and to seek the sheep that are lost”, “truly testifying to the tenderness of a shepherd, the tenderness of the mother”.  And again:  “the joy of going out to seek the brothers and sisters who are far off:  this is the joy of the Church. This really is when the Church becomes a mother, becomes fruitful.”  On the contrary, when the Church “does not do this”, then “she is shut in, she is closed in on herself”, even “if she is well organized.”  In this way she becomes “a Church discouraged, anxious, sad… and this Church is useless” (cf. Homily of December 9, 2014).

In summary and in conclusion:  in the Church, as in the Trinity, its centrifugal force depends on its centripetal force; its ability to be an epiphany depends on the strength of its koinonia.  Precisely because the Church must be missionary, evangelizing, she must bear within her life, as did the Church of Pentecost, the seal of unity, of the Trinitarian communion.

To the extent that we are pastors and artisans of ‘Church Communion’, we will experience a unique joy that is typically ours:  the ‘joy of being a Bishop’.  May the Queen of the Apostles obtain this grace for each of us!