Don't let anything silence the truth, Pope tells Colombian bishops

By Hannah Brockhaus

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Pope Francis prays the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter's Square on August 15, 2017. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

In a lengthy speech on Thursday, Pope Francis urged the bishops of Colombia to uphold their pastoral responsibilities, proclaiming and teaching the truth even in the face of challenges.

“From your lips as legitimate shepherds of Christ, Colombia has a right to be challenged by the truth of God, who never ceases to ask: ‘Where is your brother?’ That question may not be silenced…” the Pope said Sept. 7.

“Even if those who hear it can do no more than lower their gaze in embarrassment and stammer in shame that they sold him, perhaps for the price of a fix of narcotics or for some misguided notion of reasons of state, or even for the false belief that the end justifies the means.”

Though many people can help, the mission of the bishops is unique, Pope Francis continued. “You are not mechanics or politicians, but pastors.”

“Christ is the word of reconciliation written on your hearts. You have the power to preach that word not only in pulpits, in ecclesial documents or newspaper articles, but also in the hearts of individual men and women,” he said.

“You have the power to proclaim it in the inner sanctum of their consciences, where they hope to hear the heavenly voice that proclaims: ‘Peace to those whom God loves’ (Lk 2:14). You must speak that word with the frail, lowly yet invincible resource of God’s mercy, which is capable of averting the pride and cynicism of selfish hearts.”

Pope Francis addressed the Colombian bishops in Bogota on the first full day of his Sept. 6-11 apostolic visit to the country.

Keep your gaze fixed not on some vague or generalized “man,” he told the bishops, but on concrete men and women, who are “loved by God and composed of flesh and bones, history, faith, feelings, disappointments, frustrations, sorrows and hurts.”

This approach is what will help to “unmask cold statistics, twisted calculations, blind strategies and falsified data,” he said.

Acknowledging the generous pastoral work already carried out by the bishops, Francis then laid out his concerns for what he sees as challenges to the Church living out its mission.

First among these are challenges to Colombia’s families. Disrespect for life from the womb to natural death, the “scourge of violence,” alcoholism, the weakening of the marriage bond and the absence of fathers are all attacks on the life of the family today, he said.

Young people are facing the threat of “spiritual emptiness,” which they seek to escape through drug use, frivolous lifestyles and a rebellious spirit. Lay faithful in general, even those who attend Mass and practice their faith, face “the new dogma of selfishness and the death of solidarity,” he noted.

There are also challenges for generous priests, he said, who require support in their daily commitment to Christ and the Church, while others “continue to propose the easy way out, avoiding genuine commitment and remaining isolated and self-centered.”

“I offer you no recipes, much less do I intend to leave you a list of things to do. Still, I would ask you, as you carry out in communion your demanding mission as the bishops of Colombia, to maintain your serenity,” he encouraged.

Though the devil continues to sow weeds, “imitate the patience of the Lord of the harvest and trust in the good quality of his grain. Learn from his patience and generosity. He takes his time, because his loving gaze sees far into the distance.”

When love grows weak we become impatient and anxious, making ourselves busy with many things as we are “hounded by the fear of failure,” he said.

Instead, “believe above all in the smallness of God’s seeds. Trust in the power hidden in his yeast. Let your hearts be drawn to the great beauty that leads us to sell everything we have, in order to possess that divine treasure,” he urged.

Speaking more about priests, who he said are on “the front lines” of the Church, the Pope said that the first gift a bishop can give his priests is to be a father to them – the physical and affective closeness of their bishop is a vital and urgent need.

And although in this digital age it is easy to reach each other instantly, the paternal heart of a bishop should not be content with this impersonal and formal means of communication, but be truly concerned with where and how his priests are living.

“Are they truly living as Jesus’ disciples? Or have they found other forms of security, like financial stability, moral ambiguity, a double life, or the myopic illusion of careerism?”

Pope Francis also appealed to bishops to show concern for the lives of consecrated men and women, who represent “an evangelical rebuke to worldliness.”

“They are called to purify every residue of worldly values in the fire of the Beatitudes lived sine glossa and in total self-abnegation for the service of others.” They should not be looked at as merely “‘useful resources’ for the works of the apostolate,” he said, instead hearing in them the “Bride’s cry of consecrated love: ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’”

The formation of the laity should not be forgotten either, Francis said, noting that they are the ones responsible not only for the strength of their faith communities, “but in great part for the Church’s presence in the area of cultural, political and economic life.”

When it comes to the history of the Church in Colombia, he asked the bishops “not to be afraid to touch the wounded flesh of your own history and that of your people.”

This path isn’t easy, but it’s necessary, he explained. Colombia needs that attention in order “to sustain its courage in taking the first step towards definitive peace and reconciliation, towards abdicating the method of violence and overcoming the inequalities at the root of so much suffering.”

Speaking of the “first step” that must be taken on the path to peace and reconciliation, he said, “God goes before us. We are only branches, not the vine.”

He warned them about silencing the voice of God or falling under the delusion that the success of the mission depends on their own “meagre virtues,” saying that prayer should be fundamental in the life of a bishop.

Instead of relying on themselves or others, he urged praying “fervently when you have so little to give, so that you will be granted something to offer to those who are close to your hearts as pastors.”

In his lengthy speech, the Pope also spoke about the Church in Amazonia, the southernmost region of Colombia, encouraging the bishops not to abandon it and the “profound wisdom of the indigenous peoples.”

He said they should also show particular sensitivity to the Afro-Colombian roots of the country, which have had a great influence on Colombia.

“I am convinced that Colombia has one remarkable feature: it has never been a goal fully attained, a destiny completely achieved, or a treasure totally possessed,” he said.

This treasure includes the nation’s human riches, vast natural resources, culture, heritage of the faith, and irrepressible joy and fidelity to the Gospel of Christ and his Church, he noted.

“And, above all, its indomitable courage in resisting threats of death not merely proclaimed but often experienced at first hand,” he said. “All this recedes, hides itself, from those who come here as foreigners bent on domination, while offering itself freely to those who touch its heart with the meekness of a wayfarer.”

“Such is Colombia.”

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