Programme with available materials

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November 2021 ONLINE

CA a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church

H.E. Msgr. Francesco LAMBIASI

THE FUTURE OF CHRISTIANITY IN AFRICA AND IN THE WORLD. Catholic Action in Africa, launch out into the deep, look to the future with courage!•UGANDA - Lugazi, 5-9 August 2006

I will be dividing my intervention into three sections. I will put forward a statement and expand it in more detail. I will be speaking at length on the last part as this concerns CA directly and thus is of greater interest to us.

The history of Christianity and the very beginning
Our times are just the right time for evangelization
CA is an essential and irreplaceable charism
As these statements are not so obvious and as such not very evident, I will try every so often to prove their plausibility.

Before starting, I must make it clear that coming from Western Europe, I cannot treat my subject from a local cultural and pastoral point of view.
However, I maintain that, in spite of the differences and if there are no better suggestions, my considerations should apply even to the African context which you represent. If not, these could at least instigate a debate during which you will be able to give your views.

Right from the beginning of my intervention, as IFCA’s Assistant, together with you, I would like to thank the Lord for giving us this opportunity. I am happy to be able to meet each and every one of you, particularly the Church in Lugazi and in Uganda.

1. The history of Christianity and the very beginning

Two thousand years of history seem such a long time, but are they really?

Already in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio, the Pope dared to affirm that “after two thousand years of evangelization there is still a lot to be done” (9RM 1). This was repeated in Novo Millennium Ineunte which says that” the missionary mandate which introduces us to the new millennium invites us to show the same enthusiasm which the first Christians showed in the beginning,…our pace in running through the streets of the world should be a bit faster (NMI 58).
We know that at the beginning of the III Millennium the pace at which the faithful acted did not show any signs of fatigue and they were constantly on the move.
In fact, what are two thousand years in relation to the billions and millions of  years which passed from the beginning of the earth and of the whole universe?
But there is another more profound motive which we should reflect upon  – we, who belong to this generation – are not at the end but at the beginning of Christianity and this is due to the grace of the Holy Spirit: in fact on the day of Pentecost Christianity was born young and from that day it was destined to remain always young.

Pentecost is not an intermittent current: it is an ongoing or rather an ongoing motivation. Thus, thanks to the Spirit of the Risen Christ, Christianity is always restarting and the Church is always renewing itself not only from time to time but from day to day.
The memoria Iesu which the Lord has commanded us to celebrate in the Holy Mass is not a nostalgic sentimental occasion or a purely commemoration. It is neither hypothetic archeology.
But there is a third reason which convinces us that we are not only lucky spectators but actors in the ever new beginning of Christianity.  Blessed John XXIII used to refer to our times as “a new spring”.
This is rather exciting. During the past century, the Church has witnessed the martyrdom of an endless number of its sons and daughters. Never like the ’900 have there been so many persecutions and so many martyrs.
It seems that there were more martyrs during the XX century than in all the 19 preceding centuries! These innumerable martyrs do not only show the ferocity of totalitarian and oppressive regimes but show, above all, the heroic faithfulness of Christians who have preferred to die rather than renounce their faith. This fidelity is the clearest evidence of the fruitfulness and vitality of Christianity. According to the famous statement made by Tertulliano: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity”.

2. Our times are just the right time for evangelization.

Let us keep the year 2000 as our point of reference. During the preparations for the Great Jubilee John Paul II, in TMA, gave us some reflections on evangelization.
“——“ (TMA 57)

In our times we have experienced an important event in history, namely the Second Vatican Council, the “sure compass” for the III millennium, as Benedict XVI reminded us in His first message of the 16th April 2005.
With the Great Jubilee, the Church has entered the new millennium with the Gospel, which the II Vatican Council has made relevant to today’s world, in hand. Very rightly, John Paul II referred to the Council as the “compass” which can orientate us in the vast ocean of the third millennium (cfr Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, 57-58). Even in his spiritual will he stated: “I am convinced that even in the distant future young generations will still benefit from the wealth which this XX century Council has lavished on us” (17.III.2000).

“Therefore, as I am about to take over the service as Peter’s Successor, I would like to affirm strongly that my wish is to carry on with the realization of the II Vatican Council. I would like to follow in the footsteps of my Predecessors and in continued fidelity to the two thousand year old tradition of the Church. Precisely this year, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary from the closing of the Conciliar sessions (8th December 1965). The Conciliar Documents have not become outdated with the passing of time; their teachings are still relevant to the actual daily situations within  the Church and to those of the present globalized world”.

If we look at the statistics, provided in October 2005, by the Agency FIDES we notice that the Church is proclaiming and carrying out its mission in all the continents.
From the Church’s Statistical Year Book it transpires that on the 31st December 2003, the world population was 6,301,377,000. This showed an increase of 79,483,000 over the preceding year. The global increase was broken down per continent: Africa +20,042,000; America +8,424,000; Asia + 45,205,000; Europe +4,954,000; Oceania +858,000.
On this same date, the number of Catholics was 1,085,557,000 which showed an increase of 15,242,000 over the preceding year. Broken down by continent, this was: Africa +6,231,000; America + 6,678,000: Asia +2,434,000: Oceania +113,000. The only decrease, even this year, was registered in Europe with -214,000.
The percentage of Catholics has increased globally from 0,3% up to 17,23%. Broken down by continent, the following variations were registered: an increase in Africa +0,34; America + 0,17; Asia +0,03; a decrease in Europe -0,31 and Oceania -0,37.

The reference to the Council and to the statistical data are two facts which invite us, or rather call for our commitment towards evangelization in the diverse contexts wherein   we live.

We know that Europe offers many areopaghi wherein we can proclaim the Gospel.
The long debate on modernity and its outcome is so vast and complex that it is difficult to evaluate it correctly. The term postmodern reveals its ambiguity.  The idea of its success contrasted strongly with the impression that it was too accelerated and very exasperating.
What we actually need is a deep reflection which focuses on the most important contemporary aspects which influence man’s future.

Earlier on I referred to the course taken by modernity when it tried to study how science and politics help to bring about a rational and perfect society. At the end of the 60s, the myth of the future and of progress appeared. At that time, work was the essential element for self-realization. Nietzsche said: “Great revolutions advance at a bird’s pace”. Gradually, in the course of the 70s, important values like work, progress and reason no longer interested young people. These were replaced by edonism, which focused on body worship and attention to sex. The sliding of modern values was slow but could not be stopped. Today the idea of progress has been replaced by instant gratification, pleasure is given more importance than work and emotions have replaced reason. The concept of eternity has been lost and life has been lengthened. If it is true that every period has a myth, today the myth is not Promoteo but Narciso, Pinocchio, the eternal boy, the nomad or the vagabond.

Faced with this situation, the answer of the Church is the new evangelization. This is what the Pope has been saying since 1979 in Puebla and later in Europe, Africa and in Asia.  Walking through “the” streets, treaded by the man of our times, we meet God in our neighbour. John Paul II, in His first encyclical Redemptor Hominis, describes man as being  the way of the Church. In Deus Caritas Est Benedict XVI also speaks about our meeting God in our neighbour (18):

The most important act of charity, which the world needs from the Church today, is to discover the way of love of the Gospel, the good news that God is love. This is the Gospel of love: it is not we who have loved God first…it is He who loved us first (1Jn.4.10.19). It is not a question of stating what the world is but finding out who God is and what the world is in the light of God.
There might be the risk of reducing the Gospel simply into a doctrine, trying to teach it before announcing it through example or changing it into a series of rules detached from life’s realities. We should try to go back to that which is fundamental: the story of Jesus Christ as a human person, an example of a happy life: happy because it was blessed and because He achieved His purpose. But how can we propose a life which follows Christ’s example if we are not living witnesses of sanctity?

3. CA is an indispensable and irreplaceable charism.

3.1 CA’s charismatic nature/identity
Referring to CA as a charism is not an exaggeration. The Pope has referred to it as a charism in His message to the extraordinary Assembly of the ICA on the 8th September, 2003.

“Your history saw its beginning from a charism, that is, from a particular gift from the Spirit of the Risen Christ. He never leaves His Church without gifts and sources of grace which the faithful need in order to be able to give their service in the spreading of the Gospel. Dear members, remember, with humble pride and cherished joy, CA’s charism”.

John Paul II had already used the term “gift of the Spirit” on another occasion when he referred to the letter from the Italian Episcopal Conference to the Italian CA which says: “CA is not an ecclesial association among the others but it is a gift of God and is a source for the strengthening of ecclesial communion”.

It is CA’s history,  identity and the mission entrusted to it which make CA a charism.

In recent centuries the story started with an extraordinary adventure, inspired by the Spirit and initiated by Mario Fani and Giovanni Acquaderni more than 130 years ago.
“ It is such a joy to note that in different periods in history, as far back as the time of the first Christian community, lay people like Aquila and Priscilla, like so many other collaborators of the apostles, have, as living stones, contributed to the building of the Church and towards its mission.

 CA’s history is also charismatic because it is a history of sanctity. This is evident from the lives of so many CA saints and blessed such as the Mexican saints, Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, the couple Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, the Mexican blessed Anacleto, the Mexican Gandhi and, as the Pope affirms, “ of so many others who have lead, extraordinary normal lives wherein they showed a heroic faithfulness to their baptisimal vows” (2).

The authenticity of this charism was confirmed by the Hierarchy, through the explicit recognition which we find in the Second Vatican Council: LG 33, Ad G 15, ChD 17. The Italian Episcopal Conference recognized CA as “ a specifically chosen association, promoted by the ecclesial authority to be more closely involved in its apostolic mission” (IEC Note, 22May 1981, 25).

3.2. The characteristics of CA’s charism
CA’s charismatic nature has been acknowledged not only because of its history but also because of its active and actual identity.

It is a charism which has been fully described in the Conciliar Decree on the apostolate of the laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem. This Decree speaks about the four characteristics which define CA: its ecclesial, lay and organic nature and its close collaboration with the Hierarchy (A.A n.20) and in Lumen Gentium 33 where CA is compared with the lay collaborators of the Apostle Paul. Lately we have the important teachings of Paul VI and John Paul II.

John Paul II spoke about CA’s identity in his address on the occasion of the Italian CA extraordinary Assembly of the 8th September, 2003

a. The first characteristic is its missionary nature: “You are lay Christians experts in the wonderful adventure of making the Gospel present in everyday life and of showing how “the good news” is an answer to the questions which arise in the profoundness of people’s hearts and is the clearest and truest light which can guide society in the building of a “civilization of love”.

Therefore CA is there to evangelize. In this sense, CA is, from its nature, extrovert: it was born to develop, lives to evangelize and if it stops doing this, it runs the risk of dying.
So CA cannot limit itself only to safeguard faith or to defend it but rather to defend faith by spreading it.
Thus CA cannot depend only on those who are responsible for the formation of others and who have been prepared to help members mature in their faith but it should also prepare evangelizers, capable of animating or re-animating faith in those who have abandoned it.

b. Its Diocesan Nature
“As lay people you have chosen to live for the Church and for its global mission, “dedicated” in direct and organic union with the diocesan community”, so as to make of each Christian community a family which cares for all its children (John Paul II 8.9.2003)
Again, it is its ecclesial nature which determines CA’s diocesan profile and which distinguishes it from the other movements. These too, being ecclesial, are part of the diocese. But it is typical of CA to live for the diocese with a direct and organic link which results from its dedication to the particular church.
John Paul II told the Assistants of the ICA “not to be afraid to welcome CA’s associative experience in the parishes. In CA they can find, not only a valid and motivated support, but also a spiritual companionship and friendship together with a wealth which results from the sharing of the spiritual gifts of each member of the community” ( 19 February 2003).

c. Its Unitary Nature
“As lay people you have chosen to follow, in an associative way, the Gospel’s ideal of sanctity in the particular Church, by cooperating in a united way “ as an organic body” in the evangelizing mission of every ecclesial Community” (John Paul II 8.9.2003)

Just as a tree is not a collection of branches, so CA is not a collection of sectors and movements: its unitary nature is a qualifying distinction. It means that fragmentation in the associative life and excessive rigidity in distinguishing between sectors and movements should be overcome. We should be consciousness of this unity and of the necessity to make this more evident …it is the approach which the new CA has adopted.

It also means an “exercise” in fostering unity in the sense that, in the life of the association and of the Christian community, we should look for that which unites us for that which helps us grow, for that which is positive and which favours a culture of communion and is essential for the ecclesial and social community.

d. The fourth characteristic which distinguishes CA is its lay nature.
John Paul II, first and foremost, made it a point to explain that CA’s ecclesial and lay nature are not a contradiction. “ The special link between CA and pastors respects and promotes the constitutional lay character of CA members” and it clarifies the true meaning of CA’s lay nature. It actually means “ looking at the world through God’s eyes” (7). Only in this way can CA lay members be immersed in the world without being submerged by the world! It is only through faith that the Church can succeed not to estrange itself from everyday and family problems, from problems related to peace and justice, so that it may be able to contribute towards the building of a civilization of love in an effective way.

Here I would like to raise two points: one concerns the democratic choice and the other the so-called ‘religious choice’.

The democratic choice:
As an association, CA is guided by statutory norms and by regulations which regulate its functioning, its choices and its organisms and elections. This is a very mature and responsible choice. It shows and ensures a true and profound communion. In fact, communion and democracy are like the body and the soul: just as a soul cannot live without a body and viceversa, so a democracy without communion becomes a structure without a soul, it becomes a dead body, a corpse.
So it is important not to regard communion and democracy as being incompatible. All members should be prepared and helped to be united first and foremost in that which is essential and to be able to come to an agreement in matters which are negotiable. (cf  NMI 45)

The religious choice
CA should be at the service of man. It should give its service in the world without focusing on any specific field. Thus, in an evangelic way, it shows sympathy and love towards everybody.
One must remember that CA has a concrete perspective and style: in fact CA does not choose a particular sector within the Church (for example catechises or charitable works) nor a particular sphere of civic life. John Paul II in His last message once again invites CA to address its mission to  “ the places of work and schools, health and leisure time and cultural and economic and political spheres” (7, John Paul II 8.9.2003)
When involving itself in these spheres, CA has to ensure that it overcomes the risk of secularism which reduces faith to a purely interior matter  which is totally irrelevant in the construction of man’s surroundings. It has also to avoid the risk of integralism which does not respect the legitimate autonomy of terrestrial realities.

We may say that CA is called upon to be a witness of “the renewing and transforming strength of Christianity” by “ involving itself effectively in civil society so as to be able to build the common house keeping in mind man’s dignity and vocation.

3.3 The indispensable condition: formation
Formation is the heart of CA and the soul of its missionary commitment.
Formation in CA is the moment and place where together we listen to life and we make questions to faith. We need to ask ourselves if we really pay attention to each person and to his/her path of Christian life and availability to assume the questions.

Inside this great task of the church – to announce the truth, CA decides to accompany the personal itineraries towards the Truth starting from life; decides to assume the questions of the believers who have more difficulty, those who together with the wish of faith have also so many doubts and uncertainties.
Formation in CA looses many chances if it is more likely to the school than to the family one, where the growing way happens through a personal accompaniment, the warmth of relations dialogue between generations…
Formation in CA is an experience open and hospitable towards those who want to share faith, culture, styles, proposals.

Conclusion: the service given by IFCA
I have just read a presentation which Card. Pironio gave at the II IFCA Assembly held in Vienna. I would like to conclude by repeating his words, words which were full of affection and trust in CA.
He knew CA in Argentina, where he was Ecclesiastical Assistant and promoted it in Rome as President of the PLC.  IFCA, should be specially thankful to him as he remembered CA even in his will where he said:” I have loved Catholic Action dearly”.

“The world needs new men and women who live in today’s world and have a deep personal experience of God and who proclaim the good news with the Spirit’s prophetic courage. When they do this in an organic way they express the communion of a Church which is greatly involved in the building of a fraternal society where solidarity prevails. CA’s journey corresponds to Mary’s journey: it is a way of fidelity and service, of contemplative silence and of suffering, a way of joy and hope. It is always the fruitful way of the Fiat and the Magnificat – the work of grace and of total and generous self-giving.
May our Mother Mary be with us and may she help us to achieve the joyful readiness of the disciples, the zeal of the witnesses and  the calm strength of the martyrs”.

H.E. Msgr. Francesco LAMBIASI