A TESTIMONY – Learning from our shepherd

– Carlos M. Frota

My text today is a brief personal reflection about the way the Church, under Pope Francis’ guidance,  can help us – is helping us already – to better understand our world, so complex as it is, but also so eager to be understood in its complexity.

A world where peoples are more aware of their dignity, where cultures and civilizations are seen as equal (and no more subjugated to criteria  of  superiority or inferiority), but a world very often without space, in the public conversation, to allow every culture to express itself.

And it is in this concrete  world, without prejudice of any kind, that the new apostles are called to become fishers of people.

“Come, follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

This text was inspired by the way Pope Francis invited the bishops attending the Synod for Amazonia to look differently to the Amazon native peoples and their native cultures and traditions.

With all the evolution of modern social sciences, anthropology, sociology, psychology,  and others, and reflecting on  past missionary experiences, Pope Francis proposes a new approach that must motivate future missionaries. In Amazonia and elsewhere.

I start this writing with a “provocative”  quotation from Pope Francis, during the opening session of the Synod, where native people from that vast region attended, proud in their traditional cloths.

Said the  Pope during his inaugural address: “Yesterday I was very sad to hear, here, a mocking comment about that pious man who brought the offerings with feathers on his head: ‘What difference is there between wearing feathers on the head and the “three-cornered hat” that some officials of our Dicasteries wear?’”

I imagine how this unexpected statement shocked  more than one,  but definitively  put everything in perspective! Surely, Pope Francis saw better than others how we are so comfortable in our own ‘tribal cloths,’ using invisible feathers in our invisible hats not aware that they are nonetheless feathers and hats! Uniforms, medals, colors, everything that emphasize difference, separating people, creating hierarchies … 


In times of confusion and perplexity, like the ones we are living in, we all need a guide, a kind of light to dissipate both perplexity and confusion,  searching for the ultimate  meaning  of our own experiences. 

It’s why I find myself looking, more and more often nowadays to Pope Francis’ teachings. My attitude, I accept, is in contradiction with the usual feelings of self-importance and self-sufficiency, so common in our culture, where individuals erect altars to themselves. But I always preferred not transform myself into a little god, full of my little certitudes…

Yes, notwithstanding culture, ideas, all the books read during my lifetime, as a Catholic I need a guide, or a counselor, helping me to make the necessary convergence between God, in the person of Jesus Christ and the world, in my time, in our time, now.

The apparent naïveté of my attitude  is not one;  and it has an explanation. For me, the Church, as the depository of the Gospel’s message, has always been Mater et Magistra, mother and teacher. Mother in the tenderness of her approach towards human frailty; mother whose embrace warms the soul and gives hope; and teacher on how to interpret the century,  the world.

The inner world of  our contradictions, the  inner world of our spirituality, the inner world of our thirst  for God,  but also the outside world we call “civilization,” everything we create, physical realities as cathedrals or schools or hospitals, as well as paintings, sculptures , novels, poetry, etc.

We know, from the Book of Genesis, how easy it is for  elected people to build fake gods, in gold or otherwise. Idols who are poor, human created  substitutes  of the real, the unique God, the Creator of everything .

And in our civilization,  we are building every day fake gods, idols witch distract us from the real, the unique God. It’s why  is so important to have a guide, a shepherd,  to facilitate our choice between  good and evil.

Because, despite all our culture, our pretense of knowing everything, we cannot escape the fundamental choice between good and evil.

And it’s here, when core values matter more than any other considerations, that we can learn from the shepherd, himself imbued by the Spirit and the Message.

And the lessons from the Pope are always related to the only essential question  Christianity is centered in or focused on: how to respect the Human Person, in his identity, historical context, and    his ultimate destiny ( = salvation).

Our world: the keys of understanding 

An excellent example of how Pope Francis can teach us to understand the world lays in his opening remarks of the Synod for Amazonia.

The complexity of the issues doesn’t embarrass the Pope in his efforts to emphasize the main ideas guiding the Church and all of us. And these main ideas can be applied in Amazonia or elsewhere. In every situation we can use the same criteria, mutatis mutandis.

“We can say that the Synod for Amazonia has four dimensions,” Pope Francis explains: ‘the pastoral dimension, the cultural dimension, the social dimension and the ecological dimension.’”

My first legitimate question: this quadruple approach can it apply to every society today?

“The first, the pastoral dimension is the essential one, the one that encompasses everything.

“We approach with a Christian heart and see the reality of Amazonia with a disciple’s eyes, which must not be confused with proselytism, but we approach to consider the Amazonian reality, with this pastoral heart, with the eyes of disciples and missionaries because the proclamation of the Lord urges us.”

And then the Pope delivers the core of his message: “’And we also approach the Amazonian people on tiptoes, respecting their history, their cultures, their style of good living, in the etymological sense of the word, not in the social sense that we give it so often, because the people have their own identity, all the people; they have their own wisdom, awareness of themselves, the people have a feeling, a way of seeing the reality, a history, a hermeneutic and they tend to be protagonists of their own history with these things, with these qualities.”

I read  once more this last paragraph and there arises the inevitable question to myself: Is this the revolution Pope Francis is proposing, not only for Amazonia, but for the entire world, seeing every people in its reality, in its context, and not  trying to dominate it under the pretext of evangelization ?

In this case, Christ’s message will be inscribed at the center of that culture, and not as part of a foreign cultural package… which was the case of traditional Christian European proselytizing?

With the eyes of Pope Francis, can I see missionary  work in a different way?

And considering, for  example that Europe itself is becoming more and more a godless society, how can that quadruple approach apply to Europe as an Amazonia-like land for future missionaries?

Is this an audacious, unlikely scenario, even considering that African, Asian or Latin American priests can go to Europe to fill the void left by the lack of European priest vocations?

A too futuristic and skeptical vision?