Church’s mission is not about numbers, but about evangelization, Pope says

Roma- The Catholic Church in Europe and elsewhere will be, as retired Pope Benedict XVI said, smaller and less influential, but the mission and joy of the Church is not to increase numbers but to share the Gospel, Pope Francis told the Jesuits in Malta.

“What is the vocation of the church? It is not numbers. It is to evangelize,” the pope told fellow Jesuits April 3. “The real problem is not whether we are few in number, but whether the church is evangelizing”.

The pope met 38 Jesuits from Malta during his two-day visit to the island nation. As became the practice when the pope met Jesuits while traveling abroad, a transcript of his remarks was later published by the Jesuit newspaper La Civiltà Cattolica.

According to the transcript of the Malta meeting, published April 14, a Jesuit asked the pope if he thought the church would be smaller, but “more humble and more authentic.”

“Pope Benedict was a prophet of this Church of the future, a Church which will become smaller, which will lose many privileges, which will be more humble and more authentic and which will find energy for the essentials,” he said. he answered.

“It will be a more spiritual, poorer and less political church: a church of the little ones,” the pope said. “As a bishop, Benedict had said: let’s prepare to be a smaller church. This is one of his richest ideas.”

In the book-length interview, salt of the earthpublished in 1997 before he was pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said: “Perhaps we are facing a new and different time in the history of the Church, when Christianity will be at again characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups who nevertheless live an intense struggle against evil and bring good into the world – who let God in.”

Francis said when the cardinals met after Benedict’s resignation, they spoke about the need for the church to reach out. “In Revelation it says, ‘I stand at the door and knock’, but today the Lord is knocking from within for us to let him out. This is the need of today , the calling of the church today.”

The Catholic Church in Europe, he said, will also have to “get used to” having fewer priestly vocations, “but we must do this creatively, in order to acquire vocations with the qualities that you have. mentioned in your question for the church in general: humility, service, authenticity.”

Francis was also asked about the process for the synod of bishops in 2023 and progress being made to make the church itself more “synodal”.

“We are moving forward and there is no turning back,” the pope replied.

Francis said that as a cardinal at the synod of bishops in 2001, when he replaced Cardinal Edward Egan of New York as the synod’s general estate agent because Egan had returned home after the attack on the World Trade Center, he had to gather and organize the contribution of the small groups.

“The synod secretariat looked at them and said to delete such and such thing that was approved by a vote in the different groups,” the pope said. “There are things they didn’t think fit. Obviously they didn’t understand what a synod was.”

Another Jesuit asked Francis about his “consolations and desolations” regarding the synod process, referring to the Ignatian practice of looking at how different events help to see God at work increasing faith, hope, love and peace or by increasing feelings of doubt, fear and frustration.

Synodal processes bring both, the pope replied.

“I will give you just one example: in the first sessions of the Synod for the Amazon (in 2019), much emphasis was placed on the question of married priests. Then the Spirit made us understand that many other things were missing: catechists, permanent deacons, seminaries for the natives, priests coming from other dioceses or displaced in the same diocese. All this happened amidst consolations and desolations. This is the spiritual dynamic of the synod.

Charles K. Eckert