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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
Scripture Corner…

THE PACT OF CATACOMBS IN POPE FRANCIS

The Beatitudes or a Sermon on the Mount, may seem to be an impossible dream to many people. Yet Jesus has presented them to us as a Realistic Possibility to Holiness, to the kingdom of God (malkuth shamayim) in our Christian living since he himself lived them to the full. In other words, the Beatitudes are the "Be-Happy-Rules" (BHR). Why? Because they offer us a spiritual vision of true happiness. In fact, the wisdom of the Beatitudes is of perennial and has a universal validity. This stands to be a pathfinder to being the people of Easter! And this is the way the forty Bishops decided to tread along for the sake of the Church, for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of God's people entrusted to them. On November 16, 1965, close to the end of Vatican II, forty conciliar Bishops met at the Catacombs of St. Domitila to sign a semi-secret pact intended to do away with the richness, pomp, and ceremony in the Catholic Church. Some of the names of the Bishops present are not known; although we are sure that there were two bishops belonging to the Society of the Missionaries of Africa, namely Msgr. George Mercier of Laghoeuet, Algeria and Msgr. Joseph Blomzous of Mwanza, Tanzania. And Helder Camara, Archbishop of Olinda e Recife, Brazil, was the moving force behind the Pact itself. Bishop Charles-Marie Himmer (1902-1994) of Tournai, Belgium, was chief celebrant, presided the Mass.

The Beatitudes are neither easy and clear-cut answers like making a cup of 'milo' in the kitchen; nor are they like advertisements neatly packaged like a television commercial! Not at all! They are the Be-Happy-Rules (BHP), though in a style and stance of a paradox since they go beyond our common sense to God's sense of things. Theologically speaking, the Beatitudes are tools for us to comprehend Jesus' revealed truth in answering our human fundamental and existential questions. It is for this reason that the mission statement of the Pact of the Catacombs is based on the Beatitudes that, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:3). Our present Pope, Francis, is surely and undoubtedly, guided by the Beatitudes.

The forty Bishops stated that, "Regarding housing, food and means of transportation and everything concerning these things, we will seek to live in accordance with the common average level of our people. We renounce forever wealth and its appearance, especially in clothing (expensive materials and brilliant colours), and insignia of precious metals (such things should, in effect, be evangelical). Neither gold nor silver. We will not possess either movable or fixed assets, or bank accounts in our names. If it is necessary to possess some property we will place it under the name of our diocese or other social or charitable works. Whenever possible we will confide the financial and material administration of our diocese to a commission of competent lay people conscious of their apostolic role, given that we should be pastors and apostles rather than administrators. We refuse to be called in speech or writing by names or titles that signify grandeur and power (Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Monsignor ...). We prefer to be called by the evangelical name of Father. In our comportment and social relations, we will avoid everything that can appear to confer privileges, priorities, or even a preference whatsoever to the rich and powerful (for example: banquets given or received, special places in religious services). We will also avoid fostering or flattering the vanity of anyone, whoever they might be, when rewarding or requesting donations or for any other reason. We will invite our faithful to consider their gifts as normal participation in worship, ministry and social action. We will give as much as is necessary of our time, thought, heart, means, etc. to the apostolic and pastoral service to working individuals and groups who are economically weak and underdeveloped, without compromising other people and groups in the diocese. We will support the lay people, religious, deacons or priests, whom the Lord calls to evangelise the poor and workers, sharing their life and work. Aware of the demands of justice and charity and their mutual relationship, we will seek to transform the works of "beneficence" into social works based on charity and justice that take everyone into account, as a humble service of relevant public bodies" (The Divine Mercy Word Missionaries, Double Anniversary of Domitilla Catacomb, p. 1-3).

Looking at the life of Pope Francis, we come to realise that even if he does not cite the Catacombs Pact specifically, his language and principles evoke the Pact of the Catacombs. It is something to remember that within the days of his election he addressed the journalists that he wished for a "poor church, for the poor." And from the start he did not hesitate to shun the finery and perks of his office, and preferred to live in the Vatican guest-house rather than the apostolic palace. He stressed that all bishops should also live simply and humbly, and the pontiff has continually exhorted pastors to "have the smell of the sheep," staying close to those most in need and being welcoming and inclusive at every turn. Pope Francis pledges to share his life in pastoral charity with his brothers and sisters in Christ. It is for this reason that on Sunday afternoon (March 11, 2018) he travelled to Trastevere, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the St. Egidio community with children, the poor and the elderly. For Pope Francis, this kind of visit is nothing extra-ordinary. It is part and parcel of his apostolic ministry.

As Cardinal Walter Kasper, a retired German theologian who is close to the Pope, stated in an interview recently, "Pope's program is to a high degree what the Catacomb Pact was." All this remains to be a challenge for all of us, particularly and more especially, we leaders of the Church. The Pact of the Catacombs at Domitila Catacomb embraced the gospel values of the Beatitudes. As leaders of the Church, let it be Cardinals, Bishops, Priests or Religious, how do we live these Gospel values? Are they outdated as some modern religious leaders think? What is our life style as such in regard to whatever has been entrusted to us by, be it the Church or Society? As we are living Lent, preparing for Easter, it is of extreme importance for us to have a pause a bit, expound and internalise the Gospel values expressed in the Pact of the Catacombs; hence, live them out as the people of hope, the people of Easter!

 


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