My Lord Bishops, dear Rev. Fathers and Brothers,
Once again in keeping with our original decision to meet twice a year as a Presbyterium we meet here in this new building which due to the needs of space we decided could host us better and in an easier atmosphere. As you can note the hall is being built and we hope to bless and open it at the end of August 2013 in the distinguished presence of His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco, Archbishop of Geneva and President of the Episcopal Conference of Italy. He will also preside over the sick day celebrations next year. He will be accompanied by Mons. Giovanni Battista Gandolfo, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference's office for aid to the mission world, who has graciously funded our building programme.
Besides that, I also wish to inform you that next year we will have two retreats at the Kandy National Seminary, the first from the 15th to the 20th July preached by His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect Emeritus of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments and the Second from the 5th to 10th August preached by His Lordship Bishop Vianney Fernando, Bishop of Kandy. I thank them both in anticipation and would encourage as many as possible to make use of those opportunities. There will then be probably one or two more retreats only in the month of November. For the retreats in Kandy, as was the practice last year, special busses will be arranged leaving Archbishop's House, on the morning hours of the Monday in the relevant week and again on Saturday, the last day of each retreat, busses will leave Kandy for Colombo. I kindly request you to make good use of these opportunities and ensure that you take good care of your personal spiritual growth. All the preachers we have contracted are excellent in their presentations.
Decentralization of the Archdiocese has just been launched. Yet we still need to go a long way to achieve the goals for which the process was started. There will surely be differences in goals and priorities but we need to move on especially in the matter of the renewal of faith awareness, commitment not only among the clergy and the religious but also among the laity towards their baptismal call and discipleship of Jesus, greater interest and deeper participation in the worship and sacramental life of the Church especially in that of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the most Holy Eucharist, renewal of family life and greater family pastoral care, harnessing and improvement of the quality of new recruits to priestly and religious life, greater interest and concern in the care of the poor and the marginalized and on issues that touch upon social justice, peace and harmony, intensification of efforts to care for the rights of children, women, workers and the elderly, building awareness among the Catholics of the value of life from conception to natural death and-the formation of the laity towards a more intense and joyful participation in the life of the Church as well as the harnessing of the support and collaboration of the religious in these efforts. These are indeed some of our priorities in pastoral ministry in the years to come.
Indeed all of this is truly part of the larger programme of the Year of Faith which the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has launched in the Church worldwide and the Archdiocesan level programme which we have launched and called for through our Pastoral Letter of 13th September 2012. As we have set for ourselves, the goal would be that of initiating within the Archdiocese a journey "towards a believing, living and sharing experience of faith". I did mention in the letter that we should engage ourselves in "a journey of a fresh discovery of the beauty of faith". The challenge is huge, for, "with heavy secularism and the intense activities of some groups of Christian fundamentalists, the understanding and the sense of joy in the faith of some of our faithful have indeed been threatened and there are reports of defection". The way out seems to be to work intensely and innovatively towards a "new Catechesis of the faith, reaching out to all, renewed interest in the devout celebration of the Sacraments which includes a strong return to the Sacrament of Penance and an even more intense and devout participation in the most Holy Eucharist, the diffusion and greater use of the Sacred Scriptures, especially through Lectio Divina, the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours at parish level and the commissioning of Biblical animators in the parishes, the revival of the ASIPA, SCC programme, a commitment to the practice of charity which is motivated and grounded firmly in the faith and a renewed interest in sharing the faith with others".
In the matter of Catechesis it is to be reminded to all parish priests that by reason of the office they hold as shepherds of their people, they are in the first place the master catechists of their parishes. The Sunday Homily becomes extremely important in this. The prayerful use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the preparation of these homilies becomes pivotal to this exercise.
As the Pastoral Letter clearly indicates in the following areas special programmes have been started or are being planned and prepared for implementation in the special year just begun:
1. Catechesis / Education
2. Formation through the Deva Dharma Niketanaya and the Tamil and English Theologates
3. Biblical Apostolate
4. Family Apostolate
5. Caritas and the SVP Societies
6. Liturgical Apostolate
7. Ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue
A Committee consisting of representatives of these apostolates and others has been meeting regularly with me in order to monitor the launching, continuation and the further strengthening of these various initiatives over the past few months. We will continue to do this type of monitoring right upto the end of the Year of Faith and probably even beyond.
One of the areas of special commitment which even the Holy Father has wished to place accent upon is that of Catechesis. The Pope in his Motu Proprio, Porta Fidei, announcing the Year of Faith states "the Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith that receives its systematic' and organic synthesis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here, in fact, we see the wealth of teaching that the Church has received, safeguarded and proposed in her two thousand years of history. From Sacred Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, from theological masters to the saints across the centuries, the Catechism provides a permanent record of the many ways in which the Church has meditated on the faith and made progress in doctrine so as to offer certitude to believers in their lives of faith." [PF 11]. Thus with the collaboration of the Archdiocesan Commission for Catechetics we have started working on a special programme to intensify and strengthen the Sunday Schools through the regions, work towards the launching of adult catechesis especially directed to the parents and elders in every parish, make available and diffuse catechetical literature, intensify the Daham teacher training programmes and produce subsidiary audiovisual material that would help in such an intensification of Catechesis. Individual priests are welcome to try out even better strategies for catechesis. Infact last evening I along with His Lordship Bishop Emmanuel Fernando personally conducted a one and a half hour catechesis at St. Lucia's Cathedral Kotahena. About 100 people took part voluntarily and from the questions they raised it was apparent that it was welcome and was valued by them. I will continue with this programme at least in the main parishes of the different deaneries for a start. But the message here is that since the Archbishop himself catechizes, in the parishes too, the parish priests should put in an extra effort to catechize their flock personally. I wish some of you could give at least a start to this. It is time to pull out those catechism books from your bookshelves and prepare yourselves for such a programme for your children, youth, adults and any others. After all, Jesus Himself was our teacher. Wasn't He?
Besides, during this Year of Faith, we hope to also organize some study days for priests, religious and the laity on Ecclesial documents on catechesis like the apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae and the CCC itself. Other important initiatives planned under the Deva Dharma Niketanaya are the preparation of Parish Biblical Animators, preparation and distribution of leaflets on the truths of the faith amongst the flock and a special booklet which answers derogatory remarks or questions leveled against the faith by the fundamentalist sects. The Biblical Commission is working very closely with the DDN and the Archdiocesan Catechetical Commission on these matters.
The Archdiocesan Family Apostolate is at present concentrating on building greater awareness of the Catholic faithful on the evils of abortion and the refusal of life. This is in keeping with a need that arose a few months ago due to the government talking about a possible relaxation of the existing anti-abortion laws. The Apostolate would in the course of the year seek to intensify its efforts in the pre-Cana and post-Cana preparations and follow up programmes for young couples intended to strengthen their undertaking to remain faithful to the sacredness of the marriage bond and their commitment to be the first teachers and formators of the faith to their children.
The Archdiocesan Caritas and the; SVP Societies have been called upon to intensify their activities even further and to ensure that Catholics are made aware of their social responsibilities and are motivated to respond in a faith filled way towards the many challenges arising out of the actual social and political context of Sri Lanka. They are also to be motivated to share with those who do not have, their own riches even if they are given out of their poverty. The Archdiocesan Commission for Justice, Peace, Human Development and the Integrity of Creation will soon meet in order to agree on its own contribution towards the conscientisation of Catholics on their social and communitarian responsibilities.
On the matter of worship, the Archdiocesan Liturgical Apostolate will continue to work towards the proper, devout and meaningful celebration of the Sacraments of the Church, especially the Most Holy Eucharist in our parishes and institutions. A logo, special prayer, a special hymn and sermon notes on the faith are prepared and are to be sent to all by this same office throughout the year.
May I kindly request all of you to celebrate the Most Holy Eucharist as devoutly and faithfully as possible. Vesting prayers will be sent to you all soon. Kindly exhibit them in your sacristies and ensure that during this Year of Faith you furnish your sacristies with sets of amices, albs, girdles and stoles for concelebration and wear them for the relevant celebrations and get all the concelebrants at Holy Mass to do so. All of this would be the most tangible way in which you would give proof of your intense faith in the Eucharistic Lord for as the age old axiom states, "Lex Orandi, Lex Credend” that which is prayed is that which is believed or prayer determines and fashions one's faith].
Pope Benedict XVI in his book "The Spirit of the Liturgy" states "Christian Liturgy is never an event organized by a particular- group or set of people or even by a particular local Church. Mankind's movement towards Christ meets Christ's movement towards men. He wants to unite mankind and bring about one Church, the one divine assembly of all men. Everything, then, comes together, the horizontal and the vertical, the uniqueness of God and the unity of mankind, the communion of all who -worship in spirit and in truth" [San Francisco; Ignatius Press, 2000, p.49]. The Liturgy, then, is the action of Christ - Actio Christi - realized in the Church which surpasses all limits of space, time and human understanding and thus is not subject to arbitrary creativity of any sort. If is given to us and not created by us. Thus we cannot invent it. It is really Christ who is the main actor on the altar not the Bishop, priest or individual Catholic or any given Ecclesial community. We ought to educate and catechize our faithful on this extra terrestrial dimension of what happens at the altar. It is true, that sometimes we are tempted to decide by ourselves - to play God but that precisely is what Aaron and the rebellious people of Israel did with the golden calf and they were destroyed. Do we feel that way too and besides many of us seem to believe that this is what the Second Vatican Council wanted. But it has to be stated clearly that the Conciliar Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium never advocated:
1. Dropping the Latin language from the Liturgy altogether as it has now happened
2. Communion on the hand as it is now practiced in many countries
3. Celebrating Holy Mass facing the people
4. Concelebration en masse as it is now done worldwide when even Cardinals and Bishops are distracted and not attentive to what happens on the altar. Not a few times I have seen some of them pull out a camera from their pockets under the chasuble and take a photograph of the Pope right in the middle of the celebration. That Mass looks just a social gathering when we do such things and is so impersonal.
The Conciliar documents are clear on all these matters but what happened after the Council is what the present Pope stated in a write up found in one of his books - according to him I quote "already during its sessions and then increasingly in the subsequent period, the true Council [what is written in the texts], was opposed by a self styled "spirit of the council" which in reality is a true 'anti-spirit' of the Council. According to this pernicious anti-spirit [Konzils-UngeistJ, everything that is new is always and in every case better than what has been or what is. It is the anti-spirit according to which the history of the Church would first begin with Vatican II, viewed as a kind of point zero" [pp 34-35 -The Ratzinger Report - Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1985]. The Cardinal goes on "this schematism is in of a before and an after in the history of the Church, wholly unjustified by the documents of Vatican II, which do nothing but reaffirm the continuity of Catholicism must be decidedly opposed.....there is no "pre" or "post" Conciliar Church; there is but one unique Church that walks the path towards the Lord, ever deepening and ever better understanding the treasure of faith that He Himself has entrusted to her. There are no leaps in this history; there are no fractures; and there is no break in continuity. In no wise did the Council intend to introduce a temporal dichotomy.....I should like to say that Vatican II surely did not want to change the faith but to re-present it in a more effective way''' [ibid, p.35] These are words of an expert theologian of the Council who worked along with others to prepare many of these documents especially its dogmatic sections.
And so the Council and its indications - yes but not the many wild interpretations given to them by different interest groups later on. The words of the Cardinal are clear - we have it from the very source. What the Holy Father wants us to do in this Year of Faith which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Council is to read the texts correctly as important and normative texts of the Magisterium but seen within the Church's tradition. States the Pope in his Motu Proprio Porta Fidei repeating what he had stated earlier "if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic.it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church" [PF 5]. The hermeneutic the Pope proposes is the hermeneutic of continuity placing the texts as a further evolution of what the Church has always upheld as truth and not as a brand new beginning.
Needless to say that there have been 20 other Councils in the history of the Church and the process is not over - it can evolve even further but it is always the same truths and the same faith.
Now this long presentation on this matter was felt necessary by me as I heard of some initiatives which may have provided or could provide a misleading direction to the proper understanding of the great texts of the Council. It is my responsibility as chief shepherd of this diocese to guide the faith of the community entrusted to me and I have done that.
Additionally today, I wanted to speak to you about an increasingly difficult situation developing in priestly service with regard to human relationships in pastoral service. As the post synodal apostolic exhortation on priestly formation Pastores Dabo Vobis of Blessed Pope John Paul II stated: "it is important that the priest should mold his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man........the priest should be able to know the depths of the human heart, to perceive difficulties and problems, to make meeting and dialogue easy, to create trust and cooperation, to express serene and objective judgments. Future priests should therefore cultivate a series of human qualities, not only out of proper and due growth and realization of self, but also with a view to the ministry. These qualities are needed for them: to be balanced people, strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities. They need to be educated to love the truth, to be loyal, to respect every person, to have a sense of justice, to be true to their word, to be genuinely compassionate, to be men of integrity and, especially, to be balanced in judgment and behavior.....[PDV 43]. He has to be "a man of communion". "This demands that the priest not be arrogant, or quarrelsome, but affable, hospitable, sincere in his words and heart, prudent and discreet, generous and ready to serve.............and quick to understand, forgive and console" [idem.].
Unfortunately, however, it is not very rare to find some priests whose relationships with a given parish community breaks down and his ministry in such a situation becomes more a burden than a help to the people. Dear Fathers, a priest who is unable to bear up those at times difficult attitudes of parishioners would surely find life painful and heavy. Not all people are saints - we know this. When we move into a parish there are always bound to be black sheep among our flock but if for that reason we get into a shell, easily allow ourselves to be prejudiced, and are led by our emotions than by our reason or are made to react angrily and cause divisions in the community then we ought to take a good look at ourselves and see if we are truly disciples of our beloved Lord and Master who prayed for those who nailed Him to that terrible Cross.
The document above quoted also states: the priest's life ought to radiate this spousal character, which demands that he be a witness to Christ's spousal love and thus be capable of loving people with a heart which is new, generous and pure -with genuine self - detachment, with full, constant and faithful dedication and at the same time with a kind of "divine jealousy" (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2) and even with a kind of maternal tenderness, capable of bearing "the pangs of birth" until "Christ be formed" in the faithful (cf. Gal. 4:19) ". [PDV 22] This readiness to be the incarnate and generous expression of Christ's love for the Church, the community to which the priest is sent, makes him give himself totally and unconditionally to the flock as Christ Himself did to the Church He loved. Besides, such pastoral love is truly Eucharistic. Stated the same document: "This pastoral charity flows mainly from the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is thus the center and root of the whole priestly life. The priestly soul strives thereby to apply to itself the action which takes place on the altar of sacrifice........... because of this, the priest's pastoral charity not only flows from the Eucharist but finds in the celebration of the Eucharist its highest realization - just as it is from the Eucharist that he receives the grace and obligation to give his whole life a "sacrificial" dimension. "[PDV 23]
These are beautiful words indeed. Yet the reality may not be that easy. All the same, dear Fathers, some sense of openness on our part would already encourage our people to come a long way. Afterall we are there for them. A shepherd cut away from his flock, running away from them would not be a shepherd. Ontologically a shepherd would not be a shepherd if we are not concerned about our flock. Remember what the Lord said about the good shepherd; the good shepherd knows his flock and they know him and he lays down his life for them [cfr. Jn. 10: 14-15]. It is the hired shepherd who runs away and does not care for the sheep [cfr. Jn 10: 13]. May I then make use of this occasion to appeal to all of you to truly love your flock and seek to be their true shepherd and guide always making those sacrifices you are called upon to bear lovingly in the imitation of Christ who it is said was so concerned with the crowds who came to Him that He even did not have the time to take His meals [cfr. Me 6:31].
Stubbornness on the part of your faithful who often times misunderstand you and cause difficulties could be overcome by a greater effort to understand them. As priests we should never allow ourselves to be dragged down to the ways of human anger and reaction as then we would not be able to challenge them to rise above their worldly ways. Instead we ought to pray for those who make life difficult for us and then we would, with God's help, be even able to cause a conversion in their hearts. And it is the Lord who converts the hearts of men as He did with Hs own stubborn persecutor, Saul. Let us then pray for those that harass us. My dear Fathers, in this Year of Faith, then, let us make every effort to establish a truly shepherdly relationship with our flock and thereby help the Lord to strengthen their faith.
And finally, may I wind up thanking all of you for your generous participation in this gathering, welcome each and every one of you most cordially and invite you to join in the various initiatives of this meeting actively.
May God be with you!
+ Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
Archbishop of Colombo