Dioceses are ever-open construction sites, always ready to “dare”, to “undertake a journey”, “to start anew”, every year, according to specific projects. And usually autumn is the time when we take stock of all ideas to resume our work on the scaffolds.
We are witnessing unexpected vitality nationwide, from North to South: an intense activity that may appear repetitive and routine, but that in fact is growing and developing with profound creativity.
The most fascinating aspect is the communion of thoughts and reflections that are part of a clear, well-defined architectural design. Indeed, the projects and ideas of the 225 construction sites (i.e., the total number of dioceses in the country) spring from a shared and rich dynamism found in the Pastoral Guidelines for the present decade (2010-2020) “Educating to the good life of the Gospel”, in the priorities that emerged during the Fifth Convention of the Italian Church, held precisely a year ago in Florence on the theme: “The new Humanism in Jesus Christ”, in the indications offered by the Apostolic Exhortations “Evangelii Gaudium” and “Amoris laetitia.”
This is the direction that the Italian Church is following! It’s not a perfunctory answer to those who continue speaking of divided communities, closed in on themselves and in disagreement with Pope Francis. Although difficulties do remain, as Francis says “Realities are more important than ideas” (EG 231-233). And in this case reality is substantiated by accurate figures resulting from a census on the bishops’ Letters, on diocesan assemblies and conferences that traditionally mark the beginning of the new pastoral year.
The figures refer to 180 dioceses out of 225, (thus way above 50%); those which have already released their 2016/2017 programme, published on their website or released on their media outlets.
Recurring themes. “Evangelii Gaudium” (70), “Amoris laetitia” (40), Florence 2015 (20), mercy (20), Christian initiation (15), synodality (15). It isn’t a ranking from the first to the last most popular themes, but rather a global view of the above-mentioned dynamism; also because one theme recalls another, and they are all part of a whole.
The focal point – following the indications conveyed by Pope Francis to the delegates at the Florence Conference – is Evangelii Gaudim.
“For the coming years – the Holy Father said in his programmatic speech – in every community, in every parish and institution, in every diocese and circumscription, in every region, try to launch, in a synodal fashion, a deep reflection on the Evangelii Gaudium, to draw from it practical parameters and to launch its dispositions, especially on the three or four priorities that you will identify in this meeting.
Hence, we should learn “at the school of Evangelii Gaudium”, as mentioned in the title of the assembly of the diocese of Casale Monferrato. Not only … all other 70 dioceses – surveyed – are on same wavelength, dedicating the present pastoral year to Francis’ Exhortation. Just to mention a few (each representing an ecclesiastic Region): Lanciano-Ortona, Tursi-Lagonegro, Cassano all’Jonio, Pozzuoli, Faenza-Modigliana, Latina-Terracina-Sezze-Priverno, Tortona, Bergamo, Senigallia, Aosta, Cerignola-Ascoli Satriano, Nuoro, Acireale, Pisa, Belluno-Feltre, Spoleto-Norcia. Without forgetting all the other realities that have already dedicated or that are currently dedicating moments of reflection and study; or the many events where CEI Secretary General Monsignor Nunzio Galatino has delivered ad hoc speeches.
There emerged a guiding thread uniting innovative thoughts and attention to build the “new humanism” whose specific traits, “anticipated” to a certain extent in the ten-year long pastoral Guidelines, have been gradually outlined before, during and after Florence 2015. Now, as Mons. Galantino affirmed on several occasions, it is a question of “following this path with the faithful, in close contact with history, and with a constant reference to the person and our role model that is Christ. As a Church – with reference to the five threads of the Conference drawn from the Evangelii Gaudium – it is a question of going out, not only towards every geographic and existential periphery, but also to step out of rhetoric, of clichés, and political correctness; to proclaim that man is not alone but the object of a design of grace; to inhabit this world, taking on its challenges; to educate our brothers and sisters to live according to the logic of the Gospel; to transfigure relations through the practice of mercy, which alone – as we have learned from this Holy Year – gives meaning and fullness to human life.” It can be said that the same path was traced by Pope Francis in Amoris Letitia, the post-Synod document on “love inside the family.”
From Evangelii Gaudium to Amoris laetitia we find continuity. And the local Churches, perhaps not all of them yet, perceive that the renewal requested by Francis involves all aspects of Church life. It’s a profound renewal that is not limited to one ecclesial structure, but rather it encompasses the style characterising practical action and encounter. It’s a Church that is outgoing; a Church called to reconsider herself and the instruments she needs to fulfil a task that defines her very identity; a Church that equally reconsiders her “terminology.”
It is no coincidence that several keywords recur in the terminology of our bishops’ pastoral letters. These are: mission, going out, synodality, mercy, joy, Gospel, tenderness, accompaniment, proclamation, communion, discernment, youths, family, the excluded, the poor…
When placed next to each other these terms express the effort to become ever more authentic missionaries, open to all. It’s no coincidence that so many pastoral visits are ongoing, along with an equal number of diocesan Synods. With no doubt it’s a new style that is open, dynamic and marked by synodality.