Visit to the parish of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and of the Sts. Canadian Martyrs 11-2-1980
St. John Paul II
Rome, November 2, 1980 *
The Pope, on his visit to the parish
of Canadian Martyrs, toured all the rooms and their activities, and
finally he descended into the crypt of the Church, with a highly
suggestive ambiance around him; at the entrance, a large baptismal pool, excavated in the pavement and from where a source of living water flows. In the back, on the opposite side, the chair, attached to a long wall ‘frescoed’ with sacred scenes. In front of the chair there is a large Eucharistic table on which the paschal candle shone.
About five hundred people including: the brothers of the
Neocatechumenal communities that, for twelve years, have been
walking in this parish, under the guidance of its first catechist Kiko
Argüello, who arrived here from Spain and from where he has reached so many brothers in Rome and around the world. With the brothers of the communities, there was also the Bishop of Franca, Brazil, Monsignor Diogenes de Silva Matthes.
Father Guillermo Amadei presented to the Holy Father the eleven
communities that currently walk in the way: the first formed in
1968 and the last two last Easter. Father Amadei stressed
also the enormous help given by the catechists, who have emerged from
these communities, to the pastoral plan of the parish, all focused on
evangelization, as well as in many other parishes in Rome, around
Italy and in many other countries in different continents.
Kiko Argüello, first catechist of the Neocatechumenal Way, then spoke broadly of his spiritual experience and of the long journey that led to his conversion:
“The Lord allowed me to make a experience of absurdity, of atheism, until at last He had mercy on me: humiliated me until I was poor enough to ask help from Him and then He led me to live among the poor without knowing what the Lord’s way truly was. I went to live among the poor in the shacks of Madrid, not knowing that God had prepared a project of which I am surprised today, amazed and at the same time scared because I know that this probably isn’t done without a lot of suffering.”
Kiko also spoke of the great effort behind the theological and catechetical synthesis to which he was pushed given the humility of the people who listened to him and who were not trained to understand abstractions. With the help of Carmen Hernández and following the Council line, the leavening born in the heart of Kiko transformed into a journey of faith, into a progressive catechumenate, by stages, in total obedience, which was becoming and proposed as an aid to parishes for catechesis: to bring adults into the the Christian community to fully revive the Gospel, through the discovery of the gifts of Baptism. Deeply interested in the long narrative of Kiko Arguello’s spiritual experience and the origins of the Neocatechumenal Way, the Holy Father spoke in turn at length, expanding with sincerity and spirit of love on the ecclesial meaning of the Neocatechumenal Communities, improvising the following speech, noted while he was speaking:
I. Above all, I want to tell you that I love you, seeing so many of you meeting together, adults, young people, children, with your priests. I love you. I have followed with interest the information given to me by your presbyter. This is not the first time that I have heard him speak of his enthusiasm for the Neocatechumenal movement, which being a ‘ Way’ is also movement. I have also listened with great interest to the testimony of your first catechist. What can I tell you? Most importantly, the word which came up most often was the word faith. All of you are faithful, mean you have faith. There is more to say: many have faith, but you have followed a way to discover your faith, to discover the divine treasure that you carry within you, in your souls. And you have made such a discovery, discovering the mystery of baptism. It is true that in the world there are a great many people who are baptized. Certainly they are still a minority among the people of the world, but they are many. Among these baptized, I don’t know how many are aware of their baptism, not simply of the fact of being baptized, but of what it means to be baptized, of what baptism means. Now the road or the way to discover faith through baptism is the road that we all find in the teaching of Christ, in the Gospel. We find it reflected too in a profound way in the letters of St Paul. He has shown us the immense depths of the mystery of baptism, comparing immersion in the baptismal waters with immersion in the death of Christ, a death which has brought us redemption, and a death which brings us resurrection. Thus the whole paschal mystery is summed up in the sacrament, I mean in the mystery, of baptism.
So, to discover the dynamic depths of our faith is to discover the full meaning of our baptism. If I understand correctly, your way consists essentially of this: to discover the mystery of baptism, to discover its full content, and so to discover what it means to be Christian, to be a believer. This discovery is in the line of tradition, it has roots which are apostolic, Pauline, evangelical. At the same time. this discovery is original. It has always been so, and will always be so. Every time that a Christian discovers the depths of the mystery of his baptism, he is accomplishing an act which is completely original. It is not possible to do this except with the help of the grace of Christ, and the light of the Holy Spirit, because it is a mystery. Because it is a divine, supernatural reality, and natural man is not able to understand it, to discover it, to live it. So it must be concluded: all of you who have had the grace to discover the depths, the full reality, of your baptism, ought to be very grateful to the giver of grace, to the Holy Spirit, who has given you such light, who has given you the help of the grace to receive this gift in the first place, and then to continue. Here we conclude the first part of the reflection.
2. Here briefly is the second part: to discover baptism as the beginning of our Christian life, of our immersion in God, in the living God, and in the mystery of redemption, the paschal mystery, to discover our baptism as the beginning of Christian life, must constitute the beginning of the whole of our Christian life, step by step, day by day, week by week, stage by stage of our life, because Christian life is a dynamic process. One begins with, one normally baptizes little children soon after birth, but then they grow. Man grows, the Christian must grow too. And so we must project the discovery of baptism on the whole of life, on all aspects of life. We have to see also, on the basis of this sacramental beginning to our life, the whole sacramental dimension of our life. because the whole of life has a multifold sacramental dimension. There are the sacraments of initiation: Baptism and Confirmation, through which one reaches the fullness, the central point of this initiation in the Eucharist. Moreover we know very well that the Fathers of the Church spoke of the sacrament of Penance as a new baptism, as a second baptism, a third, a tenth, and so on. We can speak too of the last baptism of human life, the Sacrament of the Sick. There are also the sacraments of community life: the Priesthood, Marriage. Christian life has a totally sacramental structure, and we have to frame the discovery of our own baptism against such a background, which is essentially sanctifying, because the sacraments make way for the Holy Spirit. Christ has given us the Holy Spirit in its absolute fullness.
We need only to open our hearts and make way. The sacraments make way for the Holy Spirit who works in our souls, in our hearts, in our humanity, in our personality. He builds us anew, he creates a new man. So this way, a way of faith, a way of baptism rediscovered, has to be the way of the new man. This new man sees what is the true proportion, or rather, the disproportion, of his created being, of his creaturehood, with respect to God the creator, and to the infinite majesty of God the redeemer, God the holy one and sanctifier. In the light of this, he tries to fulfill himself. Thus life takes on a moral aspect. This must be another fruit, indeed I would say the same fruit, of rediscovering the sacramental structure of our Christian life, because sacramental means sanctifying. At the same time, we must discover the ethical structure, because that which is holy is always good, it doesn’t have room for evil, for sin. Certainly the Holy One, the most Holy of all, Christ, accepts sinners, he welcomes them, but to make them holy. This, then, is the whole program. So we have the second point, the second conclusion. Discovering baptism as the beginning of our Christian life in all its depths, we then need to discover the consequences, step by step, in our whole Christian life. So, to do this, we need to follow a way, we must follow a way.
3. The third point: That discovery must become leaven in us. This leaven shows itself, taking flesh and becoming alive, in the fulfillment of our personal Christianity, in the building up, if we can say that, of the new man. But this leaven also realizes itself in an apostolic dimension. We are sent; the Church is apostolic, not only founded on the apostles, but permeated throughout her body by a spirit and charism that is apostolic. Certainly, this apostolic spirit must always be coordinated in a social and communal dimension of the whole body, and for this reason, Christ has also constituted the hierarchy. The Church has her hierarchic structure, as the Second Vatican Council’s fundamental document, Lumen Gentium, reminds us. This is about the leaven and the apostolate
4. The final point. There could be many other ones, but I want to end with this one. My dearest ones, we are living in a period in which we are experiencing a radical confrontation – and I say this, because it is my experience over many years – a radical confrontation that is everywhere. There is no one single manifestation of this, but many throughout the world: faith and antifaith, Gospel and anti-Gospel; Church and anti-Church, God and anti-God, if we can put it like that. An anti-God does not exist, an anti-God cannot exist, but an anti-God can exist in man, the radical denial of God can be created in man. We are living this experience in our history, and more so than in previous times. In this age of ours, we need to rediscover a radical faith, radically understood, radically lived, and radically fulfilled. We have need of such a faith. I hope that your experience is born within such a perspective, and may Lead towards a healthy radicalization of our Christianity, of our faith, towards an authentic evangelical radicalism. This is why you have need of a great spirit, of great self-control, and also, as your first catechist has said, of great obedience to the Church. This has always been the case. This witness was given by the saints: by St Francis, by various charismatic people in different ages of the Church. This radicalism, I would say this radicalization of faith is needed, yes, but it must always be situated within the life of the Church, and with her guidance, because the Church in her entirety has received the Holy Spirit from Christ in the persons of the apostles after his resurrection. I see that you meet, I myself have met you, in different groups, in different parishes in Rome. but I think that the biggest group is here. So I am giving a longer talk, one that’s not been prepared specifically but is always present in my mind and in my heart.
So it’s not, may we say, a magisterial speech, but a spontaneous pastoral discourse. This joy that surrounds you, that is in your songs, in your behavior, may very well be a sign of your southern temperament, but I hope it is a fruit of the Spirit, and I wish that it may be so. Yes, the Church needs joy, because joy, with its different expressions, is a revelation of happiness. So, here man finds himself faced with his fundamental, we can almost say his natural, vocation: man is created to be happy, for happiness. If he sees this happiness, if he meets it in the expression of joy, he can start a way. Here I must say to you: the songs are good, your expressions of joy are good, but the Spirit is the one who initiates this way.
That is, more or less, all that I wanted, all that l have been able, to tell you in these circumstances, and I think that I have said enough, and maybe even too much.
I give you the blessing, together with the Cardinals and bishops present.”
(*) Cfr. «L’Osservatore Romano», 3-4 november 1980, con integrazioni dalla registrazione.