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The Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, is this week making a pastoral visit to Vietnam. On Tuesday, he held meetings in Hà Nội with the members of the Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, and a group of priests.
In his discourses, he spoke of the missionary activity of the Church, especially in relation to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
The full text of the two discourses are below.
Meeting of the Prefect
of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
with the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Vietnam
20/01/2015 - Hà Nội
Your Eminence, Cardinal John Baptist Pham Minh Mân,
Your Excellency, the Papal Representative,
Your Excellency, the President of the Episcopal Conference of Vietnam,
Brothers in the Episcopate:
Allow me to greet with particularly warm wishes His Excellency, Monsignor Peter Nguyễn Văn Nhơn, Archbishop of Hà Nội, who was created a Cardinal by Pope Francis only a few days ago, and who will be joined to the College of Cardinals this coming February 14th.
This is a most beautiful gesture toward this zealous Confrere, and a great honor for the Church of Hà Nội and all of Vietnam. I am very happy to be here with you and sincerely thank the Episcopal Conference for the invitation allowing me to visit your Country. I have before me an entire week in which to meet, from North to South, the many members of the People of God in Vietnam – Bishops, priests, religious men and women, seminarians, and laity – and to pray together in the celebration of various liturgies. My two predecessors, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe and Cardinal Ivan Dias, both visited Vietnam, returning with a wonderful impression of a living Church. I, too, on this occasion, can see with my own eyes the vitality of your Community, the steadfast Faith of the Vietnamese faithful, about which you have told me in our meetings and from the reports of the Papal Representative. I know that religious practice is high (80-93%) and fervent - not just for Sunday Mass, but also throughout the week. I know also that in all of the Dioceses and parishes the faithful love to gather together in organizations for the lay apostolate, and this is very interesting. Everywhere they show a particular interest in the Word of God and in study of the Catechism. Moreover, they desire to contribute, using their own labor and talents, to the building up and development of the Church, as well as the Country.
Dear Brother Bishops, the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [EG] is an invaluable document, because it is the programmatic text of the Church today and represents the vision that Pope Francis has given for the years to come. He says that the joy of the Gospel is the basis for evangelization. It is born and reborn in the personal encounter with Jesus, from which is derived the change in life and the missionary spirit. In fact, joy, by its nature, always seeks to communicate itself: “For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (n. 8). Evangelization is the natural consequence of this joy, that consists in having met the Lord and having been renewed by Him: “It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’” (n. 15). It follows that one who evangelizes must be in continual, personal conversion in order to become an authentic witness to the Gospel. The virtuous life of all the members of the People of God manifests the noble and fascinating beauty of the Gospel. At the same time, it is a decisive requisite for the work of evangelization in the world of today.
This year marks the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Conciliar Decree Ad Gentes [AG], concerning the missionary activity of the Church. There is says that missionary activity flows directly out of the nature itself of the Church. Through this missionary impulse, the first seeds of the Faith were brought here to Vietnam through the work of the Jesuits, the Fathers of the Foreign Mission Society of Paris, the Dominicans, the Augustinians, the Franciscans, and so many others. The tiny seeds have taken root in the culture and customs, such that today the Faith has become a part of the lives of many Vietnamese Christians. In 2010, the Church in Vietnam celebrated the Jubilee Year, commemorating the 350th Anniversary of the first two Apostolic Vicariates, and the 50th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Hierarchy. Today, we must remember that it has been 400 years since evangelization here first began. The initial creation of the Hierarchy marked the passage from “mission” status to the first configurations of a local Church, with the Bishops beginning to assume direct responsibility. Hence, every Bishop must continue to personally assume responsibility for evangelization, because “The mandate of Christ to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15) primarily and immediately concerns them (the Bishops), with Peter and under Peter” (AG, n. 38).
The Conciliar Document Ad Gentes still remains valid for us today. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, citing Redemptoris Missio, reaffirmed that “…today missionary activity still represents ‘the greatest challenge for the Church’ and ‘the missionary task must remain foremost’” (n. 15) the responsibility of the Bishop. The Bishop, as head and center of the Diocesan apostolate, must promote, direct, and coordinate missionary activity, and, furthermore, must encourage all the members of the People of God to participate in missionary works. Priests, religious brothers and sisters, as close collaborators with the Bishops in evangelization, are called to live their own proper vocations and charisms to become “the salt of the earth and light of the world”. In the one Body of Christ that is the Church, each baptized person has received from God a personal call to be a witness to the Gospel in every circumstance in which one finds oneself. One must avoid any self-centered mentality that seeks to preserve the Faith only for one’s personal salvation; rather, one must contribute to the building up and growth of the community, committing himself to the apostolate. It must be remembered that “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples” (EG, n.120). One must never forget that this missionary task can only be realized with the collaboration and prayer of the entire Church.
It is noteworthy that this missionary task “is one and the same everywhere and in every condition, even though it may be carried out differently according to circumstances” (AG, n. 6). That is to say that the path of evangelization is not an easy one to tread, and in fact, “…circumstances are sometimes such that, for the time being, there is no possibility of expounding the Gospel directly and forthwith” (AG, n. 6). We certainly must not forget that St. Paul urged the proclamation of the Word of God whether “convenient and inconvenient” (2 Timothy 4:2), but, “in this case”, the Conciliar Document Ad Gentes writes “…missionaries can and must at least bear witness to Christ by charity and by works of mercy, with all patience, prudence and great confidence. Thus they will prepare the way for the Lord and make Him somehow present” (n. 6). The Servant of God Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận, a witness to hope and minister of the mercy of God, is an extraordinary example of announcing the Gospel in every moment, convenient or inconvenient; yet, he shows us as well how to exercise patience and prudence, especially in dialogue. Our Holy Father Francis often affirms the need to promote dialogue and the culture of encounter.
The role of your Episcopal Conference consists primarily in orienting and coordinating the works of evangelization, avoiding wasteful use of resources in terms of persons and projects, and in such a way that at every level – local, civil, and social – the whole reality can be integrated, putting into communion the works of the persons and groups that make up the Church. As such, this realizes unity in plurality - that unity which is not uniformity.
Before concluding my brief remarks, I would like to offer to all of you, dear Brother Bishops, a word of appreciation for the work of evangelization that you have undertaken through your pastoral generosity and through your laudable communion with the Holy Father.
I entrust each one of you, your Dioceses, and your pastoral ministry to the maternal protection of Our Lady of La Vang. May the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of Mary, renew in you the desire to serve the Reign of God with your whole heart and strength, in solidarity with the Holy Father and with each other.
Meeting of the Prefect
of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
with the Priests
20/01/2015 - Hà Nội
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood,
I greet you, dear Brothers, and I bring you the blessing of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. I am happy to be in this holy land, a land of a living and steadfast Church, where the blood of many martyrs has flowed heroically. Every year on the 24th of November – the day on which the Church celebrates the Memorial of the priest, St. Andrew Dung-Lac, and his 126 Companion Martyrs – I have the occasion to read again the beautiful letter of St. Paul Lê Bảo Tịnh, written to the seminarians from his prison cell. I am deeply moved by his love for the Lord Jesus and for the Church, as well as his pastoral concern for the seminarians entrusted to him. His example always prompts in me an ardent desire for the Lord and to serve His Church. As priests and those responsible for the Church in Vietnam, you are called to be “salt and light” (cf. Mt. 5:13-15) in this society. Imitate your heroic predecessor martyrs and be worthy to be their successors.
2. Evangelii gaudium.
Dear Brothers, the theme of evangelization is still relevant and will always be present, since the Church by her nature is missionary. This theme is reaffirmed and underlined by Pope Francis, particularly in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG). This invaluable document must be the point
of reference for the Church of Vietnam, which is called concomitantly to a path of conversion and to a strong commitment to evangelization. In this sense, we recall that evangelization comes forth from the Gospel and is continuously reborn in the personal encounter with Jesus. This encounter with Jesus brings with it a change of life and, at the same time, gives true and profound joy that always seeks to communicate itself. “For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives,” the Pope writes, “how can we fail to share that love with others?” (EG, n. 8). To evangelize is to proclaim Christ, and to encounter Him is to be renewed by Him. What the Pope wrote in his Encyclical Lumen Fidei, and reiterated in Evangelii Gaudium, is interesting: “It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’” (n.15). As those evangelizing, we experience this joy of the Gospel in becoming sons of God, in being priests of the Lord, and in the service to the faithful entrusted to our care.
3. Spiritual Life.
First of all, I would like to speak about the spiritual life of priests, because “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit”, according to the teaching of St. Paul to the Galatians (5:25). With these words, the Apostle reminds us that the spiritual life of the priest must be animated and guided by the Spirit of God, Who leads us to sanctity, perfected by charity. We priests, more than the rest of the faithful, are called to sanctity through our identity: being consecrated with the Anointing and sent to announce glad tidings to the poor. The sanctification of the priest consists above all in his intimate and profound bond with Jesus, Head and Pastor of the Church. Priests are called to radically live the Gospel, following the example of the chaste, poor, and obedient Christ. The priest is, first and foremost, one who is called to be configured to Jesus, the Eternal High Priest. In other words, we must love as Jesus loves, think as Jesus thinks, act as Jesus acts, and serve as Jesus serves in every moment of our lives. The priesthood is not a profession or a bureaucratic office, fulfilled by working contracted hours; it is a “style of life”, not a job. The priest lives out his Priesthood, but he never possesses it all. We must be priests of God rather than being “clerical”: simply going through the motions of being religious. To fully live out the priestly identity, the spiritual life of the priest must be tied to prayer, to listening to the Word of God. Pray and listen like Mary. This is the behavior of him who places his trust in the power of God, allowing himself to be transfigured by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, allowing himself to be corrected by God and allowing God to act in his own life.
4. Moral Life.
Regarding the moral life, I would like to speak of priestly celibacy. This choice must be considered within the context of “…the link between celibacy and Sacred Ordination, which configures the priest to Jesus Christ the head and spouse of the Church. The Church, as the spouse of Jesus Christ, wishes to be loved by the priest in the total and exclusive manner in which Jesus Christ her head and spouse loved her” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 29). Understood thus, the priest embraces celibacy “continually renewed with a free and loving decision” (Ibid.), being aware of the weakness of his own human condition. Thus, we know that “To put into practice all the moral, pastoral and spiritual demands of priestly celibacy, it is absolutely necessary that the priest pray humbly and trustingly” (Ibid.). One way to protect the priestly life is to foster fraternal relationships with brother priests. The accompaniment and support of other priests are always a gift of grace and an invaluable aid to bringing life into our Priesthood and into our ministry. If this fraternal relationship is lacking among priests, a crisis always follows. A good relationship of esteem and confidence must also be fostered with one’s own Bishop, as the father and head of our local Church.
5. Pastoral Life.
Concerning the pastoral life, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has warned us of the risk that runs among priests “obsessed with protecting their free time”. He writes: “This is frequently due to the fact that people feel an overbearing need to guard their personal freedom, as though the task of evangelization was a dangerous poison rather than a joyful response to God’s love which summons us to mission and makes us fulfilled and productive. Some resist giving themselves over completely to mission and thus end up in a state of paralysis and acedia” (EG, n. 81). In order to dedicate our entire lives and all that we have to the service of the Church, we need to have the pastoral charity of Jesus, Who has given His life for the flock. We must imitate Jesus in His gift of Self and in His service. It is precisely pastoral charity, with which we must be imbued, that enriches our priestly ministry and will determine “our way of thinking and acting, our way of relating to people” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 23). Pastoral charity asks of us a pastoral conversion, urging us to “go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (EG, n. 20). The privileged recipients of pastoral charity are the poor, the marginalized, the little ones, the sick, sinners, and unbelievers.
In a particular way in the large cities, we need to focus our attention on the immigrants and to the “slaves” of the modern day. In his Message for the World Day of Peace 2015, the Holy Father spoke of the various kinds of slavery: workers reduced to servitude, migrants, female and male sex slaves, to name a few. Furthermore, in his message for the 101st Word Day of Migrants and Refugees 2015 (September 3, 2014), he wrote that “Jesus is ‘the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person’ (ES, 209). His solicitude, particularly for the most vulnerable and marginalized, invites all of us to care for the frailest and to recognize His suffering countenance, especially in the victims of new forms of poverty and slavery.” Pastoral charity renders us always more available to assume whatever responsibilities arise for the good of the Church and of souls.
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood, I thank you for your zeal and for your tireless commitment to evangelization. Let us continue onward, animated by our common love for the Lord and for Holy Mother Church. May Our Lady of La Vang protect you and walk by your side. May we remain always united in prayer.
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