by Joel V. Ocampo
On July 31, 2021, at 3:00 in the afternoon (Manila time) during the Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a webinar for the clergy entitled “Evangelii Gaudium – Our Mission: The Joy of the Gospel” was organized by the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Mission, in collaboration with Dominus Est for the Year of Missio Ad Gentes. The said webinar has the clergy in mind but it is open to all. The resource person for the event was His Excellency Archbishop Charles J. Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines.
The welcome remark was given by Rev. Msgr. Esteban “Bong” Lo, LRM, the current National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS); and the opening remark was given by His Excellency Most Rev. Buenaventura M. Famadico, D.D., Bishop of San Pablo, Laguna, Chairman of the Episcopal Commission for the Clergy.
The event became more significant to the clergy because it was held on the eve of St. John Mary Vianney Sunday, a day of prayer for the clergy, and the Memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori, an Italian doctor of the church, one of the chief 18th-century moral theologians.
Archbishop Brown started his sharing by reviewing the 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines and how the number of baptized Filipino Catholic counts almost the same number of all the baptized Catholics in Europe. However, he reminded his audience that despite this great achievement of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, “We cannot be content with apparent success or apparent fertility of Philippine Catholicism. We need to make it our own. We need to live the faith with joy, enthusiasm, with conviction, and not in any way be load in some kind of false sense of security…we need to be conscious of the need to evangelize with fervor, with enthusiasm, and as Pope Francis emphasizes, with joy in order to allow the Church in the Philippines to truly flourish not only here but throughout the world.”
He also discussed about the evangelization in two facets: “ad intra” (within the Church) and “ad extra” (outside of the Church). He quoted the part of the Evangelii Gaudium that talks about “the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism”, “who lack a meaningful relationship to the Church and no longer experience the consolation born of faith.” Abp. Brown pointed out that “The Church, in her maternal concern, tries to help them experience a conversion which will restore the joy of faith to their hearts and inspire a commitment to the Gospel” (EG 14). He then challenged the participants, “We need to think about evangelizing our brothers and sisters who do not even are coming to Mass. So that all of us are living in the demand of the Gospel to the full.”
He also talked about the temptation to treat the Church as something like a cafeteria where one has a tray and s/he can choose or pick only what s/he want, and avoid the things that does not qualifies his/her interests. He said, “Picking and choosing what we like and what we don’t like cannot really be part of the Catholic life.”
“Evangelization is first and foremost about bringing the Gospel to those who do not know our Lord, who have not experienced His love, who have not experienced the forgiveness of their sins, and the gift of the life of grace.” He emphasized the message of Pope Francis to have a Church that is oriented towards mission, both inside the Church: to those who are not living the Gospel to the full, and to those outside the visible boundaries of the Church.
The Papal Nuncio also warned the faithful to never allow the Church to grow by PROSELYTISM, that is, evangelization by illegitimate means, by bringing people to the Church in ways that are not honest, or not respectful of human dignity and freedom, by paying people to become Christian, or threatening people, making people feel guilty or afraid, and drawing them into the Church. Rather, we should allow the Church to grow by ATTRACTION, by the joy of the Gospel that people see in our lives, that will make them want to know, “What is it that motivates this people?”
Chapter I: The Church’s Missionary Transformation
According to Archbishop Brown, this is the idea that the Church should be oriented to mission. He shared the Pope’s 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).
With this, he challenged the clergy to think of new and creative ways to be close to the people. To think of ways to make the faith more attractive, more convenient so that people may come to Mass, to go to confession, and have their children baptized.
He added, “As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: ‘All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion’.” (EG 27). He challenged the faithful to avoid “introversion,” but rather, to live the exhortation at the end of the Mass, “Ite, missa est.” (The Mass is ended.) OUR MISSION BEGINS.
Chapter II: Amid the Crisis of Communal Commitment
In this part, Archbishop Brown shared his experiences and observation of the Catholic culture in the Philippines. He linked these experiences with the “inculturating the faith” (EG 68). He quoted, “Here we find, especially among the most needy, a moral resource which preserves the values of an authentic Christian humanism. It would show a lack of trust in God’s free and unstinting activity to think that authentic Christian values are absent where great numbers of people have received baptism and express their faith and solidarity with others in a variety of ways.” He continued, “The immense importance of a culture marked by faith cannot be overlooked; before the onslaught of contemporary secularism an evangelized culture, for all its limits, has many more resources than the mere sum total of believers. An evangelized popular culture contains values of faith and solidarity capable of encouraging the development of a more just and believing society, and possesses a particular wisdom which ought to be gratefully acknowledged.”
Then gave as concrete examples the Simbang Gabi Masses, veneration of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, and the Sto. Niño. Archbishop Brown then shared his experienced in Navotas City when he visited the slum communities, where he saw the image of Sto. Niño almost in every house.
According to Archbishop Brown, “Inculturation happens when men and women in the Philippines takes this beautiful devotion to the infant Jesus, which is known throughout Europe as the Infant Jesus of Prague, and then adapts it to the naturally Filipino culture. It is a natural organic penetration of culture by the Gospel.” He also pointed out that in case this devotion to the Sto. Niño is used for superstition, we should use it as chance to evangelize.
Chapter III: The Proclamation of the Gospel
This part is the essence of the encyclical. It is about proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. However, the preacher “ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God. Knowledge of its linguistic or exegetical aspects, though certainly necessary, is not enough. He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him It is good for us to renew our fervour each day and every Sunday as we prepare the homily, examining ourselves to see if we have grown in love for the word which we preach. Nor should we forget that ‘the greater or lesser degree of the holiness of the minister has a real effect on the proclamation of the word’.” (EG 149).
Archbishop Brown said, “If we are men of prayer, of contemplation, who spend time in contemplation and adoration, if we have a prayerful heart, then our words will have a force, will have a power that goes beyond our own intellectual ability, or our own rhetorical brilliance. Our words will penetrate people’s hearts and we will be evangelizers. The Pope is asking us to be men of prayer, striving for holiness despite all our weaknesses, our failings, and failures.” He further said, “All of us are busy, all of us have commitments, but we need to pray.”
He then exhorts the clergy, “God chose us. Now, we need to chose God. We need to chose Him by praying. We need to make a choice today, ‘I will pray’.”
Chapter IV: The Social Dimension of Evangelization
The apostolic nuncio said, “Evangelization does not only affect us individually but if we live our faith, if we radiate our faith, if we are contagious with our faith, it will influence all of the society.”
Dialogue between faith, reason and science – “Faith is not fearful of reason; on the contrary, it seeks and trusts reason, since the light of reason and the light of faith both come from God. Whenever the sciences – rigorously focused on their specific field of inquiry – arrive at a conclusion which reason cannot refute, faith does not contradict it” (EG 242, 243).
Chapter V: Spirit-Filled Evangelizers – all of us, priests, especially, bishops, lay people, consecrated people, all of us needs to be spirit-filled evangelizers: giving the gift that we have received. We have been gifted to give, let us give that gift to those around us.
“The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts. We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence” (EG 264).
Archbishop Brown emphasized, “We need to be fully and totally in love with Jesus.”
The Apostolic Nuncio ended by using the prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, written by Pope Francis (RG 288).
“Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the word of life
in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
help us to say our own “yes”
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus.
Filled with Christ’s presence,
you brought joy to John the Baptist,
making him exult in the womb of his mother.
Brimming over with joy,
you sang of the great things done by God.
Standing at the foot of the cross
with unyielding faith,
you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection,
and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit
so that the evangelizing Church might be born.”
Some of the questions raised during the forum were as follow:
From Sem. Kyle Belleza of Bacolod:
“How does dialogue play a role in bringing about peace and justice?”
Answer: Ecumenical dialogue aims to fulfill the prayer of the Lord of Jesus, “May they be one” (Jn. 17:21), by recognizing the points where we agree and disagree so that it will lead to mutual understanding and unity. Inter-religious dialogue on the other hand aims on mutual respect for one another’s tradition. Its goal is mutual understanding, the creation of harmonious relationship in which differences cannot be exploited by those who wants to divide.
From Rev. Fr. Ricarthy Macalino of the Archdiocese of Pampanga:
“What is the primary purpose of evangelization in the present context? What is the role of dialogue in promoting justice, peace and integrity of creation?”
Answer: The primary purpose of evangelization is the salvation of souls. To receive the Word of God, be transformed, and prepare for the life to come. The Church has a dialogue with society especially in the Philippines where we have a particular role to play in things like respect for creation, by not destroying this creation.
From Bro. Joey Adupe:
“How I can help a parish to strengthen their faith this pandemic because they don’t always go to the church physically?”
Answer: We have to remember that this pandemic is a temporary glitch that sooner or later will disappear. Then we will go back to normal. I think the benefits of this is that we learn how to maximize the things like social media where we spread our message as Catholics, to evangelize. However, any online Masses are not really substitute for going to your Church, because the whole experience of the Mass is your personal encounter with Jesus, and receiving His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist, which you cannot do in the computer screen.
From Ms. Margaux Salcedo:
How can women participate more in the evangelization and mission?
Answer: We shouldn’t think or let our minds to be too institutional when we think about evangelization. We shouldn’t think that evangelizers rest only for the priest, the missionaries. The most important evangelizers in the Catholic Church are the Catholic mothers. More people receive faith and evangelized by their mothers, than anybody else. To be a wife and a mother is to be an evangelizer in a most profound way. It is important to think about the family as a place of evangelization.
The closing remark and words of gratitude was given by His Excellency Most Rev. Socrates C. Mesiona, MSP, D.D., Apostolic Vicar of Puerto Princesa. Before he ends, Bishop Mesiona gave an exhortation “We need more courageous missionary disciples of Jesus in our time.”
The webinar ended with a final blessing from the Apostolic Nuncio.