Thursday, August 6, 2015
Since its inception Social Ministry has found its sources of inspiration and action in two principles: on one side the daily history and life of all human beings and the signs of the times, and, on the other side,  the Magisterium of the Church particularly the Social Teaching at universal and local level. History means the ongoing changes and evolution particularly in Africa where the Institute of Social Ministry, in Tangaza University College, was founded in 1994 and where history seems to be running, for a variety of reasons, faster than elsewhere. Magisterium means first of all Gaudium et Spes, that greatest synthesis of Social Teaching ever issued by an Ecumenical Council; it means also the social encyclicals by the popes; the African Synods; the local social directives issued by the bishops of SECAM; the Magisterium of the national Episcopal conferences of bishops.
[In the picture: Fr. Francesco Pierli, mccj, author of the article].


Pope Francis

and Social Ministry

a few hints

Among the document most often quoted there has been Justice in the World by the Synod of Bishops in Rome in 1971, particularly number 6: “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church's mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”

The First African Synod in 1994 from which the Institute of Social ministry germinated, in Ecclesia in Africa stated: If the proclamation of justice and peace is an integral part of the task of evangelization, it follows that the promotion of these values should also be a part of the pastoral programme of each Christian community. That is why I urge that all pastoral agents are to be adequately trained for this apostolate. "The formation of clergy, religious and laity, imparted in the areas of their apostolate, should lay emphasis on the social teaching of the Church. Each person, according to his state of life, should be specially trained to know his rights and duties, the meaning and service of the common good, honest management of public goods and the proper manner of participating in political life, in order to be able to act in a credible manner in the face of social injustices" (107).

The concerns and emphasis of pope Francis

Now we are inspired by the leadership, the example and teaching of Pope Francesco and by his unique concern for the poor  and passion for the transformation of human conditions so that all may enjoy dignified human conditions of life.

On the 24 of November 2013 has issued the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, a kind of programmatic document for his own pontificate.

The overall objective of the document is,  in the Pope’s own words: here I have chosen to present some guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and joy (17). The full document consists of five chapters, the one I would like to, briefly, dwell upon is chapter IV, the longest one, by the title: The Social Dimension of Evangelization. The first paragraph expounds the concern of Pope Francis:

To evangelize is to make the kingdom of God present in our world. Yet any partial or fragmentary definition which attempts to render the reality of evangelization in all its richness, complexity and dynamism does so only at the risk of impoverishing it and even of distorting it” (140). I would now like to share my concerns about the social dimension of evangelization, precisely because if this dimension is not properly brought out, there is a constant risk of distorting the authentic and integral meaning of the mission of evangelization (176).

The Kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. The content of the first proclamation has an immediate moral implication centred on charity (177).

The same concern is reiterated in the conclusion of the same chapter:

Starting from certain social issues of great importance for the future of humanity, I have tried to make explicit once again the inescapable social dimension of the Gospel message and to encourage all Christians to demonstrate it by their words, attitudes and deeds (258).

The danger that pope Francis smells in certain circles of the catholic communities of today is, as it were, the inclination to over spiritualizing the Gospel, the Christian message, by focusing it almost unilaterally on the religious sphere only, such as: liturgical celebrations, pious exercises, alleluia style, dances, obliterating the social sphere that is attention to human beings particularly the most marginalised and defenceless and the depletion of the environment. Both of them, that is the vertical and the horizontal dimensions are inseparable in and for the Kingdom of God. The social dimension shows the depth, breath, and concreteness of the religious sphere, its genuineness. Let us not forget the first letter of Saint John: If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in words or speech but in deed and truth (1 Jn 3: 17-18).

The prophets are the architects of bringing together in the one solid building of the Kingdom of God the religious and the social dimensions of the Covenant. A quotation from the great Isaiah: Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; lean to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan plea, defend the widow. (Is 1, 15-17). Jesus summarises the all of it in the last judgment in Mathew 25: 31-46, which is highly social.

Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi expressed the same concern, after having elaborated it in a broad way in Populorum Progressio (1967) and several speeches during  the Synod of Bishops on Evangelization in 1974. A quotation: Between evangelization and human advancement — development and liberation — there are in fact profound links. These include links of an anthropological order, because the man who is to be evangelized is not an abstract being but is subject to social and economic questions. They also include links in the theological order, since one cannot dissociate the plan of creation from the plan of Redemption. The latter plan touches the very concrete situations of injustice to be combated and of justice to be restored. They include links of the eminently evangelical order, which is that of charity: how in fact can one proclaim the new commandment without promoting in justice and in peace the true, authentic advancement of man? We ourselves have taken care to point this out, by recalling that it is impossible to accept "that in evangelization one could or should ignore the importance of the problems so much discussed today, concerning justice, liberation, development and peace in the world. This would be to forget the lesson which comes to us from the Gospel concerning love of our neighbour who is suffering and in need. The same voices which during the Synod touched on this burning theme with zeal, intelligence and courage have, to our great joy, furnished the enlightening principles for a proper understanding of the importance and profound meaning of liberation, such as it was proclaimed and achieved by Jesus of Nazareth and such as it is preached by the Church (EN 31).

The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice

Let us not forget that pope Francis is a Jesuit! The Jesuits in the 32nd General Congregation (the General Chapter) (1974 – 1975) deliberated: Our Mission Today is: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice. From all over the world where Jesuits are working, very similar and very insistent requests have been made that, by a clear decision on the part of the General Congregation, the Society should commit itself to work for the promotion of justice. Our apostolate today urgently requires that we take this decision.  As apostles we are bearers of the Christian message.  And at the heart of the Christian message is God revealing Himself in Christ as the Father of us all whom through the Spirit He calls to conversion.  In its integrity, then, conversion means accepting that we are at one and the same time children of the Father and brothers and sisters of each other.  There is no genuine conversion to the love of God without conversion to the love of neighbour and, therefore, to the demands of justice.  Hence, fidelity to our apostolic mission requires that we propose the whole of Christian salvation and lead others to embrace it. Christian salvation consists in an undivided love of the Father and of the neighbour and of justice.  Since evangelization is proclamation of that faith which is made operative in love of others, the promotion of justice is indispensable to it.

Comboni and the Comboni tradition

Let me wind up this sharing, with a hint at the linkage between social ministry and apostolate and Comboni charism and tradition. I have always believed that Social Ministry is a genuine and original offshoot from the Comboni stock: a valid actualization of the charism in the African context at the beginning of the third millennium and deeply entrenched in the tradition  of the Comboni Family.

Let us start with don Nicola Mazza. The most recent biography by Rino Cona carries the title: Nicola Mazza – A priest for the Church and the Society. He spent 15 years of his life as an active member of the municipality of Verona responsible for Agriculture and particularly for silk production and breeding of silk-worm; he did it with great creativity and innovation. On top of this the great social adventure of the two colleges for poor and talented girls and boys where Comboni himself found shelter, integral education and the missionary vocation. When Comboni started the missionary presence in Egypt in 1867, did he not replicate two schools: one for boys and the other for girls in order to Regenerate Africa through Africans? In the Plan for the Regeneration of Africa writes about ‘religious and civil education’ (Writings 2771), ‘to impress and implant in their souls the spirit of Jesus Christ, integrity of behaviour, firmness of faith... Besides this all men will be instructed in the practice of agriculture and in one or more skills of first importance; and every woman will be similarly educated in the most necessary of women’s skill. (Writings 2770). Comboni whish two provide each person with two hands; the religious and the social ones, then, and only then he or she will be in a position of living as son and daughter of God and as a dignified and active member of the society. For this reasons,  Mission is for Comboni a multifaceted  enterprise with a variety of ministries and ministers: brothers, sisters, ordained ministers and laity, male and female pastoral agents. Hence Comboni does not envisage one missionary in isolation, say a priest in ‘his parish’; this would be the clericalization of the mission, hundreds of miles far from Comboni’s vision. A clericalism denounced by Pope Francis in several speeches and in Evangelii Gaudium as well (see 102).

Let Pope Francis concerns and directives be welcomed by all of us and find creative investments in the Institute of Social Ministry, in Tangaza University College, and in our apostolate.
Fr. Francesco Pierli, mccj

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