WelCom December 2020
Every year Cardinal John meets with the members of the Archdiocese of Wellington’s advisory bodies: Te Kahu o te Rangi (The Māori Pastoral Council); the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council; the Council of Priests; the Board of Administration; as well as the Archdiocesan general manager and the directors. Here is an abridged version of the presentation he made at this year’s meeting on 7 November.
The theme of this year’s meeting was New Start – Who Are We – Missionary Disciples. I asked everyone to reflect on how they help me to carry out my mission, but with the emphasis on how we can do this together.
In 1983 I read an article I was very impressed with. It described our mission as being to hold out hope to those who are struggling with life. It also spoke about how every homily should be a message of hope, a message that is inspiring and uplifting for people. Homilies can never just be telling people to try harder, or to do more, or to give more, to pray more, or to be better because that’s moralising – and moralising is not the Good News!
Fratelli tutti – hope for a better world
It may seem we have not had much to hope for this year. However, on 4 October 2020, Pope Francis’ third encyclical Fratelli tutti was published.
While at first Fratelli tutti, subtitled ‘on fraternity and social friendship’, might not seem hopeful, it is in fact full of hope for a better world. In Fratelli tutti he looks squarely at the ‘joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of our day’ (Vatican II, Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes).
In his new encyclical Pope Francis begins by speaking of dark clouds over a closed world. A world that has become a globalised society but which doesn’t make us sisters and brothers. A world where despair and discouragement are widespread in society, where there is polarisation that impedes dialogue and living together in harmony, where people are considered easily sacrificed and discarded. A world where there is an inequality of rights and new forms of slavery and where there is moral deterioration and a weakening of spiritual values.
This year our world has been covered in dark clouds because of the coronavirus. There is no doubt Covid-19 has changed our world and is still challenging us to do things in a new way. After lockdown Pope Francis spoke and wrote a lot about how this crisis is an opportunity for a restart; it is not just starting up again, it is a new start.
Covid-19 lockdown raised many questions. There were questions about Mass. Many of us experienced ‘online’ Masses and it was not easy – we are not used to talking to a camera with just a couple of people present. Some asked ‘can we just continue going to Mass online?’ They thought it would be easier. But being online does not bring people together or form a community. As important as internet Masses were to keep us connected in a small way in a time of crisis, as Pope Francis says, ‘Digital connectivity is not enough to build bridges’, (FT 43).
Christ became human, shared our human life, we are an incarnational faith. We need to be together, to greet, be in community, to use things we touch like bread and wine, water and oil – hear human voices and feel human touch. We can’t do that through a screen.
It was natural that lockdown would raise many questions. I had people demanding their right to receive Holy Communion, many saying we had ‘sold out to a pagan government’, or that the coronavirus was not that dangerous. It appeared for a lot of people this was not about keeping others safe. It was all about them and what they thought the Church should be doing for them; it was not about being together as a community of faith or supporting others.
In a time of turmoil we need to demonstrate to the world we can reach out beyond our comfort zones, to be witnesses to God’s expansive, encompassing love.
Direction set by 2017 Synod
I reminded those gathered at the advisory bodies’ meeting that our Archdiocese 2017 Synod sent us to develop a spirituality of service – not to focus only on ourselves but to be at the service of our neighbours, our communities. As Francis says in Fratelli tutti, ‘Each day we have to decide whether to be a Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders’, (FT 69).
For many Catholics the parish of our childhood and early adulthood appeared to be timeless, and Catholics readily identified with the world-wide Catholic culture. The gaze was inward.
Vatican II asked for a change. The laity were asked to be active, liturgies began to involve more people, and while still led by clergy, it was no longer a clerical reserve. Lay action and leadership became vital and thrived; the challenge for us is to continue to do that and to work collaboratively as the baptised daughters and sons of God, all of us together.
From the many messages I received during and after lockdown it was clear many still think everything belongs to the priest to do and the Church is just another part of our consumer society. Are all the baptised ready to play their role as people who have the dignity of the daughters and sons of God? The Covid-19 lockdowns have hit the Church as an institution and a lot of the things we did institutionally are being questioned. That is a good thing.
Three years ago, the people of the Archdiocese challenged me and the whole diocese with a series of outward-looking Synod directions and priorities. As we come towards the end of 2020, we are being asked more than ever to go to the peripheries, as we pledged we would do at the 2017 Synod, and as Francis challenged us in Evangelli Gaudium. Now more than ever we have a chance to make real the image Pope Francis has suggested many times that should be ‘field hospitals that take in the weakest people, the infirm, and struggling’. A good analogy for a Church in a pandemic.
Take for instance, some of the things we are dealing with today, things I have been told from parishes this year when people have written in and spoken about ‘my parish’. Some of this thinking has been highlighted in our property reviews. For example, some have said: ‘You are not going to do this in my parish.’ Other views expressed also fail to reflect a Catholic understanding of church, such as:
‘If we cannot maintain all our churches, we will have a Liturgy of the Word and Communion every Sunday.’
‘We do not need a priest.’
‘We will look after ourselves.’
As Catholics, ongoing learning in theology is a lifelong path for all of us. I would love to see people in parishes enrolling for some study courses, doing theology together, reflecting on Catholic Ecclesiology – what it means to be people who belong to a ‘local Church’, the Archdiocese of Wellington.
Dark cloud of sexual abuse
I also reminded those at the meeting, that another dark cloud we are preparing for and facing is the Royal Commission into historical sexual abuse. It is hard for us, but at the same time if we want to offer reconciliation and forgiveness to an increasingly divided world, one way forward is to show we are willing to recognise the Church’s failure to protect vulnerable people can’t be ‘hidden or buried in the past’ (FT 244). It also means ensuring people will never harm others again in our communities (FT 241). I would like people to remember too that we asked to be included in the Royal Commission, we want to learn from the mistakes of the past and for the Church to be safe for everyone.
Finding new leaders
Another issue I spoke about was that leaders in parishes are tired, exhausted, some are depressed and find the daily struggle to be too hard. That leadership refers to priests, lay pastoral leaders, members of parish councils, liturgy and finance committees, and many volunteers. Today it is difficult to get people involved. That is partly because there are different spiritualities, different ideas as to what people think liturgy is all about and what they can or cannot do. There is also the fact that many parishes are struggling financially. And yet there is hope. I see remarkably gifted people in our pews, people who are waiting to be invited to come forth as leaders. Again, one of our Synod recommendations was about going forth to find new leaders. Perhaps they are already with us and we haven’t yet noticed or recognised them. We may need to extend our gaze to find those leaders who are already among us for this time of crisis.
Becoming one parish
I have mentioned the property reviews. The reality is most parishes cannot afford to insure and maintain all their buildings, and if we look at this situation sensibly, we can see we don’t need all those buildings. That is why I asked at the beginning of last year for a review of all parish properties. This was not my own idea, but a clear request that came from the Synod, ‘Go you are sent to use your assets wisely’.
I believe the real struggle is to bring about the reality of one parish. Amalgamations have not all gone well in all places because of the retention of two, three or four churches in one parish. That means they have remained as separate communities, which is both difficult and tiring for our parish leaders. Some people think I should just tell parishioners what to do. However, I want people to be adults and to make their own decisions, but that means they must be informed – theologically and spiritually.
Another way for everyone to help is to clearly understand that everything I am asking parishes and individuals to do today comes from the Archdiocesan Synod of three years ago. In September 2017, 270 people from throughout the diocese decided the way of the Archdiocese for the future. The Synod decisions were not my ideas – they were the ideas of the people. Pope Francis has asked us to be a Synodal Church and we can only do this together.
There are dark clouds in the world and our own dark clouds in the Archdiocese cannot be ignored. But there is hope. In Fratelli tutti Pope Francis said he would like to take up and discuss new paths of hope. I believe that is our task – to offer hope to our world today.
The pandemic has enabled us to recognise and appreciate once more all those around us who, in the midst of fear, responded by putting their lives on the line: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, storekeepers, supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caretakers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests and religious. They understood that no one is saved alone.
Francis invites us to a renewed hope. He says ‘for hope speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfilment, a desire to achieve great things, things have fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness, beauty, justice and love…. Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile. Let us continue, then, to advance along the path of hope. We can advance along the path of hope,’ (FT 55).
One of my favourite and most consoling pieces of scripture is the 23rd psalm ‘The Lord is my shepherd’, and particularly those lines ‘Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life’. We are not alone as we face dark clouds, only goodness and kindness follow us all the days of our life.