Kinshasa (Agenzia Fides) – “Christian prophecy” is not “political activty”. Christian prophecy becomes incarnate “in a wide variety of political and social activities, yet that is not generally the task of Bishops and pastors, which is to proclaim the word, awakening consciences, denouncing evil and encouraging those who are broken-hearted and lacking hope. “Comfort, comfort my people: this theme that appears again and again is an invitation from the Lord: Comfort the people. “Comfort, comfort my people”.
Thus, Pope Francis offered comforting concrete criteria for recognizing what distinguishes any form of presence and public exposure of the Church from the protagonism of lobbies and apparatuses of a political, social, cultural or religious nature. He did so on the morning of Friday, February 3 in Kinshasa, at the headquarters of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, addressing the Catholic Bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in what was also his farewell speech to this country and its Church, before leaving for South Sudan, the second stage of his apostolic journey on the African continent.
The Bishop of Rome began by expressing gratitude for the encounter he had with “a young, dynamic and joyful Church, motivated by missionary zeal, by the good news that God loves us and that Jesus is Lord”. The Church that is present in the Democratic Republic of Congo – the Pontiff remarked addressing the Congolese Bishops “is a Church present in the lived history of this people, deeply rooted in its daily life, and in the forefront of charity; a community capable of attracting others, filled with infectious enthusiasm”.
Like the Congolese forests, full of so much oxygen, it can be compared “to a lung” that helps the universal Church breathe”. At the same time, her “young, shining and noble” face also shows pain and weariness, and at times fear and discouragement”. The Congolese Church is suffering and takes on the tribulations of its people, “a people crucified and oppressed, devastated by ruthless violence, marred by innocent suffering, forced to live with the tainted waters of corruption and injustice that pollute society, and to suffer poverty in so many of its children” A people who even in all this “enthusiastically embraces the faith with enthusiasm and looks to its pastors. I see a people able to turn to the Lord and entrust themselves into his hands, so that the peace for which they long, although stifled by exploitation, partisan selfishness, the venom of conflict and the manipulation of truth, can finally come as a gift from on high”.
The Pope gratefully embraced the immanence and co-participation of the local Church in the material and social events and in the sufferings of the Congolese people, far from the imposture of intellectual or spiritualist abstraction. ” Proclaiming the Gospel, enlivening pastoral life and exercising leadership, remarked the Successor of Peter, cannot become ideas having little to do with the reality of daily life. Instead, they must touch wounds and communicate God’s closeness”. And in exalting the propitious immersion of the Congolese Church in the real life of its people, Pope Francis wanted to recall the connotations that should distinguish the exercise of the pastoral ministry of bishops in the critical contexts and situations that mark the life of the Congolese and of so many other African nations, recalling as a model the story of the Prophet Jeremiah, “called to carry out his own mission at a dramatic time in the history of Israel, amid injustices, detestable practices and sufferings”.
Above all – stressed the Pontiff – Jeremiah “experienced this consoling proclamation of faith personally; he was the first to experience God’s closeness. He able to bring to others a courageous prophecy of hope”. Likewise, the Bishops and pastors of God’s people are also called above all to let themselves be “touched and consoled by the closeness of God” in prayer, “standing for hours before Him”. Only in this way, continued the Bishop of Rome, can we truly become Shepherds, because without Him we can do nothing”. Closeness to the Lord frees us from the temptation to “think of ourselves as self-sufficient”, much less “see in the episcopate an opportunity to advance in society and to exercise power. Above all else, may we never open the door to the spirit of worldliness, for this makes us interpret ministry according to the criteria of our own advantage”. Worldliness, added Pope Bergoglio, “is the worst thing that can happen to the Church, the worst. I have always been moved by the end of Cardinal De Lubac’s book on the Church, the last three or four pages, where he puts it like this: spiritual worldliness is the worst thing that can happen, even worse than the time of Popes who were worldly and had concubines. It is the worst thing”.
The story of Jeremiah – continued Pope Bergoglio – reminds everyone that only closeness to the Lord can make “prophets for the people, sowers of his saving word in the wounded history of their country”. Jeremiah, after receiving “God’s loving and consoling word”, confesses that this same Word awakened within him “an unbridled restlessness” to communicate the same experience to others. The dynamic of Christian prophecy is that “we cannot keep God’s word to ourselves, we cannot restrict its power: it is a fire that burns away our apathy and kindles in us the desire to enlighten those in darkness”.
The Bishops of the Congo are also called today to make their prophetic voice heard, to ” pluck up the poisonous plants of hatred and selfishness, anger, resentment and violence; to break down the altars erected to money and corruption; to build a coexistence based on justice, truth and peace; and finally, to plant the seeds of rebirth”. And their prophecy, precisely because it is not mere political activism, must not manifest itself in self-congratulatory poses of indignation and ‘condemning statements’ distributed right and left to gain media visibility. It is an announcement “made not only of words, but of closeness and witness: Closeness, above all, to priests,for priests are those closest to the Bishop, concern for pastoral workers”, and witness “in fostering communion, in their moral life and in their administration of goods. In this regard it is essential – Pope Francis recalled – to create harmony, without standing on a pedestal or showing harshness, but by setting a good example in mutual support and forgiveness, and working together as models of fraternity, peace and evangelical simplicity”.
In the concluding part, Pope Francis also paid homage to two prophet-bishops dear to the memory of the Congolese Church: Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, and the Jesuit Christophe Munzihirwa, Archbishop of Bukawu, killed in 1996 by an armed commando for guarding his people and the Hutu refugees fleeing the genocidal massacres then taking place in the Great Lakes Region.
Pope Francis recalled the message released by Bishop Munzihirwa, the day before he was killed: “What can we still do these days? Let us remain firm in faith. We trust that God will not abandon us and that a small ray of hope will arise for us somewhere. God will not abandon us if we are committed to respecting the life of our neighbours, whatever their ethnicity”.