Vatican City (Fides Service) – Cardinal Geraldo Majela Agnelo, Archbishop of Sao Salvador da Bahia Brazil, the new president of the Brazilian Catholic Bishops’ Conference CNBB was recently in Rome to present Pope John Paul II with the report of the latest Plenary Assembly of the CNBB held in May. The Cardinal was kind enough to give an interview to Fides Service in which he outlined the challenges and pastoral priorities of the Church in Brazil for the next four years.
Your Eminence what priorities were identified by the Bishops of Brazil during their Plenary Assembly in view of pastoral care for the next four years?
First of all we must say that our pastoral directives for the next four years have as their main objective evangelisation encouraged by the Pope during the Assembly of Latin American Bishops at Santo Domingo, at which he spoke about the urgency of new evangelisation underlining that as Church we must always be evangelised in order to evangelise.
The Great Jubilee of 2000 was very important. The Tertio Millennio Adveniente document proposed a three year period of preparation for the great event, summed up in the Novo Millennio ineunte and the Pope sounded a vigorous call to the whole Church for new missionary impetus with the Duc in altum document. In keeping with this jubilee spirit the Church in Brazil prepared a handbook “Being Church Today” to help our communities reflect on the necessity of new evangelisation and the challenges facing the Church in Brazil in the new millennium. During our May Assembly we decided to continue along this path. In fact we intend to help our people become more aware of what it means to be a baptised Christian, a child of God, what it means to be a disciple of Christ, highlighting the teaching of the Second Vatican Council with regard to the universal call to holiness of life and the Holy Father’s own call to propose holiness as an ideal putting into practice the words of Jesus “be prefect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Methodologically speaking we hope this awareness will spread at every level, individual, community and social. To overcome the individualism of today, while valorising the human person as an individual we must also encourage people to be open to others not to close in on themselves and we must stress the importance of community, place of communion, brotherhood, solidarity. Individualism tends to prevent people from understanding what it means to be Church and the significance of the community dimension. Hence the need to strengthen the community dimension of the faith. Lastly we want to draw attention to the mission command given by Christ: “Go out into the whole world and make all nations my disciples”. We who are called to be his disciples must bear witness to Christ to this to the world in order to make more disciples.
We are also concerned with the defence of the dignity of every human person. When we see the suffering of our people, their hunger, poverty we cannot remain indifferent and we must take up their defence. In this regard last year the CNBB issued a document on the moral necessity to fight hunger and poverty and launched a campaign to eliminate hunger. This year President Lulu launched a government Zero Hunger programme to which we have given full support and collaboration as far as possible, and we are able to reach where government structures cannot. But we should not limit our assistance to material help only. We want to do more than just feed the hungry, we want to achieve integral human development and to enable the poor to help themselves and be protagonists of their own development.
Recent surveys report that many Catholics in Brazil are leaving the Church. Do these pastoral guidelines which Your Eminence presented to the Pope reflect the Brazilian Bishops’ concern?
Yes and no. Evangelisation must be an ongoing activity of the Church, an essential and indispensable part of her ministry and it must be constantly renewed. This is necessary both to strengthen the faith of believers and also to help young generations to understand the reasons for our hope. I mean to say that in Brazil when we speak of new evangelisation it is obvious that we want to give an adequate pastoral response to the fact that we are in a country which can no longer be called entirely Catholic. In actual fact it never was, but today people are beginning to admit that they are not Catholics. In terms of public declarations of faith we have lost about 10% of believers in the last ten years. They were baptised, but not practising Catholics. The true Catholic accepts the faith as a whole and not only in part. The tendency to individualism today often leads people to choose, as if at the supermarket, those “truths” which are not in conflict with their life style: they accept what suits them and refuse anything that demands conversion or change of life style. This causes a gradual weakening and the eventual the loss of faith. It is worth remembering “Little Flock, Great Signs” written by Mgr Valvredro Teppe who focuses on this present day tendency and recalls that a true Catholic accepts the Gospel message in its entirety with all its demands at the individual and community level. Perhaps this is precisely our present condition: like the early Christians we are a small flock called to follow in His footsteps so as to be a great sign. We are therefore deeply committed to guaranteeing correct formation for this small flock to enable it to bear great witness of Christian life to the world. We wish formation to be the foundation of our pilgrimage, strengthening the involvement of the laity and renewing the mission and the vocation of our clergy.
Please tell us about the recent meeting of the new CNBB direction with the Pope?
We met in Rome to present the Pope with the report of our latest Plenary Assembly held in May at Itaici. We also visited those Congregations with which we have most contact, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Secretary of State, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Congregation for the Clergy as well as the Pontifical Council for Latin America.
The Pope took our report and he asked me about the situation of our street children. I told him with joy that this phenomenon is now decreasing thanks also the work of the Church deeply committed in this sector. He also asked me about “Liberation Theology” and I replied that it has run its time and left its contribution and has died out where it was destined to do so.
We also told the Pope that this year Brazil is celebrating the Year of Vocations and that therefore we devoted a whole day to preparing the central theme of our next Plenary Assembly of Bishops which will be “The life and the ministry of priests”.
The Church in Brazil has just celebrated its first National Mission Congress in preparation for CAM2. What did this Mission Congress represent for mission ad gentes?
I think that the Church in Brazil needs to grow in its missionary dimension particularly with regard to mission ad gentes. For a long time we have received missionaries and now the time has come for the Church in Brazil to offer something in return. In this sense I think that the organisation of this first National Mission Congress was a step forward. MR (Fides Service 28/7/2003 EM lines 95 Words: 1291)