An interview with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, by Sefania Falasca
Your Eminence, you would have spoken about Aparecida at the Consistory. What for you characterized the fifth General Conference of the Latin American bishops?
JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO: The Aparecida Conference was a moment of grace for the Latin American Church.
Yet there was no lack of argument about the closing document…
BERGOGLIO: The concluding document, that was an act of the Magisterium of the Latin American Church, underwent no manipulation. Neither from us nor from the Holy See. There were some small re-touchings of style, of form, and some things that were removed on the one hand were put back in on the other. The substance, therefore, remained identical, it was absolutely not changed. The reason for that is because the atmosphere leading up to the editing of the document was an atmosphere of genuine and brotherly collaboration, of mutual respect, that characterized the work, work that moved from below upwards, not vice versa. To understand the atmosphere one has to look at what for me were the three key points, the three “pillars” of Aparecida. The first of which was precisely that: from below upwards. It’s perhaps the first time that one of our General Conferences didn’t start out from a pre-prepared basic text but from open dialogue, that had already begun earlier between the CELAM and the Episcopal Conferences, and that has since continued.
But wasn’t the orientation of the Conference already set out by the opening speech by Benedict XVI?
BERGOGLIO: The Pope gave general indications on the problems of Latin America, and then left it open: up to you, up to you! That was very grand on the Pope’s part. The Conference began with statements from the twenty-three presidents of the various Episcopal Conferences and from that discussion opened on the topics in the different groups. The editing phases of the document were also open to the contributions of all. At the moment of gathering the “modes”, for the second and third editing, 2,240 arrived! Our stance was that of receiving everything that came from below, from the People of God, and to make not so much a synthesis, as a harmony.
An arduous task…
BERGOGLIO: “Harmony”, I said, that’s the right word. In the Church harmony is the work of the Holy Spirit. One of the early Fathers of the Church wrote that the Holy Spirit «ipse harmonia est», He Himself is harmony. He alone is author at the same time of plurality and of unity. Only the Spirit can stir diversity, plurality, multiplicity and at the same time make unity. Because when it’s us who decide to create diversity we create schisms and when it’s us who decide to create unity we create uniformity, leveling. At Aparecida we collaborated in this work of the Holy Spirit. And the document, if one reads it well, one sees that it has circular, harmonic thinking. The harmony is perceived not as passive, but creative, that urges creativity because it is of the Spirit.
And what is the second key point?
BERGOGLIO: It’s the first time that a Conference of Latin American bishops has gathered in a Marian shrine. And the place in itself already speaks all the meaning. Every morning we recited lauds, we celebrated mass together with the pilgrims, the believers. On Saturday or Sunday there were two thousand, five thousand. Celebrating the Eucharist together with the people is different from celebrating it amongst us bishops separately. That gave us a live sense of belonging to our people, of the Church that goes forward as People of God, of us bishops as its servants. The work of the Conference then went on in a hall below the sanctuary. And from there one continued to hear the prayers, the hymns of the faithful… In the final document there is a point that concerns popular piety. They are very fine pages. And I believe, indeed I am sure, that they were inspired precisely by that. After those contained in the Evangelii nuntiandi, they are the finest pages written on popular piety in a document of the Church. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the Aparecida document is the Evangelii nuntiandi of Latin America, it is like the Evangelii nuntiandi.
The Evangelii nuntiandi is an apostolic exhortation about the missionary spirit.
BERGOGLIO: Exactly. There’s a close similarity also in that. And here I come to the third point. The Aparecida document isn’t sufficient to itself, it doesn’t close, it is not the last step, because the final opening is to the mission. The announcing and the testimony of the disciples. To remain faithful we need to go outside. Remaining faithful one goes out. That is what Aparecida says at bottom. That it is the heart of the mission.
Can you explain the image further?
BERGOGLIO: Staying, remaining faithful implies an outgoing. Precisely if one remains in the Lord one goes out of oneself. Paradoxically precisely because one remains, precisely if one is faithful one changes. One does not remain faithful, like the traditionalists or the fundamentalists, to the letter. Fidelity is always a change, a blossoming, a growth. The Lord brings about a change in those who are faithful to Him. That is Catholic doctrine. Saint Vincent of Lerins makes the comparison between the biologic development of the person, between the person who grows, and the Tradition which, in handing on the depositum fidei from one age to another, grows and consolidates with the passage of time: «Ut annis scilicet consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate».
Is this what you would have said at the Consistory?
BERGOGLIO: Yes. I would have spoken about these three key points.
BERGOGLIO: Nothing else… No, perhaps I would have mentioned two things of which there is need in this moment, there is more need: mercy, mercy and apostolic courage.
What do they mean to you?
BERGOGLIO: To me apostolic courage is disseminating. Disseminating the Word. Giving it to that man and to that woman for whom it was bestowed. Giving them the beauty of the Gospel, the amazement of the encounter with Jesus… and leaving it to the Holy Spirit to do the rest. It is the Lord, says the Gospel, who makes the seed spring and bear fruit.
In short, it is the Holy Spirit who performs the mission.
BERGOGLIO: The early theologians said: the soul is a kind of sailing boat, the Holy Spirit is the wind that blows in the sail, to send it on its way, the impulses and the force of the wind are the gifts of the Spirit. Without His drive, without His grace, we don’t go ahead. The Holy Spirit lets us enter the mystery of God and saves us from the danger of a gnostic Church and from the danger of a self-referential Church, leading us to the mission.
That means also overthrowing all your functionalist solutions, your consolidated plans and pastoral systems …
BERGOGLIO: I didn’t say that pastoral systems are useless. On the contrary. In itself everything that leads by the paths of God is good. I have told my priests: «Do everything you should, you know your duties as ministers, take your responsibilities and then leave the door open». Our sociologists of religion tell us that the influence of a parish has a radius of six hundred meters. In Buenos Aires there are about two thousand meters between one parish and the next. So I then told the priests: «If you can, rent a garage and, if you find some willing layman, let him go there! Let him be with those people a bit, do a little catechesis and even give communion if they ask him». A parish priest said to me: «But Father, if we do this the people then won’t come to church». «But why?» I asked him: «Do they come to mass now?» «No», he answered. And so! Coming out of oneself is also coming out from the fenced garden of one’s own convictions, considered irremovable, if they risk becoming an obstacle, if they close the horizon that is also of God.
This is valid also for lay people…
BERGOGLIO: Their clericalization is a problem. The priests clericalize the laity and the laity beg us to be clericalized… It really is sinful abetment. And to think that baptism alone could suffice. I’m thinking of those Christian communities in Japan that remained without priests for more than two hundred years. When the missionaries returned they found them all baptized, all validly married for the Church and all their dead had had a Catholic funeral. The faith had remained intact through the gifts of grace that had gladdened the life of a laity who had received only baptism and had also lived their apostolic mission in virtue of baptism alone. One must not be afraid of depending only on His tenderness… Do you know the biblical episode of the prophet Jonah?
I don’t remember it. Tell us.
BERGOGLIO: Jonah had everything clear. He had clear ideas about God, very clear ideas about good and evil. On what God does and on what He wants, on who was faithful to the Covenant and who instead was outside the Covenant. He had the recipe for being a good prophet. God broke into his life like a torrent. He sent him to Nineveh. Nineveh was the symbol of all the separated, the lost, of all the peripheries of humanity. Of all those who are outside, forlorn. Jonah saw that the task set on him was only to tell all those people that the arms of God were still open, that the patience of God was there and waiting, to heal them with His forgiveness and nourish them with His tenderness. Only for that had God sent him. He sent him to Nineveh, but he instead ran off in the opposite direction, toward Tarsis.
BERGOGLIO: No. What he was fleeing was not so much Nineveh as the boundless love of God for those people. It was that that didn’t come into his plans. God had come once… “and I’ll see to the rest”: that’s what Jonah told himself. He wanted to do things his way, he wanted to steer it all. His stubbornness shut him in his own structures of evaluation, in his pre-ordained methods, in his righteous opinions. He had fenced his soul off with the barbed wire of those certainties that instead of giving freedom with God and opening horizons of greater service to others had finished by deafening his heart. How the isolated conscience hardens the heart! Jonah no longer knew that God leads His people with the heart of a Father.
A great many of us can identify with Jonah.
BERGOGLIO: Our certainties can become a wall, a jail that imprisons the Holy Spirit. Those who isolate their conscience from the path of the people of God don’t know the joy of the Holy Spirit that sustains hope. That is the risk run by the isolated conscience. Of those who from the closed world of their Tarsis complain about everything or, feeling their identity threatened, launch themselves into battles only in the end to be still more self-concerned and self-referential.
What should one do?
BERGOGLIO: Look at our people not for what it should be but for what it is and see what is necessary. Without preconceptions and recipes but with generous openness. For the wounds and the frailty God spoke. Allowing the Lord to speak… In a world that we can’t manage to interest with the words we say, only His presence that loves us, saves us, can be of interest. The apostolic fervor renews itself in order to testify to Him who has loved us from the beginning.
For you, then, what is the worst thing that can happen in the Church?
BERGOGLIO: It is what De Lubac calls «spiritual worldliness». It is the greatest danger for the Church, for us, who are in the Church. «It is worse», says De Lubac, «more disastrous than the infamous leprosy that disfigured the dearly beloved Bride at the time of the libertine popes». Spiritual worldliness is putting oneself at the center. It is what Jesus saw going on among the Pharisees: «… You who glorify yourselves. Who give glory to yourselves, the ones to the others».