Spring Plenary Meeting of the
Chinese Regional Bishops' Conference
Bishops' Conference Secretariat
Taipei (Taipei Archdiocese)
1-5 April 2013
Address of Monsignor Paul Russell
Charge d'Affaires a.i. of the Holy See
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
"From ancient times the liturgy of Easter day has begun with the words: 'I arose, and am still with you; you have set your hand upon me.' The liturgy sees these as the first words spoken by the Son to the Father after his resurrection, after his return from the night of death into the world of the living. The hand of the Father upheld him even on that night, and thus he could rise again. [íK] In the impenetrable gloom of death Christ came like light - the night became as bright as day and the darkness became as light. And so the Church can rightly consider these words of thanksgiving and trust as words spoken by the Risen Lord to his Father: 'Yes, I have journeyed to the uttermost depths of the earth, to the abyss of death, and brought them light; now I have risen and I am upheld forever by your hands.' But these words of the Risen Christ to the Father have also become words which the Lord speaks to us: 'I arose and now I am still with you,' he says to each of us. My hand upholds you. Wherever you may fall, you will always fall into my hands. [íK] Where no one can accompany you further, and where you can bring nothing, even there I am waiting for you, and for you I will change darkness into light."
Jesus is with us. Jesus is with his Church.
The Catholic Church around the world, including the Catholic Church in Taiwan, has been living through extraordinary moments these past two months, and especially in these past weeks.
I think the fact that Pope Benedict XVI renounced his office was both a surprise and not a surprise. He always said, over a number of years and on different occasions, that if he felt he could no longer fulfill the duties of his office, either physically or spiritually, he would renounce his office. But, in fact, no pope had renounced the Petrine office for almost 600 years, and in all previous cases, there were extenuating circumstances. So Pope Benedict's action was a surprise. I also think that the timing of the announcement was a surprise, because we are in the Year of Faith and Pope Benedict had promised us an Encyclical Letter on Faith, but now the Church will not have the gift of this Encyclical Letter to complete the triptych of Pope Benedict's other Encyclical Letters on Love and Hope. Only Pope Benedict can know the conversation he had with the Lord in prayer in arriving at his decision. No one else can know that. But we can trust that it was an honest decision made in faith for the good of the Church.
There is one aspect of this decision which strikes me very deeply. Pope Benedict XVI renounced his office to devote himself to a life of prayer. Pope Benedict set aside what some people would consider as the most important ministry in the Church to devote himself to a life of prayer. This shows that no matter how important our ministry - no matter how many urgent and important tasks may be before us - prayer is more important. Jesus clearly taught this to Martha and Mary; Pope Benedict has taught us this once again.
Likewise, the election of Cardinal Bergoglio was both a surprise and not a surprise. From different media reports, it seems that in 2005, he had a number of votes in the Conclave that elected Pope Benedict. But supposedly Cardinal Bergoglio told the other Cardinals voting for him in 2005 to please stop. So, it seems, the Cardinals who had been voting for him voted for Cardinal Ratzinger. In 2005, there was obviously something good the Cardinals saw in Cardinal Bergoglio, and now the whole Church and the whole world can see this goodness. His election was a surprise because the media had already "elected" other Cardinals and the thinking was that the Cardinals would choose someone younger. A youthful spirit, however, is not a question of years, and it is very clear that Pope Francis has a young and vigorous spirit.
God always has his plan for his Church and for each one of us. We know in faith that the Holy Spirit was present in this election and guided this election and that Pope Francis is the man God wanted to have as the leader of the Church at this time.
Pope Francis has asked us all to continue to pray for him. The Church in Taiwan has always been very faithful to the pope and has always shown its support for the pope in many ways. The Catholics in Taiwan love the pope and I am sure that you Bishops together with your flock will continue to pray for the pope and to support him in his ministry of love and truth.
Just as Pope Benedict gave us the opportunity to re-learn things we already knew, so Pope Francis is giving us an opportunity to re-learn things we already know.
What the pope said to the Cardinals immediately after his election could also be taken as words addressed to all Bishops all throughout the world. I would like to share some passages of the pope's words with you.
On 14 March 2013, Pope Francis celebrated morning at Mass with the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. Pope Francis spoke to the Cardinals about journeying in the presence of God, building the Church, and confessing Jesus. Particularly with regard to confessing, I think the pope said things which apply particularly to the Church in Taiwan - things which I have mentioned to you before on other occasions.
The pope said: "We can journey as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, the thing does not work. We will become a welfare NGO but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. [íK] When we do not confess Jesus Christ, we confess the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon. The same Peter who had confessed Jesus Christ said to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let's not talk about the cross. This is not a part of it. I will follow you in other directions, but not to the cross. When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord. I would like for us all, after these days of grace, to have courage, precisely the courage, to walk in the Lord's presence, with the cross of the Lord; to build the Church upon the blood of the Lord, which was poured out on the cross; and to confess the only glory there is: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will go forward."
The following day, on 15 March 2013, Pope Francis met with the Cardinals outside Mass and gave an Address.
He said: "This time dedicated to the Conclave has been full of meaning not only for the College of Cardinals, but also for all the faithful. In these days we have felt almost physically the affection and solidarity of the universal Church, as well as the attention of many people who, despite not sharing our faith, look with respect and admiration to the Church and the Holy See. From every corner of the Earth, a fervent and choral prayer of the Christian people was raised up for the new Pope, and my first encounter with the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square was full of emotion. With that evocative image of prayerful and joyful people still etched in my mind, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the bishops, priests, consecrated persons, young people, families and the elderly for their spiritual closeness, so touching and fervent. [íK]
I express my willingness to serve the Gospel with renewed love, helping the Church to become more and more in Christ and with Christ, the fruitful vine of the Lord. Stimulated also by the celebration of the Year of Faith, all together, Shepherds and faithful, we will strive to respond faithfully to our mission of always: bringing Jesus Christ to mankind and leading men to the encounter with Jesus Christ the Way, Truth and Life, truly present in the Church and at the same time, in every man. Such an encounter leads to becoming new men in the mystery of Grace, arousing in the soul that Christian joy which constitutes the hundredfold given by Christ to those who welcome Him into their lives.
As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us so many times in his teachings and, most recently, with that courageous and humble gesture, it is Christ who leads the Church through his Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church with His vivifying and unifying force: of many, it forms a single body, the Mystical Body of Christ. Let us never give in to that pessimism, that bitterness which the devil offers us every day. Let us not give in to pessimism and discouragement; we have that firm confidence which the Holy Spirit gives the Church, with his mighty breath, the courage to persevere and to seek new ways to evangelize, to bring the Gospel to the ends of the Earth (cf. Acts 1:8). The Christian truth is appealing and persuasive because it responds to the profound needs of human existence, announcing convincingly that Christ is the only Savior of the whole man and of all men. This announcement is still valid today, as it was at the beginning of Christianity, when the first great missionary expansion of the Gospel was carried out. Dear Brothers, courage!"
In this missionary task, Pope Francis has placed a renewed emphasis on care for the poor and outcast, a new outreach to the fringes of society. During the Chrism Mass which Pope Francis celebrated on Holy Thursday, he had these words to say to the priests of Rome. What he said is valid for all priests (and Bishops) everywhere.
The pope noted that priests are anointed for God's faithful people, whose servants they are. The Lord's "anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. [íK] We need to 'go out,' then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the 'outskirts' where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the LordíK [íK] The power of graceíKcomes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to othersíK Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. [íK] This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties - instead of being shepherds living with 'the smell of the sheep', shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to 'put out into the deep', where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is 'unction' - not function - and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus."
In my opinion, the Bishops, together with all the other members of the Church in Taiwan - priests, religious and faithful, can hear these words of the pope addressed directly to each of you. As I have observed before on other occasions - and I say this with love and genuine concern for you - the Church in Taiwan could be growing more. There are certain things outside our control, but we need a renewed focus on helping people to meet Jesus.