Vatican City (general audience) 12/01/1977
(Paul VI: general audience, 12th January, 1977 – text translated from the original recording by Vatican Radio)
You are all welcome `in nomine Domini’.
Despite the fact that the season, we are in the heart of winter, is not favourable to pilgrimages, excursions, visits and reunions, We are happy to welcome you to our hall which is honoured and filled by the presence of visitors we shall now name.
You know that we greet you all truly with the awareness that you are spokesmen, transmitters of a blessing which transcends us, that is, of being representatives, ministers of a grace of the Lord which we want to communicate to all, and to communicate precisely with a sense of that union, that charity, that fusion of spirit, that unity which distinguishes us for our faith and for the good fortune that we all have of belonging to the mystical Body of Christ. To you all, we give our blessed welcome. We will accompany this with our prayers and spiritual remembrance, this moment when you, by visiting us, procure for us the true happiness of being together and of being with Christ.
Greetings: We have great pleasure and we are very moved to have a special group of Bishops whom we welcome – so as not to prolong this preface too much – to our general audience and then separately in the adjoining room… So that you know where these Bishops come from and the importance of this other group of our brothers in the episcopate, whom we have the honour of having with us today, we shall read, as has been suggested to us, where they come from.
We have two Bishops from Mexico, a Bishop from El Salvador, from Guatemala, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, then two Bishops from Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, the Philippines, we have a Bishop from England, one from Spain and one from Portugal, and some others from Italy – the Archbishop of Rossano, the Bishop of Sarzana and Brugnato, of Macerata and Tolentino, of Fabriano, Rieti, Teramo, Crotone, and finally from Piazza Armerina. It is an audience with a truly catholic, not to speak of ecumenical nature, but catholic means more because it is a perfection which is already complete and already consummate, and so we welcome all these brethren, we try to read into their heart the reason for their coming and to respond to them with all our sympathy, and our encouragement for this very significant action of their ministry.
They accompany the large group whom we shall nominate shortly, and for whom we have reserved the little allocution which we usually hold at general Audiences. I repeat that these Bishops are all welcomed by us and I would say embraced. We are all the more united by their presence in paying homage to our Holy Church, in honouring Jesus Christ, in being anxious about the apostolate, of gaining souls in the world today, and in their common hope which continues in time and transcends time, for the final eschatology of the visible and full meeting with Our Lord Jesus Christ. To them our reverent thankfulness for their participation in this audience, our help and our blessing which should reach also, dearest brothers in the Episcopate, to your respective Dioceses, and you can be assured that our prayer, wishes, and the common hope in Christ goes with our wishes.
So now we welcome first of all the large group that forms the main part of this audience. Later, we will say something about it. It is made up of the parish priests and lay missionaries of neocatechumenal communities. They come from different countries and, as you can see, make up a very varied community – priests, religious, lay people, and so on. To all of you, we extend a warm welcome. Later, we shall say a few words for this occasion and for the sake of the goal which unites them in this meeting and makes them profess their faith in the Church and, finally, we shall give our special blessing. We repeat, Neocatechumenal communities from various countries.
…We welcome them, this main group, giving them that small gift, shall we say, which we usually give in our general audience, that is, a word, a word upon which to meditate and reflect, and which is, if nothing else, proof of our affection for those who are listening to it.
The presence at this audience of a group noticeable because of its numbers – most of you here are part of this group – and because of the rank of the participants – your leaders, and above all the group of bishops whom you have brought with you – this group of the members of the Neocatechumenal Communities offers us, by your presence, the opportunity to draw two events of the Catholic Church to the attention of our visitors and to those listening. The first is the Synod of Bishops three years ago, in 1974, on the subject Evangelisation in our times: the way in which the Gospel is spread today. This was the theme of the 1974 Synod which provided the subject matter of our subsequent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi of the 8th December, 1975. If we had the foolish ambition of advertising our documents, we should almost like to recommend it to you because it is so full, it is a such a tribute to all that the Bishops said in the Synod. I have tried to interpret, to gather together, all their ideas, to organise them and to make them accessible in the simplest possible language, but also, most important, the clearest possible, so making us bold to recommend it to you, especially to you who want to be neocatechumens, that is, to give instruction and evangelise the great crowds of people you succeed in reaching. I think it would be good for you and for your students, your disciples.
The second event is still in the future, and will take place this year, beginning on September 30th: the other Synod of Bishops. We will have about two hundred bishops here from all over the world, nominated by their respective episcopal conferences. What will the theme be? The theme will once again deal with evangelisation, but from another aspect, that is catechesis: how religion is taught, especially to children, to boys and girls, to young people and to adults too, at this stage of our civilisation, and how to become teachers. It is the bishops who wanted this theme, and we shall take it up again and develop it. This shows how up-to-date you catechumens are.
This shows an awareness that the fundamental mission of the Church is to spread the message of the Gospel, according to the last command given by Jesus at the end of his visible presence on earth – what were his words? Go and preach! Go and make disciples of all nations. This awareness is keenly alive and at work in the Church today. How often it is said, when in looking at past history that has characterised the different periods of the history of the Church, But what were they doing? Either there was war between certain states, or there were dogmatic problems and so on, which were of little interest to public opinion or pastoral apostolate. The Church has been meditating again on her proper function and pastoral duties, and her first pastoral duty is to announce the Gospel and to go out to the world and say, Look, I am bringing you the message, the message, which the angels brought to the earth, `Glory to God and peace on earth’, and then the message of Christ to announce the Gospel, that is, the good word taught to us by Jesus Christ.
This awareness of the fundamental mission of the Church to spread the gospel message is alive and working in the Church today, and – this is beautiful – it is the task of all ministers, that is, Bishops, priests, religious men and women, and the faithful! The faithful themselves become the voice which must propagate this message; the message of the evangelical announcement which today more than ever is worth being announced for two reasons which seem contradictory. One, we must announce it because the world is deaf, and so you have to raise your voice, to find a way so that it can be understood, and so you must insist, all must be called to a new school etc. The difficulty becomes something that provokes us, it becomes the incentive to become teachers of our catechism, that is to say of the truth of the Gospel to be announced.
And there is a second reason which is exactly the opposite of the first. He who knows how to see, to read, into the heart of the masses, the heart of the world, sees that deep down there is discontent, there is restlessness, there is need of a true word, a good word, a word which tells the meaning of life! For the world of today no longer knows what it is, it no longer has the strength to define itself. Our world lives like a short-sighted person, or a blind man in the midst of darkness. We have the lantern, we have the lamp, we have the Word of the Gospel, which becomes the light of the world. The Lord told his apostles, you are the light of the world. Well, if we are the light of the world, we must go towards these people who are lost, who are so angry, so cruel, who have become so disorientated, so without principles, without lines of conduct which are good and human; we must go towards them and say: Look, this is the path, here is the way. And I repeat, the Church speaks for these two reasons, one being the difficulty and the other the opportunity of announcing the Gospel.
We are therefore in a marked apostolic, missionary, and didactic phase of the Church’s life. We must all take part in it. The building up of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth, in other words, our present Church, is the duty, as the Council (Lumen Gentium 33) says, not only of priests, bishops, etc, but of every believer. Each one must be a witness; he must be able to transmit, to transfer, at least by his example, the message of which he is the depositary. A mute Christian does not exist. A sterile Christian does not exist, a Christian living only for himself does not exist. He must live for the community, for the Mystical Body which is called the Church.
In this vision, it is clear and desirable that efforts should be multiplied to put this immense and urgent programme into practice: to evangelise, to catechise. There are many initiatives parallel, and somewhat similar, to yours. And there is a flourishing of works and means to give the proclamation of the Gospel a better diffusion and interpretation we might say.
We have observed how this multiform phenomenon of the Holy Church is not simply concerned with the scholastic and the didactic aspect of its activities. It is not simply the instruction of pupils by school teachers. Rather it is something wider, more pedagogical and vital, concerned with the style of life, in which the teaching of the religious truth is parallel to the scholastic teaching and, indeed, united to the profession of life, of which teaching is the norm and principle.
In the second place we note how this task does not place a heavy and difficult burden on those who carry it out or on those whom it helps, even though it is difficult in reality. For what is one of the greatest difficulties which priests encounter? Well, it is that no one comes. `How boring listening to preaching, listening to the lesson, learning the catechism, it tires me and I like going out, going to the cinema, playing etc.’ Somehow this Church which teaches becomes so boring – but it is not so! We say it to ourselves and we say it to our people. Anyone who understands the secret of the truth which our words contain becomes as if struck by this light, by this truth and is so transformed into apostle, priest, announcer, as much as the disciple who listens: Oh! I didn’t think it was so beautiful, ah, but it’s true, but just look... I repeat, a horizon of light and beauty that is almost unexpected opens up. The fulfilment of this difficult task becomes an honour, a fortune, it becomes a vocation that enobles and exalts.
I would like to ask, if there are missionaries amongst you, why are you missionaries? It is because you are exalted by the sense of the Gospel, by what it means to announce the Truth, to announce the secret of life, God’s plans, the hopes which do not die! But it becomes so beautiful that you cannot escape from it. And so we, too, become called to be apostles and announcers of this truth! Carrying out this duty of announcing is no longer boring, just as the task of listening is no longer tiresome,. It contains in itself the replenishment of tiredness which it entails and makes its witnesses happy, it makes them secure, it makes them participants in the expectation of the goods of the Kingdom of God which they announce. In our place here at the centre of the Church, it is our duty to welcome many who come from far away, from the missions. And we welcome these people with great pleasure, and we let them speak so that we may hear their witness. Some have enormous difficulties, one does not know how they can live, what they live on, how they overcome illness, hostility, dangers, and so on, and yet – I tell you this because you, too, are happy – when they talk and define themselves, they express a happiness which has no equal with the happinesses of this world. And if we dare say, But do you want to you stay here or to go back? Go back, go back! they say. And they go in the midst of enormous difficulties because they are caught by the joy of the Gospel.
Therefore then, we say that they who with simple and generous hearts put themselves at the service of the Gospel, undergo, certainly through a secret but sure charism of the Holy Spirit, a psychological and moral metamorphosis, which transforms the difficulties into stimuli. I repeat what I was saying before, why do the missionaries return? Because there is so much to do, because there are those poor people to be consoled, because there is danger, I have to go and cure the lepers, I must go and prevent these poor people from being overwhelmed by other social movements and becoming the slaves of intolerable situations. The difficulty, the obstacle becomes attractive. What once aroused fear, was boring, was tiresome, instead then becomes the force which attracts, which makes one committed, which binds, and which makes the apostle – let us say the great word, but said in a general sense, `Martyr’, that is to say, witness.
And this phenomenon is tremendous. Whoever knows how to look at the phenomena of the Church – we have this responsibility and this good fortune – cannot but say: Thank you God, for giving this vision to me, of seeing so many who are enthusiasts of the Gospel, of the Gospel which is difficult, of the Gospel which is painful, of the Gospel which costs, of the Gospel which does not yield, of the Gospel which collides against all the mentalities and all the vices and obstacles of the world. The Gospel, I repeat, makes those who preach it happy and turns the difficulties into incentives, the dangers into attractions, and the defeats themselves – it seems a paradox – the defeats, that is to say, the failures into merits (…but I did what I could!) and thus into peace which descends serenely into those hearts which have not even had the satisfaction of the success of their labours.
Now we can understand the testimony which our visitors bear today, and which deals with the pivot of Christian life, which is Baptism.
The word catechumenate refers to baptism. It was the period of preparation for baptism. Nowadays, baptism does not have the same development, at least in its didactic preparation. And so our visitors [the Neocatechumens] today say: We will carry out this preparation after baptism. The sanctifying grace received was not sufficient; on the contrary, sanctifying grace has done no more than light a fire which needs to spread itself into the whole of the baptised person’s life. Saint Augustine says this: If we cannot have the catechumenate beforehand, we will carry it out afterwards. That is, the instruction, completion and education, the whole of the Church’s educative work, after Baptism.
The sacrament of Christian regeneration must once again return to being what it was in the consciousness and custom of the first generations of Christians. The praxis (the practice, isn’t it so?) and norms of the Church have introduced the holy rule of conferring baptism on the newly born. What instruction do they receive? It is necessary therefore that the godfather should take the infant’s place, speaking on its behalf. But the latter does not benefit from the attestation given by the godfather to the priest. What has happened is that the preparation has been liturgically concentrated in the baptismal rite. The liturgy in fact still bears traces of this preparatory initiation which preceded baptism, and which during the early times when society was profoundly pagan, was called the catechumenate. Later, the Church condensed this period. Why? Because all families were Catholic, all were good, all were Christian; the orientation of society was fundamentally Christian. The children would continue to learn along the way.
But today our society is no longer uniform, homogeneous. It is pluralistic, and indeed in itself is full of contradictions and obstacles to the Gospel. In the social environment of today, this method needs to be completed by instruction, by initiation after baptism, into the proper life style of the Christian. This has to come after baptism.
This is the secret of your formula, which provides religious assistance, a practical training in Christian faithfulness, and effectively integrates the baptised into the community of believers which is the Church. They have already entered it from the supernatural point of view, but it was like a seed that has not yet had the advantage of developing.
Here we see the rebirth of the name `Catechumenate’. This certainly does not intend to invalidate or to diminish the importance of the baptismal discipline as currently practised, but seeks to apply it according to a gradual and intensive method which recalls and renews in a certain way the Catechumenate of earlier times. The person who has been baptised needs to understand, to think over, to appreciate, to give assent to the inestimable treasure of the Sacrament he has received.
We are happy to see that this need today is understood by the institutional church structures: the parishes, the dioceses in particular, and by all the other religious families. In this area of structures, as I have said, the parish is fundamental.
Here we see a catechesis taking shape, which is subsequent to the one that baptism did not have. Pastoral work for adults, as is said today, is taking shape, creating new methods and new programmes, and also new ministries. What a great need there is for people to help. And so we see catechists, nuns, and families too, who are becoming the teachers in this evangelisation that takes place after Baptism. New subsidiary ministries are supporting the ever more demanding roles of the priest and the deacon, in teaching and in participating in the liturgy. New forms of charity, culture and social solidarity are increasing the vitality of the Christian community and, before the world are becoming its defence, its apologia and its attraction.
Many people are attracted to these Neocatechumenal Communities, because they see that there is a sincerity, a truth in them, something alive and authentic, Christ living in the world. May this happen with our Apostolic Blessing.