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Pope answers questions on evangelization, poverty at Pentecost vigil

Catholic World News - May 20, 2013

Questioned about the keys to successful evangelization, Pope Francis suggested that ecclesial movements should focus on three words: Jesus, prayer, and witness.

The Holy Father took questions from some of the 120,000 people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday evening, May 18, for a prayer vigil before Pentecost Sunday. The event was part of a pilgrimage for ecclesial movements during the Year of Faith. Pope Francis joined the group for the evening of prayer, and gave unprepared answers to four questions selected from those submitted to him.

Before the Pope’s arrival, the crowd had heard testimonies from members of several movements such as Focolare, Communion and Liberation, and the Neocatechumenal Way. An Irish journalist, John Waters, spoke about his return to the faith. And Paul Bhatti, the former minister for minority affairs in Pakistan, spoke about evangelization in a country where Christians often face violence—and especially the witness offered by his brother Shahbaz Bhatti, who was killed by Islamic militants in March 2011.

After Pope Francis joined the crowd for a series of readings and hymns, the Pontiff took four questions. [The full transcript of the Pope’s responses has been posted on the Vatican Radio site; see the link below.] In his answer to the question about evangelization, the Pope suggested that the keys should be to focus firmly on Jesus, to sustain all efforts by constant prayer, and to bear witness not only in words but in deeds and in all of life.

The first question to the Pope involved his own growth in faith. He replied that he had been blessed to grow up in “a family where the faith was lived in a simple and concrete manner.” However, he also related the turning point that occurred in his life on September 21, 1953, when he had the sudden and clear sense that he was called to the priesthood.

To a question about helping Christians who live in adverse situations, the Pope responded that we should have courage and patience. “They are in the Church of patience,” he said, reminding his audience that there are more Christian martyrs today than in the early years of the Church. The Christians who suffer should know that they have the prayerful support of their brothers and sisters around the world, he said. At the same time, the Pope observed that in many cases the challenges that Christians face are fundamentally political or social, and “religious affiliations are used like fuel for the fire.” In such cases especially it is essential not to respond with hatred, but to overcome evil with good, he said.

In answer to a question about achieving “a poor Church, for the poor,” Pope Francis emphasized the importance of personal contact and care for individuals. “The Church is not a political movement or a well-organized structure,” he said; the faithful care for the poor by being mindful of their needs and attentive to them. “Poverty, for us Christians, is not a sociological or philosophical or cultural category,” he said. “No. It is a theological category.”

In times like the present, with the world in an economic crisis, the faithful cannot lose the sense of urgency, the Pope said. “We cannot stay calm! We cannot become starch-pressed Christians, those Christians who are too highly educated, who speak of theological issues over tea, calmly.” He spoke about the perversity of a society that makes headlines of a dip in the stock market, but fails to notice the deaths of starving children. And he said that Christians should not simply give money to the poor, but touch them, come to know them, and learn about them.

Above all, the Pope insisted, the Church cannot become isolated from those who are in material or spiritual need. “That is a danger: locking ourselves away inside our parish, among our friends, in our movement, with people who think the same way we do,” he said. The Pope warned: “When the Church becomes closed up in itself it gets sick.”

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