Pope Francis has been a very busy Pope lately! He was in Brazil for World Youth Day just a few weeks ago. While in Brazil, he spoke to a group of Bishops. He talked about the need for the Church to be with people in their walk of life – what the Pope has recently called the “Culture of Encounter”.
(Those of us who have been around the Diocese of Erie for a while will remember the “Journey to Emmaus” movement. It was a gathering of a large number of youth from around the Diocese, occurring annually from 2000-2004. The gathering took as its inspiration the Emmaus story from the Gospel of Luke ((24:13-35)). Emmaus is also the name of the annual Erie Diocesan Priests gathering that has occurred every summer since the early 80’s. And so, this story has a special significance in our life as a Diocese.)
Pope Francis compares the journey of a contemporary person to that of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, departing the city after Jesus’ Crucifixion. They had lost faith in Jesus, as He had been shamed and killed. Their lives now turned towards the next town down the road, Emmaus. Now, they began a new journey away from Christ, and towards something uncertain. The Pope compared the many who have left Catholicism or Christianity to these disciples. They have lost faith in the Church and have begun a new journey towards something uncertain.
Who walked up alongside the two Emmaus disciples, to turn their journey back towards Jerusalem, and back towards hope? It was Jesus, who explained the Scriptures to them, and “broke the bread.” We need to be Jesus to people, and turn them back towards home again! Pope Francis said:
People today are attracted by things that are faster and faster: rapid Internet connections, speedy cars and planes, instant relationships. But at the same time we see a desperate need for calmness, I would even say slowness. Is the Church still able to move slowly: to take the time to listen, to have the patience to mend and reassemble? Or is the Church herself caught up in the frantic pursuit of efficiency? Dear brothers, let us recover the calm to be able to walk at the same pace as our pilgrims, keeping alongside them, remaining close to them, enabling them to speak of the disappointments present in their hearts and to let us address them. They want to forget Jerusalem, where they have their sources, but eventually they will experience thirst. We need a Church capable of accompanying them on the road back to Jerusalem! A Church capable of helping them to rediscover the glorious and joyful things that are spoken of Jerusalem, and to understand that she is my Mother, our Mother, and that we are not orphans! We were born in her.
The Pope goes on to discuss the reasons why people leave the Church:
Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age.
Finally, the Pope speaks of the need for seminarians formed to walk alongside people in their journey:
unless we train ministers capable of warming people’s hearts, of walking with them in the night, of dialoguing with their hopes and disappointments, of mending their brokenness, what hope can we have for our present and future journey?
We need the calm, the love, and the heart of Jesus Christ to bring people home. We need our walking shoes! Let’s answer Francis’ call.
Jesus + Culture of Encounter – Culture of Death = Culture of Life – let’s go!