Pope to bishops: Listen to those who left us

Paterno R. Esmaquel II
In a landmark speech, Pope Francis fleshes out the reasons why people leave the Catholic Church

LANDMARK SPEECH. Pope Francis attends a meeting with bishops, archbishops, and cardinals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on July 27, 2013 on the occasion of the 28th World Youth Day. Photo by EPA/Antonio Lacerda

MANILA, Philippines – To bring back those who left, listen to them.

Pope Francis made this appeal to bishops on Saturday, July 27 (Sunday, July 28 in Manila), in a landmark speech that fleshed out the reasons why people leave the Catholic Church.

Francis said people need a Church “unafraid of going forth into their night,” “capable of meeting them on their way,” and “capable of entering into their conversion.”

He said: “Today, we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the ‘night’ contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture.”

“I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts? A Church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home?” said the Pope.

It was a wake-up call for the bishops of Brazil, the world’s largest Catholic country that has suffered a record decline in its number of Catholics. 

Why people leave

The Pope said people leave the Church thinking it “can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important.”

He said: “Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age.”

In his speech, Francis also stressed “the grammar of simplicity.”

“At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. Without the grammar of simplicity, the Church loses the very conditions which make it possible ‘to fish’ for God in the deep waters of his Mystery,” the Pope said.

Earlier on Saturday, Francis addressed another factor that could repel the faithful from the Church: priests being “presumptuous, imposing ‘our truths.'”

Fighting this attitude, he said: “What must guide us is the humble yet joyful certainty of those who have been found, touched, and transformed by the Truth who is Christ, ever to be proclaimed.” 

Since his election in March, the Pope has consistently emphasized the importance of a listening Church and the need to go to the “outskirts.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com