In the first Apostolic Exhortation of his pontificate, Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis sets forth in an official document his vision for “new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” and a new chapter of evangelization marked by “the joy of the Gospel (that) fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”
Pledging “a conversion of the papacy…more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it,” the Holy Father asked Episcopal Conferences to embrace the collegial spirit that “has not been fully realized.”
Catholics are challenged to find new and creative ways of proclaiming the Gospel to free its freshness from our “dull categories.” Emphasizing the essential missionary nature of the Church, the Pope calls for renewal of ecclesiastical structures to become more “mission oriented,” citing the need for a “pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are.” Certain “customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some of which have deep historical roots” must be reexamined.
Those who seek God should not find a closed door, “our church doors should always be open”: “nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason”, Pope Francis cautioned. The Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” The church should be on the periphery, “bruised and dirty”…”rather than a Church … concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.” Our concern should be “the fact that many of our brothers and sisters are living without … the friendship of Jesus Christ.”
While emphasizing the need for the renewal of structures and the need to reclaim the missionary nature of the Church, the 48,000 word document makes it clear that church doctrines on abortion and women’s ordination remain unchanged but calls for “broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church”, in particular “in the various settings where important decisions are made.”
Our next few blogs will be devoted to a more detailed examination of this important document.
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