VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Wake up and take action; Pope Francis makes this call in “The Joy of the Gospel,” but it seems people “are still sleeping, caught up in a million secondary things,” said Archbishop Victor Fernandez.
In his short guide on how to apply the pope’s apostolic exhortation — “Evangelii Gaudium” in Latin — the Argentine archbishop said if the teachings in the document were taken seriously, church communities would see significant changes, renewal, life and new energy.
The Vatican newspaper published an article on the guide in mid-March and excerpts of an interview with Archbishop Fernandez in early May.
The archbishop is familiar with the thought and vision of the pope. He was a key collaborator in 2007 of then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in drafting the Latin American bishops’ Aparecida document, which offers a pastoral vision and guidelines for the region’s church. The rector of the Pontifical University of Argentina in Buenos Aires was named an archbishop by Pope Francis in May 2013.
In his 64-page book, Archbishop Fernandez said the pope’s first apostolic exhortation is not just another document to study, comment on or take as inspiration.
“It is a work plan for all Catholics and for all our communities,” said the archbishop.
Evangelii Gaudium’s call “is not just about changing something,” he said. “The pope says we must ‘transform all things’ to evangelize the world today” and to “enter into a ‘permanent state of mission.'”
Catholics and the church as a whole must stop being self-referential and leave behind their self-centeredness and egoism if they are to be close to and merciful toward the people, he said in the guide.
“The risk is that many people love Francis but are unable to apply what he proposes, and everything stays the same,” he said in the interview that originally appeared on the website of CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council.
“It is very difficult to apply the documents of the church because many people stop on the secondary details and are unable to grasp … the fundamental message of a document,” he said. The result is that most of the teachings in a document are not applied concretely, he added.
“The problem becomes all the more serious with ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ because the pope presented it as the ‘program’ of his pontificate,” he said.
The archbishop said Pope Francis is one who “destabilizes everyone,” even those who think like him, because “he demands a new lifestyle” that requires changes to “the way people employ their time and energy.” These changes include a shift in “one’s personal framework” and the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of those who are less fortunate, he said.
The point, “as Pope Francis asks constantly, is to live more detached from our ego and from our personal interests, with more generosity, (and) to have courage to enter into contact with the various peripheries that are not part of our closed circle,” he said.
“The big problem today is that of translating thought into coherent lifestyles,” he continued. “This is the tragedy of the church today — that it is still unable to react.”
Another problem, he said, is that “some people listen to a pope only if what he says coincides with their own ideas.”
“While these people seem to appear conservative as regards doctrine, fundamentally they seem not to have faith in the special assistance of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus promised the pope,” he said.
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