The 26th Edition of the ecumenical, socio-cultural event promoting interfaith dialogue amongst all foreign residing or visiting Gozo, held at St Joseph Parish Church, Qala on Saturday 21 March 2015
Speech by HE Mgr Dr Joe Vella Gauci, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Malta to UNESCO
“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus”. These are the very first words of the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”, through which Pope Francis develops the theme of the proclamation of the Gospel in the contemporary world. It is a heartfelt appeal to all believers to bring Christ’s love to others, “permanently in a state of mission”, conquering “the great danger in today’s world”, that of an individualist “desolation and anguish.
Pope Francis invites us to “recover the original freshness of the Gospel”, finding “new avenues” and “new paths of creativity”, without enclosing Jesus in our “dull categories”. There is a need for a “pastoral and missionary conversion, which cannot leave things as they presently are” and invites us to explore an “ internal renewal” to enable us to become “more hope & joy-oriented”.
The Pope warns against three great temptations of modern day life - “individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour”. The greatest threat of all is “the grey pragmatism in our daily life, in which all appears to proceed normally, when in reality our hopes and joys are wearing down”. He warns us against “defeatism”, urging all Christians of any denomination to be signs of hope, bringing about a “revolution of tenderness”. It is necessary to seek refuge from the “spirituality of well-being … detached from responsibility for our brothers and sisters” and to vanquish the “spiritual worldliness” that consists of “seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and well-being”. The Pope speaks of the many who “feel superior to others” because “they remain faithful to a particular style of faith from the past” whereby “instead of evangelizing, one analyses and classifies others” or remain “preoccupied about the liturgy or the doctrine without any concern about the real impact of the joy the gospel can bring to their lives”.
With regards to the theme of inculturation, he remarks that “Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression” and that the face of Christianity is “varied”. “We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history”. The Pope reiterates that “underlying popular piety … is an active evangelizing power” and encourages the research of theologians, reminding them however that “Christianity and theology exist to evangelize” and urging them not to be “content with a desk-bound theology”.
The approach to the proclamation of the Gospel should have positive characteristics: “approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgemental”.
In relation to the challenges of the contemporary world, the Pope denounces the current economic system as “unjust at its root”. “Such an economy kills” because the law of “the survival of the fittest” prevails. The current culture of the “disposable” has created “something new”: “the excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers’”. “A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual”, of an “autonomy of the market” in which “financial speculation” and “widespread corruption” and “self-serving tax-evasion reign”. He denounces “attacks on religious freedom” and the “new persecutions directed against Christians. … In many places the problem is more that of widespread indifference and relativism”.
The Pope urges care for the weakest members of society: “the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned and migrants”, for whom the Pope exhorts “a generous openness”. He speaks about the victims of trafficking and new forms of slavery: “This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity”. “Doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence”.
“Among the vulnerable for whom the Christian Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity”. “We cannot be expected to change our position on this question … it is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life”. The Pope makes an appeal for respect for all creation: we “are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live”.
With regard to the theme of peace, for the construction of a society “in peace, justice and fraternity” Pope Francis indicates four principles:
(1) “Time is greater than space” means working “slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results”.
(2) “Unity prevails over conflict” means “a diversified and life-giving unity”.
(3) “Realities are more important than ideas means avoiding “reducing politics or faith to rhetoric” and
(4) “The whole is greater than the part” means bringing together “globalization and localization”.
“Evangelization also involves the path of dialogue”, opening believers to collaboration with all political, social, religious and cultural spheres. Ecumenism is “an indispensable path to evangelization”. Mutual enrichment is important: “we can learn so much from one another!”. Inter-religious dialogue, which must be conducted “clear and joyful in one’s own identity”, is “a necessary condition for peace in the world” and does not obscure evangelization. The Pope reiterates that in our times, “our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance”. He invites those countries of Islamic tradition to guarantee religious freedom to Christians, also “in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!”. “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism” he urges us to “avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence”. And against the attempt to private religions in some contexts, he affirms that “the respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions”. He then repeats the importance of dialogue and alliance between believers and non-believers.
Pope Francis dedicates the concluding chapter of his encyclical to “spirit-filled evangelizers”, who are those who are “fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit” and who have “the courage to proclaim the great joy of the Gospel with boldness in any time and place, even when it meets with opposition”. “Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others”. He explains, “In our dealings with the world, we are told to give reasons for our hope. Only the person who feels happiness in seeking the good of others, in desiring their happiness, can truly feel the joy of the gospel”. “If I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life”. The Pope urges us not to be discouraged before failure or scarce results, since “fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable”; we must know “only that our commitment is necessary”.
Permit me to conclude these reflections tonight by summarizing my thoughts about the true joys of the gospel, by pointing out three contrasts — three things that the joy deriving from the Word of God is not and three things that it should be.
The joy of the Gospel is not an act of will-power, but it is a spontaneous, emotional response of the heart.
The joy of the gospel is not superficial and flimsy, but deep and firm. Deep beneath the turbulence on the surface of my life forming a strong current of confidence and joy that all is well in the hands of God.
The joy of the Gospel is not natural, but spiritual. It distinguishes Christian joy from all other joys. When something is called spiritual in scripture, it means that it comes from the Holy Spirit and has the character of the Holy Spirit.
It is the product, or fruit, of God’s Spirit. And it is not just a human joy; it is the very joy of Christ fulfilled in us.
Then, there is the work of the Holy Spirit that pours the love of God into our hearts so that we recognize it and cherish it. Out of this deep experience of the love of God grows an unshakable hope even in the midst of suffering. And finally, in this hope we rejoice.