photo: Bishop Grech ©Gozo Diocese
Bishop Mario Grech Administrator of Gozo and Pro-Secretary for Synod of Bishops wrote the following to the clergy of his diocese, “one would be committing suicide, if, after this pandemic, one were to return to the same pastoral models.” This reflection arises from the recent challenges and limitations for pastoral work during the COVID-19 pandemic. L’Osservatore Romano and Vatican News report that this crisis “… has shaken foundations we thought were immovable, as we have seen in the economic sector, in science, and in politics.” This unprecedented situation also involves the Church. “Pope Francis – observes Grech – continues his appeal regarding the need for pastoral conversion.” Bishop Grech adds that we have become more aware of this need for conversion during the pandemic, as we have been immersed in new “experiences that prompt us to contemplate the face of Christ.”
Bishop Grech warns against reducing the pastoral activity of the “church to the sacristy, away from the streets, or simply being content to projecting the life of the sacristy on to the streets.” He observes that during these last few months of isolation, suffering, and pain we are presented with “an opportunity (a kairos) for renewal and pastoral creativity,” that demonstrate to us the reality that we cannot return “to the practices that limited us before the pandemic.” A time that revealed in certain Christians, consecrated and lay, “a strong pattern of clericalism.” Bishop Grech cites the words of the famous French author Georges Bernanos regarding ‘rotten Christianity.’ “One asks, how is this profession of faith meaningful – if then this same faith does not become leaven to transform the dough of life?”
From this perspective, Bishop Grech moves to the idea of the ‘domestic church’ that has been revitalised and experienced in a new way during this lock down. He observes that a certain clericalism since the fourth century has worn away at the “nature and charism of the family in as much as it is the domestic church.” One finds a restoration and development of the theology of the domestic church during Vatican II, especially in Lumen Gentium paragraphs 10 and 11. Bishop Grech remarks that “just as in the first centuries, the family today can become again the source of Christian life.” Moreover, “in as much as the basic structure of the Church is sacred and liturgical, one must also revive their place in the family as the domus ecclesiae.” Drawing upon the insights of Augustine, John Chrysostom, as well as Jewish culture, “the family should be a place where faith is celebrated, reflected upon, and lived. The parish community must help the family to be a school of catechesis and a classroom of liturgy where one might break bread at the table of the family home. Parents, by virtue of the grace of the sacrament marriage, are ‘ministers of this worship’ wherein the home, they break open the Word and pray with the Word, so as to transform the faith of their children.” Bishop Grech hopes that the Lord may multiple many examples of families’ “creative in love,” who are ready “to create spaces for prayer in openness to the most poor and needy in our midst.” Equally important after this pandemic will be the “ministry of service,” the diakonia as a ‘new’ path for evangelisation. “One cannot celebrate the breaking of the Eucharistic Bread and of the Word, if one does not share with the ‘poor who are theologically the face of Christ.’” Service or diakonia “is the sure way to experience Christian love. One communicates the Gospel not only by preaching but also in service. The Church reaches people not only through catechesis but also through the experience of diaconal service. As the Pope says, if we move amongst the poor, we will discover God.” Bishop Grech shares a letter written to him by a humanitarian worker after the rescue of a group of migrants at sea with the help of his diocese. “Unfortunately, I often witnessed in the past incomprehension between the Church and people, as well as from non-Christians of goodwill. Today things are changing and now they feel that the Church is a friend who hears the cry of the poor and seeks to come to their aid.”
In this ‘change of times,’ according to Bishop Grech, “the contribution that the Church can give, or rather must give, is the proclamation of Jesus Christ to the world and the joy of the Gospel.” This contribution can be understood in light of Pope Francis’ Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2019. Pope Francis notes that in Europe and throughout much of the West, the Christian faith lives in a new era. “We find ourselves living at a time when change is no longer linear, but epochal. It entails decisions that rapidly transform our ways of living, of relating to one another, of communicating and thinking, of how different generations relate to one another.” Bishop Grech takes up the thought of De Lubac as found in his book, The Drama of Human Atheism. “It is not true, as it is sometimes said, that man cannot organise the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organise it against man.” Likewise, this global pandemic reveals that at times, “economic and financial interests have been given precedence over the common good.” This dynamic must be corrected.
In his conversation with Vatican media, Bishop Grech focuses on the “gift of synodality as a way of ecclesial life,” a gift given to the Church by the Holy Spirit. “The synodal path – affirming the call of Pope Francis – is the path that God expects of the Church in this third millennium. As a dynamic of communion, synodality is above all, the affective integration of all participants, in a spirit of dialogue, so that all might arrive at a point of consensus… Although synodality belongs to the ecclesial vocabulary, it has value for society in general. Adapted as a working principle for the secular world, synodality could be a style of collaboration for inter-personal relationships and human fraternity. Synodality is an antidote against isolation that helps us to appreciate the beauty of the human community. Walking together is not always an easy task, be it for the Church or for society, but all of us need to exercise this practice so vital for the future.” Looking ahead to the next synod and the theme of synodality, Bishop Grech hopes that there “will be reflection on synodality before the celebration of the Synod itself so that the Synod Fathers might offer a deeper contribution to this theme.”
Adapted and traslated from the article in L’Osservatore Romano (by Alessandro Gisotti )