Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Presentations from press conference on new papal document

At a press conference in the Vatican on Tuesday for the presentation of Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation, the presidents of the Pontifical Councils for evangelisation and communications, plus the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, spoke about the themes contained in the 224 page document.

Please find below the English translations of the presentations, firstly by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation, secondly, by Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and thirdly, by Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops:

1. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation

If we were to sum up Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium in a few words, we could say that it is an Apostolic Exhortation written around the theme of Christian joy in order that the Church may rediscover the original source of evangelization in the contemporary world. Pope Francis offers this document to the Church as a map and guide to her pastoral mission in the near future. It is an invitation to recover a prophetic and positive vision of reality without ignoring the current challenges. Pope Francis instills courage and urges us to look ahead despite the present crisis, making the cross and the resurrection of Christ once again our “the victory banner” (85).

The several references in Evangelii Gaudium to the Propositions of the October, 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith are a testimony to the extent to which the last Synod has influenced the drafting of this Exhortation. This text, however, goes beyond the experience of the Synod. The Pope commits to paper not only his previous pastoral experience, but above all his call to seize the moment of grace in which the Church is living in order to embrace with faith, conviction and enthusiasm a new phase in the journey of evangelization. Extending the teaching of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi of Paul VI (1975), he emphasizes the centrality of the person of Jesus Christ, the first evangelizer, who today calls each and every one of us to participate with him in the work of salvation (12). “The Church’s missionary action is the paradigm for all of her endeavors” (15), affirms the Holy Father, so that it is necessary to seize this favorable moment in order to catch sight of and live out this “new stage” of evangelization (17). This missionary action is articulated in two themes which mark the basic outline of the Exhortation. On the one hand, Pope Francis addresses the particular Churches because, living in the first-person the challenges and opportunities characteristic of their cultural context, they are able to highlight aspects of the new evangeliza¬tion which are peculiar to their countries. On the other hand, the Pope sets out a common denominator in order that the whole Church, and each individual evangelizer, may discover a common methodology born of the conviction that evangelization is always participatory, shared and never isolated. 

The following seven points, gathered together in the five chapters of the Exhortation, constitute the fundamental pillars of Pope Francis’ vision of the new evangelization: the reform of the Church in a missionary key, the temptations of pastoral agents, the Church understood as the totality of the People of God which evangelizes, the homily and its preparation, the social inclusion of the poor, peace and social dialogue, and the spiritual motivations for the Church’s missionary action. The cement which binds these themes together is concentrated in the merciful love of God which goes forth to meet every person in order to manifest the heart of his revelation: the life of every person acquires meaning in the encounter with Jesus Christ and in the joy of sharing this experience of love with others (8).

The first chapter, therefore, proceeds in the light of the reform of the Church in a missionary key, called as she is to “go out” of herself in order to meet others. It is “the dynamic of exodus and the gift of going out of oneself, walking and sowing ever a new, always further and beyond” (21), that the Pope explains in these pages. The Church must make “this intimacy of Jesus, which is an itinerant intimacy”, its own intimacy (23). The Pope, as we are already accustomed to, makes use of effective expressions and creates neologisms to grasp the nature of the Church’s evangelizing action. First among these is the concept of “primerear”, namely God preceding us in love and indicating to the Church the path to follow. The Church does not find herself in a dead-end, but is following in the very footsteps of Christ (cfr. 1 Peter 2,21). Thus the Church is certain of the path she must follow. She does not tread this path in fear since she knows that she is called “to go out in search of those who are far from her and arrive at the crossroads in order to invite those who are excluded. She is filled with an unlimited desire to offer mercy.” (24). In order for this to occur, Pope Francis again stresses the need for “pastoral conversion” (25). This involves passing from a bureaucratic, static and administrative vision of pastoral ministry to a perspective which is not only missionary but is in a permanent state of evangeliza¬tion (25). In fact, alongside the structures which facilitate and sustain the Church’s missionary activity there are, unfortunately, “ecclesial structures which can jeopardize the dynamism of evangelization” (26). The existence of stagnant and stale pastoral practices obliges us, therefore, to be boldly creative in order to rethink evangelization. In this sense, the Pope affirms that: “an identification of the goals without adequate research on the part of the community as to how to achieve them is doomed to end in mere fantasy” (33).

It is necessary, therefore, “to concentrate on what is essential” (35) and to know that only a systematic approach, i.e. one that is unitary, progressive and proportional to the faith, can be of true assistance. This implies for the Church the capacity to bring out “the hierarchy of truths” and its proper reference to the heart of the Gospel (37-39), thereby avoiding the danger of presenting the faith only in the light of some moral questions as if these could stand apart from the centrality of love. If we lose sight of this perspective, “the moral edifice of the Church runs the risk of becoming a house of cards, and this is our biggest danger” (39). So there is a strong appeal from the Pope to find a healthy balance between the content of the faith and the language in which it is expressed. It may happen at times that the rigidity of linguistic precision can be to the detriment of content, thus compromising the genuine vision of the faith (41).

One of the central passages in this chapter is certainly paragraph 32 in which Pope Francis illustrates the urgency of bringing to fruition some of the perspectives of the Second Vatican Council, in particular the exercise of the Primacy of the Successor of Peter and of the role of Episcopal Conferences. John Paul II in Ut unum sint, had already requested assistance in order to better understand the obligations of the Pope in ecumenical dialogue. Now, Pope Francis continues in this request and sees that a more coherent form of assistance could be derived from the further development of the theoretical foundations of Episcopal Conferences. Another passage of particular intensity for its pastoral implications are paragraphs 38-45. The heart of the Gospel “is incarnate within the limits of the human language”. As a consequence, doctrine is inserted into “the cage of language”—to use Wittgenstein’s expression—which implies the necessity of a real discernment between the poverty and the limits of language, on the one hand, and the often yet to be discovered richness of the content of faith, on the other. The danger that the Church may at times fail to consider this dynamic is a real one, giving rise to an unjustified fortress mentality in relation to certain questions which risks rendering the Gospel message inflexible while at the same time losing sight of the dynamic proper to its development.

The second chapter is dedicated to recognizing the challenges of the contemporary world and to overcoming the easy temptations which undermine the New Evangelization. In the first place, the Pope affirms, we must recover our identity without those inferiority complexes which lead to “concealing our identity and convictions  and end up suffocating the joy of our mission as we become obsessed over becoming like everyone else possessing the things which they possess” (79). This makes Christians fall into “a kind of relativism which is more dangerous than the doctrinal one” (80), because it impinges directly on the lifestyle of believers. So it happens that many expressions of our pastoral activity suffer from a kind of weariness which derives from placing the accent on the initiatives themselves and not on the person. The Pope believes that the temptation of a “de-personalization of the person” in order to become better organized is both real and common. By the same token, the challenges in evangelization should be accepted more as a chance to grow and as not as a reason for falling into depression. There should be no talk, then, of a “sense of defeat” (85). It is essential that we recover interpersonal relationships to which we must accord a priority over the technology which seeks to govern relationships as with a remote control, deciding where, when and for how long to meet others on the basis of one’s own preferences (88). As well as the more usual and more diffuse challenges, however, we must be alive to those which impinge more directly on our lives: the sense of “daily uncertainty, with evil consequences”, the various forms of “social disparity”, the “fetishism of money and the dictatorship of a faceless economy”, the “exasperation of consumption” and “unbridled consumerism”.... In short, we find ourselves in the presence of a “globalization of indifference” and a “sneering contempt” towards ethics, accompanied by a constant attempt to marginalize every critical warning over the supremacy of the market which, with its “trickle down” creates the illusion of helping the poor (cfr nn. 52-64). If the Church today appears still highly credible in many countries of the world, even where it is a minority, its is because of her works of charity and solidarity (65).

In the evangelization of our time, therefore, and most especially in the face of the challenges of the great “urban cultures” (71), Christians are invited to flee from two phenomena which undermine its very nature and which Pope Francis defines as “worldliness” (93). First, the “charm of Gnosticism” which implies a faith closed in on itself, not least in its own doctrinal certainties, and which erects its own experience as the criterion of truth by which to judge others. Second, a “self-referential and Promethean Neo-Pelagianism” of those who maintain that the grace is only an accessory while progress is obtained only through personal commitment and force. All of this stands in contradiction to evangelization. It creates a type of “narcissistic elitism” which must be avoided (94). Who do we want to be, asks the Pope, “Generals of defeated troops” or “foot soldiers of a platoon which continues to fight”? The risk of a “worldly Church in spiritual or pastoral trappings” (96), is not hidden but real. It is vital, then, not to succumb to these temptations but to offer the testimony of communion (99). This testimony is reinforced by complementarity. Starting from this consideration, Pope Francis explains the necessity of the promotion of lay people and women, and the need to foster vocations and the priestly life. To look upon the Church in the light of the progress of these last decades demands that we subtract ourselves from a mentality of power and embrace a logic of service for the united construction of the Church (102-108).

Evangelization is the task of the entire People of God, without exception. It is not, nor could it be, reserved or delegated to any particular group. All baptized people are directly involved. Pope Francis explains, in the third chapter of the Exhortation, how evangelization may develop and the various stages which may indicate its progress. First, he is keen to underline the “the primacy of grace” which works tirelessly in the life of every evangelizer (112). Then the Pope develops the theme of the great role played by various cultures in the process of the inculturation of the Gospel, and which prevents a particular culture from falling into a “vainglorious sacralization of itself” (117). He then indicates the fundamental direction of the new evangelization in the interpersonal relationships (127-129) and in the testimony of life (121). He insists, furthermore, on rediscovering the value of popular piety as an expression of the genuine faith of many people who thereby give true testimony of their simple encounter with the love of God (122-126). Finally, the Pope invites theologians to study the mediations necessary in order to arrive at an appreciation of the various forms of evangelization (133), reflecting more at length on the homily as a privileged from of evangelization which requires an authentic passion and love for the Word of God and for the people to whom it is entrusted (135-158).

The fourth chapter is given over to a reflection on the social dimension of evangelization. This is a theme which is dear to Pope Francis since, as he states, “If this dimension is not explained in the correct way, we run the risk of disfiguring the authentic and full meaning of the mission of evangelization” (176). This is the great theme of the link between the preaching of the Gospel and the promotion of human life in all of its expressions. This promotion of every human being must be holistic and capable of avoiding the relegation of religion to the private sphere, with no incidence in social and public life. A “faith which is authentic always implies a profound desire to change the world” (183). Two great themes emerge in this section of the Exhortation: the “social inclusion of the poor” and “peace and social dialogue”. The particular evangelical passion with which the Pope speaks about them is indicative of his conviction that they will decide the future of humanity.

As far as concerns the “social inclusion of the poor”, with the New Evangelization the Church feels it is her mission “to contribute to the resolution of the instrumental causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor”, as well as undertaking “simple and daily gestures of solidarity in the face of the many concrete situations of need” which are constantly before our eyes (188). What emerges from these closely written pages is an invitation to recognise the “salvific force” which the poor possess and which must be brought to the center of the life of the Church with the New Evangelization (198). This implies that first of all, before any concrete experience, there be a rediscovery of the attention due to this theme together with its urgency and the need to promote its awareness. Moreover, the fundamental option for the poor which asks to be put into practice is, in the mind of Pope Francis, primarily a “religous and spiritual attention” which must take priority over all else (200). On these questions Pope Francis speaks with extreme frankness and clarity. The “Shepherd of a Church without borders” (210) cannot allow himself to look away. This is why the Pope demands that we consider the problems of migration and is equally strong in his denunciation of the new forms of slavery. “Where is the person that you are killing every day in his secret little factory, in networks of prostitution, in children used for professional begging, in those who must work in secret because they are irregular? Let us not pretend. All of us have some share of responsability in these situations” (211). Also, the Pope is equally forceful in his defence of human life in its beginning and of the dignity of every human person (213). Concerning this latter aspect, the Pope enounces four principles which serve as a common denominator for the promotion of peace and its concrete social application. Recalling, perhaps, his studies into Romano Guardini, Pope Francis seems to create a new polar opposition. He reminds us that “time is superior to space”, “unity prevails over conflict”, “reality is more important than ideas”, and that “the whole is greater than its parts”. These principles open up to the dimension of dialogue as the first contribution towards peace, a dimension which is extended in the Exhortation to the areas of science, ecumenism and non-Christian religions.

The final chapter seeks to express the “spirit of the New Evangelization” (260). This is developed under the primacy of the action of the Holy Spirit which always and anew infuses the missionary impluse in the Church beginning with the life of prayer whose center is contempla¬tion (264). In conclusion, the Virgin Mary, “Star of the New Evangelization” is presented as the icon of every authentic preaching and transmission of the Gospel which the Church is called to undertake in the coming decades with a strong enthusiasm and an unchanging love for the Lord Jesus.

“Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization” (83). The language of this Apostolic Exhortation is clear, immediate, free from rhetoric and insinuations. Pope Francis goes to the heart of the problems which touch the lives of men and women of today and which demand of the Church more than a simple presence. The Church is asked to actively program a renewed pastoral practice which reflects her engagement in the New Evangelization. The Gospel must reach everyone, without exception. Some, however, are more privileged than others. Pope Francis leaves us in no doubt as to his position: “Not so much friends and rich neighbours, but above all the poor, the sick, those who are often ignored and forgotten  there must be no doubts or explanations which weaken the clarity of this message” (48).

As in other crucial moments of her history, it is with a sense of urgency that the Church prepares to engage in the New Evangelization in a spirit of adoration so as to behold once again, with a “contemplative gaze”, the signs of the presence of God. The signs of the times are not only encouraging, but are serve as a criterion for effective witness (71). Pope Francis reminds us, first of all, of the central mystery of our faith: “Let us not run away from the resurrection of Jesus, let us not surrender, come what may” (3). He shows us a Church which is the companion of those who are our contemporaries in the seeking after God and in the desire to see him.

2. Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications

The Holy Father’s document Evangelii Gaudium (EG) is the outcome of the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “New Evangelization for the Transmission of Christian Faith” (2012), a proclamation of joy to Christian disciples and missionaries, and to all humanity. The Holy Father received and reviewed the Synod Fathers’ Propositiones, and made them his own, re-elaborating them in a personal way, and has written a programmatic, exhortative document in the form of an “Apostolic Exhortation”, central to which is mission in its fullest sense. A striking aspect, from the very first pages onwards, is the joyful presentation of the Gospel – thus, Evangelii Gaudium – which is expressed also in the repetition, 59 times throughout the text, of the word “joy”.

The Pope has taken the Propositiones into account, citing them 27 times). On this basis, emerging from the reflections of the Synod Fathers, he develops the Exhortation within a solid doctrinal framework, founded on biblical and magisterial references, with a thematic presentation of the various aspects of faith, in which he affirms the principles and the doctrines incarnate in life. This development is enriched by references to the Fathers of the Church, including St. Irenaeus, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, to mention just a few, and is further supported by the work of Medieval masters such as Blessed Isaac de l’Etoile, St. Thomas Aquinas and Thomas à Kempis, modern theologians including Blessed John Henry Newman, Henri De Lubac and Romano Guardini, and other writers such as Georges Bernanos.

In particular, there are frequent textual references to Apostolic Exhortations such as Paul VI’s Evangelii nuntiandi (13 references), and other post-Synodal texts such as Christifideles laici; Familiaris consortio; Pastores dabo vobis; Ecclesia in Africa, in Asia, in Oceania, in America, in Medio Oriente, in Europa and Verbum Domini. Furthermore, significant attention is paid to the pronouncements of the Latin American episcopates, as well as the Puebla and Aparecida documents, those of the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East in their 16th Assembly, and those of the Episcopal Conferences of India, the United States, France, Brazil, the Philippines, and Congo.

The theme of synodality is introduced in the first part of the document, which deals with “The Church’s missionary transformation”. From the perspective of a Church who “goes forth” (20), “from ourselves to our brothers and sisters” (179), the Holy Father proposes a complete “pastoral of conversion”, starting from the parish (cf. 28), from grass-roots communities, movements and other forms of association (cf. 29), from the particular Churches (cf. 30), even to “a conversion of the papacy” (32). It is clear that he intends to include in this “pastoral of conversion” special attention to the exercise of the primacy; he therefore affirms that “the papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion” (32).

With reference to the Vatican Council II, along with the ancient patriarchal Churches, the Holy Father expresses his hope that the Episcopal Conferences may be able “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit” (LG 22, EG 32). This expression of synodality would bring specific attributions, in relation to doctrinal authority and governance (cf. 32). With regard to ecumenism – and thanks also to the presence at the Synod of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Archbishop of Canterbury (cf. 245), synodality is expressed in a particular way since, through “dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality” (246).

In this respect, a further significant element is represented by the acceptance, in the Apostolic Exhortation – which is a document of a universal nature – of pastoral stimuli from the various local Churches throughout the world. This means demonstrating the implementation of collegiality in process. In this regard, the prominence given by the Holy Father to the Church’s missionary reach to existential peripheries, through pastoral conversion, comes from his personal experience as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and, as a result, his direct involvement in the preparation of the Aparecida document (25). This pastoral experience also underlies the ample consideration given to popular piety, which the Latin America and the Caribbean bishops also refer to as “popular spirituality” or “the people’s mysticism”. It is “truly a spirituality incarnated in the culture of the lowly” (124).

Echoing a celebrated definition by St. Thomas, according to which “grace presupposes nature”, the Holy Father, drawing upon the Puebla document, coins a beautiful expression: “grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it” (115). This open appreciation of the different cultures who are disposed to welcoming the Gospel, and inform it with their own richness, leads the Holy Father to redress claims of the absolute nature of any culture, so that “it is not essential to impose a specific cultural form, no matter how beautiful or ancient it may be, together with the Gospel” (117). In this regard, “the Bishops of Oceania asked that the Church ‘develop an understanding and a presentation of the truth of Christ working from the traditions and cultures of the region’” (118).

Other themes are considered with precise references, from various regions in the world. Interreligious dialogue, viewed in terms of openness in truth and in love, is presented in the Pope’s text “a matter of ‘being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows’” (250). With regard to Islam, “suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs.  Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for as the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East have taught us, authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (253).

Particularly dear to the Holy Father, on account of the worldwide urgency of the issue, is “The social dimension of evangelization”, to which he dedicates a substantial part of the document. The Latin American and Caribbean experience of a Church profoundly immersed in the life of the people has given rise to close attention to the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed, and has also provoked significant theological reflection, the repercussions of which have crossed borders, assuming specific contextual forms in the different areas of the world which experience the same social condition (cf. 176 et seq.). In his presentation of the theme, the Pope speaks about the social inclusion of the poor, which appears as a call for justice and dignity that must be heard by the Church (cf. 186 et seq.). The structural causes of poverty are also in play. This is not a matter merely of a simplistic solidarity but rather of structural transformations. “Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those same structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual” (189). He does not even exclude the call of entire populations who claim their rights as nations, who need to be permitted “to become the artisans of their destiny” (PP 15, EG 190).

Finally, considering the relationship between the common good and social peace, the Pope affirms that “The message of peace is not about a negotiated settlement but rather the conviction that the unity brought by the Spirit can harmonize every diversity” (230), since the Holy Spirit ipse armonia est.

3. Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops

I have been invited to present this papal Exhortation with a focus on its communicative dimension and a consideration of how communications is central to the theme of the new evangelization. My reflection is shaped by two fundamental considerations.

1. The Style of the Document

The document is an Apostolic Exhortation and, as such, has its own style and language. I would like to point out that it has an almost conversational feel to it which reflects a unique and profound pastoral sensitivity. As Pope Francis writes, “I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization”. Reading the text, you have the sense of a pastor who is conducting a meditative conversation with the faithful.

The character of the document is determined by the language which the Pope uses. It is the simple, familiar and direct language which has been the hallmark of the style that has emerged in the months of his pontificate.

2. How does the role of communication emerge in this new phase of evangelization, given that the Pope wants to point out “new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come”?

It is immediately clear that the Pope is aware of what is happening in today’s world, especially in the fields of health, education, and communications. He is aware of the progress made in these three areas (n. 52) and he makes reference to technological innovation, saying, “We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.” (n.52).

There is no doubt that there has been progress and achievement in these fields, but the Pope is also aware that the current information society bombards us indiscriminately with data, all treated as of equal importance, which can lead to great superficiality in the area of moral discernment. For this reason the Pope emphasizes the need for a true education which teaches how to think critically and encourages the development of mature moral values (n. 64).

The document also recognizes that the current, enhanced possibilities for communication can open wider avenues of encounter among people. Hence the need to discover and share the mystery of living together, of mingling and encounter (n. 87).

What also emerges is the awareness that, “New cultures are constantly being born in these vast new expanses where Christians are no longer the customary interpreters or generators of meaning. Instead, they themselves take from these cultures new languages, symbols, messages and paradigms which propose new approaches to life, approaches often in contrast with the Gospel of Jesus.” The Pope underscores even that “A completely new culture has come to life and continues to grow in the cities” (n. 73).

There is an awareness of the attitude of media culture towards the Church’s message. In n. 79, the Pope underscores that “At times our media culture and some intellectual circles convey a marked scepticism with regard to the Church’s message, along with a certain cynicism.” 

As to be expected, a great deal of attention is focused on analysing how the message is communicated. It is worth attending to some of the observations. The Pope is aware of the speed of communication today and how at times the media have a selective interest in various types of content. This is why there is a risk that the message can appear to be distorted or reduced to secondary considerations. The risk is that some questions regarding the Church’s moral teachings might be taken out of the context which gives them meaning or, at times, that the message seems to focus on secondary questions which do not reveal the authentic heart of the message of Jesus Christ.

In confronting these risks, the Pope maintains that we must be realistic, we should not “assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives them meaning, beauty and attractiveness” (n. 34). For this reason the Pope emphasises that “Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed.” (n. 35)

In our proclamation of the message we must concentrate on the essence, on what is truly beautiful, most significant, most attractive and at the same time truly necessary. We must keep the message simple without losing anything of its depth and truth so that it remains convincing and powerful. (n. 35)

Much attention is given to reflection on a theme, which is of particular interest to me, that of language. The Pope makes reference to the increasingly rapid and radical change of culture and reminds us that we must “constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness.” (n. 41)

In this regard, the Pope recalls that “There are times when the faithful, in listening to completely orthodox language, take away something alien to the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ, because that language is alien to their own way of speaking to and understanding one another.” In particular, the Pope insists that, “With the holy intent of communicating the truth about God and humanity, we sometimes give them a false god or a human ideal which is not really Christian. In this way, we hold fast to a formulation while failing to convey its substance.” (n. 41)

The theme of language is certainly a great challenge for the Church today. It is a challenge which must be faced with awareness and decision, and with “boldness and wisdom”, as Pope Paul VI recalled in Evangelii Nuntiandi.

Pope Francis notes at the same time that, “We will never be able to make the Church’s teachings easily understood or readily appreciated by everyone. Faith always remains something of a cross; it retains a certain obscurity which does not detract from the firmness of its assent.” (n. 42) And he reminds us all that “Some things are understood and appreciated only from the standpoint of this assent, which is a sister to love, beyond the range of clear reasons and arguments.” (n. 42)

In the light of what emerges here, the mission of evangelization “operates within the limits of language and of circumstances” (n. 45). We must consistently strive “to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel in a specific context, without renouncing the truth, the goodness and the light which it can bring whenever perfection is not possible.” (n. 45)

Pope Francis continues: a missionary heart “never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness.” (n. 45) It knows it must grow in understand¬ing the Gospel, in discerning the ways of the Spirit, doing the best it can “even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.” (n. 45)

It is no surprise then that in this context the Pope attaches special importance to the homily. In light of these previous considerations, he recognizes that the problem is not only knowing what has to be said, but that of attending to the “how”, the actual steps to developing a homily (n. 157). 

For all of us who are familiar with the communicative style of Pope Francis, it comes as no surprise that in this context he insists that one of the most necessary skills is to learn how to use images in preaching, “how to appeal to imagery” (n.157). Here in this Exhortation itself we discover that one of the origins of his communicative style came from something he learned from one of his professors when he was younger, that a good homily should have “an idea, a sentiment, an image”.

Continuing with the theme of language, the Pope reminds us that simplicity also involves the vocabulary used. It must be a language people understand to avoid the risk of speaking into a vacuum.

The Pope, with great pastoral insight, points out that “The greatest risk for a preacher is that he becomes so accustomed to his own language that he thinks that everyone else naturally understands and uses it” (n. 158).

Therefore, we could say that the suggested approach is one marked by simplicity, clarity and positivity. He says, “Positive preaching always offers hope, points to the future, does not leave us trapped in negativity” (n. 159).

In conclusion, I would like to highlight the theme of the way of beauty - via pulchritudinis (propositio 20, n. 167): “Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy” (n. 167).

The Pope says all expressions of authentic beauty can be recognized as a path which helps us to encounter the Lord Jesus. He reminds all of us that the appreciation of beauty is necessary to be able to touch the human heart and enable the truth and goodness of the Risen Christ to radiate within it. He recalls the use of art in the Church’s evangelizing efforts and the Pope does not hesitate to speak of a new “language of parables”.

I conclude with another quote from Pope Francis which gives meaning to the Church’s communications efforts: “We must be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word, and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings.”

This is the challenge which Pope Francis poses for all of us, and one to which the Pontifical Council for Social Communications is committed to respond fully and positively.

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