This article first appeared in The Sunday Times of Malta on 19th January 2020…
The Church in Malta will soon unveil her Pastoral Plan for 2020-2023, outlining a vision and direction for her pastoral work in the years ahead. The event that inspires this Plan is the encounter of the Risen Lord with the disciples at Emmaus. This event provides us with the two foremost concerns of the Archdiocese: evangelisation and diaconia.
These two priorities are embodied in the four principal sections of the Pastoral Plan, which have been inspired by Pope Francis, to help us become a people of reconciliation and healing.
A Church that listens
The Pope highlights the importance of a Church that listens. First of all, she must listen to the Word of God in order to help her discern what the Spirit is telling her in the events of our age, then be able to read his signs in history. “We need to be constantly trained in hearing the Word” the Pope writes in Evangelii Gaudium (EG), 174.
Then the Church must be in dialogue with the people where listening takes priority over speaking – listening with an understanding heart. Pope Francis provides us with pointers on how to train ourselves in this attitude of listening. “We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders” (EG, 171).
A Church that welcomes
The Church is called to welcome people, to build an environment where one truly feels welcome. To this end, Pope Francis says, “the Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel” (EG, 114). She welcomes people in order to help them encounter Christ. When the environment is welcoming it leads to a vibrant communion and more active participation.
To welcome means to strive for an inclusive community. The Church must build bridges not walls, and needs to work for true reconciliation. She must also strive to work against everything that leads to exclusion or deters people rather than attracts them.
A Church that accompanies
Pope Francis strongly underlines the need for accompaniment so that whoever approaches the Church not only finds a listening ear and a warm welcome, but also finds accompaniment. “The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life” (EG, 169).
This is what the Church is called to offer people, with sensitivity and full respect for the step they have taken. “Without detracting from the evangelical ideal, we need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur” (EG, 44).
A Church that goes forth
Pope Francis underscores the pastoral conversion of the Church so that she may go forth with a missionary attitude. He writes: “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (EG, 27). The Pope speaks about the need for reform of structures so that they will become more missionary.
It is precisely this attitude of going forth that helps the Church to venture in the peripheries of her territory or in new socio-cultural environments, to seek those who are distant, and to be ever ready “…to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’” (EG, 33).
When all is said and done, the Church must be the Church that prays, that constantly places this prayer in front of the Lord: “Stay with us…” (Lk 24:29). In the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the celebration of reconciliation and healing, the Church lives the experience of the Lord who stays with us until the end of the age.
✠ Joseph Galea-Curmi