Rodrigo Mejía Saldarriaga, born in Medellín (Colombia) in 1938. Entered the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits) in 1956. After obtaining his Master in Philosophy and Classical Letters he was sent as a missionary to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1964 for three years after which he resumed his studies of Master in Theology at the Xaveriana Pontifical University in Bogotá (Colombia) and his Doctorate in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Back in Congo, he was Rector of the St. Peter Canisius Jesuit Institute of Philosophy in Kinshasa until 1984 when he was sent to Nairobi in order to be one of the co-founder members of the staff of the newly started Hekima College as well as the newly born Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA) where he taught Pastoral Theology. At the same time he also co-founded the Parish of St. Joseph The Worker in the slum area of Kangemi in Nairobi in 1985, where he used to reside. In 1995 he was appointed Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Eastern Africa. In 1998 he was assigned to Ethiopia where he was General Secretary of the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa. In 2007 he was consecrated Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Soddo-Hosanna. In 2013, reached the limit of canonical age, he became Bishop Emeritus of Soddo and returned to Nairobi. He currently lives in the Jesuit Spirituality Centre of Mwangaza, in Karen (Nairobi) and gives spiritual retreats.
Yago: Bishop Rodrigo Mejía, in this interview we would like to study how Pope Francis envisions Joy as a essential transformative attitude to deal with injustices in today’s world.
You say that “The Joy of the Gospel” is Pope Francis’ program. What do you mean by that?
Bishop Rodrigo Mejía: He himself, in the text of the Apostolic Exhortation itself, said that this is not just a document as usual. He says, “I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences” (No. 25). Programmatic significance means this is his program. If a Catholic asks, “Where is Pope Francis willing to orient the Church in the years to come?” The response is in the line of the Joy of the Gospel. Besides, in the same Exhortation he says “I was happy to take up the request of the Fathers of the Synod to write this exhortation” (No. 16).
Q: Why precisely “The Joy of the Gospel”? How relevant is this term?
Bishop Rodrigo: I think that he realizes that living in a time of crisis for the Church, as is our situation today, evangelizers can grow weary, perhaps because they are older or because there are less vocations, or because of the accusations against priests. On the other hand, evangelizers face great challenges, widespread violence, terrorism, human trafficking, etc. Evangelizers can become discouraged, thinking, “the challenges are too many and too great.” So, the Pope says that we cannot allow pessimism to overwhelm us; he says that we have to keep the joy of evangelizing and the joy of being evangelized. And he says that if we allow this to be our missionary impulse, this is what would make possible a new period for the Church, a renewal of the Church. It is joy that will renew the Church. In the first chapter he explains very well what kind of joy he is talking about. It is not a superficial enthusiasm but is a kind of renewal of the motivation that, with the help of the Spirit, who is there always, we can renew the Church and we can renew evangelization. I think this joy is a fact that he has communicated not only to the Church, in his own personal messages and actions, but even to those outside the Church. We can say that, by at large, people are happy with the Pope. This happiness is the joy of seeing that a renewal is possible, a new evangelization is possible.
Q: You say that “The Joy of the Gospel” coexists with suffering, even is produced by suffering. What do you mean by this?
Bishop Rodrigo: It is not the joy of victory. It is not the joy of complacency about what we have achieved. It is the joy of knowing for Whom and for what we are struggling. And that is a joy similar to the joy of an athlete who is training for a long distance race. The training of such an athlete demands sacrifice, self-discipline, self-denial, many hours on the track and in the gym, abstention from alcohol, fidelity to proper diet, etc. Such sacrifices are undertaken willingly and in joy because of the goal. With all the more reason the evangelizer should be one who is willing to undergo struggle and hardship because he can be sure of attaining the goal for which he sacrifices and strives, because he can be sure that the Lord will be faithful to his promise. “I will be with you until the end of time.” So, in moments of trials and difficulties and indeed through the evangelizer truly arrives at his goal. No joy is stable, durable, and solid, without a cost. Our sufferings, hardships and challenges are but the human collaboration we have to offer for that; but once we are convinced of the joy, we are ready to pay the price.
Q: Does desolation takes away “The Joy of the Gospel”?
Bishop Rodrigo: Desolation may come. In addition, inclinations to pessimism and discouragement may come, but Pope Francis reminds us that we have a responsibility to allow such movements to shape our lives or to oppose them. Such should be our response when we recognize such movements, to use the vocabulary of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, as not coming from the “good spirit”, precisely because they work to divide or separate us from the joy of the Kingdom. In moments of desolation we have to assess their meaning, whether they have a meaning, may be a test, or an instance of the dark night of the soul, as John of the Cross observes. It is not uncommon in the lives of the saints to have moments of darkness or cloudiness. Even Moses had to enter into the cloud to meet Yahweh. It is normal, it is human, but we should not allow ourselves to be shaped and overcome by such moments. We have to continue faithfully our pilgrimage, the journey of evangelization, even in the face of such struggles.
Q: The Beatitudes are the charter and the wisdom of the Kingdom. You invite us to take the Beatitudes as the final reference for our examination of conscience and also for the preparation of the sacrament of reconciliation. Could you expand on this?
Bishop Rodrigo: Many translations in English use the word blessed when translating each of the Beatitudes. It is a very liturgical word because a blessing is a liturgical ceremony. And we also say in our prayers “blessed be you Lord God of all creation.” God blesses us but we also bless Him, and we glorify Him, we proclaim Him happy. This is to worship God. In the Beatitudes the better English translation would be happy. It is more faithful to the original Greek “makarios”. It means a real happiness, a durable joy that is not limited to this life, but that will be fulfilled in the joy of eternal life. Now, this is the joy of the Beatitudes which is not the joy centred in myself but it is the joy of serving, the joy of doing the will of God. When I am convinced, through faith, that I am doing what God wants, even if I suffer, I am happy because I am sure I am serving the Lord. It is like the soldier who fights willingly and with devotion when he knows that there is purpose and meaning to his cause. There is a reason for joy. The Beatitudes are the charter of the Kingdom of God. They are the portrait of Jesus himself at the same time. That’s why we could use them more as a mirror, as an aide to our examination of conscience, and not just for daily life but also in preparation for our confession. We usually do not kill, steal, or commit adultery, but it is more common that we lose enthusiasm, react with anger, lose patience, lack meekness, fear being persecuted for justice, remain silent when we should speak, etc. The Beatitudes could help us to make a fuller examination of our motivations and attitudes, and especially as evangelizers in the light of the joy and happiness called forth in us by the Beatitudes.
Q: Pope Francis in n. 33 is inviting us to be bold and creative in the task of rethinking the goals, structures, style, and methods of evangelization. We have to avoid the mere pastoral of maintenance. What are the consequences of this statement? Why is Pope Francis so blunt in this intention?
Bishop Rodrigo: I think that he realizes that we are still keeping structures that were useful and good for the Church in the past but that are not responding to the present needs, the present mentality, the new generations, the new social situations. We may think that these structures are untouchable. We may declare them part of the tradition of the Church and this is not always the case. These structures are not to be identified with dogmas. They can change and they should be updated or replaced. We have to find a way of proceeding that is more meaningful to contemporary people. That is in general. In particular, the Pope is working with a group of nine cardinals to bring some important innovations. This includes a revision of the constitution of the Roman Curia, a work that has already been underway for more than two years and which would see a revision of the structures and organization of the hierarchy. This may include new ways of relating between Rome and the Bishops’ Conferences (not only the bishops at national level, but also the regional Bishop’s conferences, like AMECEA, SECAM, etc.) and greater collegiality in decision making, more autonomy in certain domains, etc. We do not know because this has not been published, but we expect a simplification of the processes of the administration in the Vatican. The Pope has already started this process, but he is also inviting, even at the level of parishes, a participation in the revision of our structures of catechesis, our structures of lay involvement, and our structures of pastoral work at all levels combined with an assessment of their relevance and meaningfulness in today’s world.
Q: We are talking about the risk of clericalism.
Bishop Rodrigo: In the old versions of Canon Law there were some structures that were presented as originated explicitly by divine will, and therefore, incapable of being changed precisely because they were supposed to be ordained by the will of God, that is, instituted, directly or indirectly by Christ. However, this does not apply to all the ecclesial structures, and it is these latter structures which the Church may and in appropriate circumstances should revise.
Q: You say that the problem is: doing things in the same way while expecting different results.
Bishop Rodrigo: Exactly, that is what the Pope means. We cannot continue doing things in the same way we have been doing for 2000 years and expect new results, because if the method is the same, the results will be the same. So, if we want to expect better results, we have to alter our way of proceeding.
Q: You also mention that joy is related to creativity. You talk about the creative joy. How are joy and creativity connected?
Bishop Rodrigo: Creativity in human terms engenders joy. An artist can spend hours painting, without a concern for time, and he is happy while he is working and not only when the work is finished. In a sense he is happy not because he has finished the work but he is happy with the process. If the process is just repetitive, is monotonous, is routine, it is very difficult that it begets joy. You need a lot of faith to do the same thing every day and express joy. Creativity can bring the joy of newness.
Q: Pope Francis is inviting us to revise our motivation for evangelization. What are the risks and challenges we are facing as pastoral agents?
Bishop Rodrigo: The Pope identifies motivations as presenting both challenges and temptations. The reason is that we may be evangelizers having good intentions of course. Nobody evangelizes with bad intention. However, there are also intentions and motivations that coming not from the Holy Spirit but from the world, like ecclesiastical ambitions for power, promotion, honour, advancement, prestige, etc. That’s why he told the new cardinals not to allow people to call them “princes of the Church”. The quest for honour, prestige, power, comfort, and so on, should not be the guiding motivation of evangelists. That’s why he is puts us on the alert to purify our motivations. We evangelize because we have received this mission from the Holy Spirit.
Q: Can we discover perfect joy in darkness?
Bishop Rodrigo: Darkness is an ambiguous term. Darkness is a state of spirit more than an outside situation. We may discover joy in suffering and in being tested. Darkness means more an absence of joy, a feeling of desolation. And darkness in the gospel of John is also equivalent to sin. The power of darkness is the power of sin. I would not say darkness, but we certainly can have joy in the middle of suffering or being tested. As Martin Luther King expresses very well: “I have never been so free as when I am now, here in prison.” To have been in prison for such a noble cause was for him something that gave him pride and joy, a sense of satisfaction in his suffering. That is what Peter and John express after they were flogged for the first time by the Sanhedrin. They came back joyful at having been found worthy of suffering for the sake of the Name. If they suffer for the sake of the Name, that means they have been graced by God to undergo this trial.
Q: You and Pope Francis differentiate between obligation and impulse. What do you mean when relating it to Joy?
Bishop Rodrigo: Obligation may have a negative connotation. “I do that by obligation” I do not like it, I do not feel committed to that, I do not feel any joy in doing that, but I do because I am obliged to do. This is to do things out of duty, as a burden, as something coming from outside, imposed. This is not the attitude in the mission because this attitude does not reflect joy. But, you should do the things out of missionary impulse, this impulse is motivation coming from grace, from the Holy Spirit, it is giving you the joy of doing that. Externally someone may judge that what you are doing is difficult and that’s why sometimes people would ask if we do not find it difficult to go to mass every day, to pray, to obey, to have vows, etc. But it is also possible to under these routines freely. And such routines freely undertaken can give rise to an altogether different experience, an experience of liberation, happiness and joy. Vocation implies a free choice not an obligation.
Q: The risk of individualism in the Church and its relation to mission as a personal calling.
Bishop Rodrigo: Christ gives the mission in the Gospels to concrete persons. In the Gospels, the Apostles receive a mandate to go on mission as a group. The Great Commission of Matthew’s Gospel instructs the Apostles to “go and preach the Gospel” to all nations. But the Apostles have been chosen personally. Hence, there are the two elements here; the personal calling and the communal or ecclesial dimension in the mission. The mission is personal because the response to the call has to be personal, as it is very clearly in the passage of Luke in relation to the annunciation to Mary, “let it be done to me according to your will.” In this sense, we should avoid comparing missions because each one has his or her own mission, as in the body there are different missions, i.e. the personal aspect is to give an account of my mission. However, by individualism we understand here an action planned and done in isolation, without any reference to the mission of the community: I do not mind what the mission of the Holy Spirit is and I do not know what the mission of the group is. I have my own calling and “charism”, and I go ahead alone. That is precisely what Pope Francis intends to reject and to condemn, especially at the beginning of his Apostolic Exhortation. We have to avoid a kind of competitive, protagonist and individualistic approach in which I become the centre of the mission and I tend to feel look at myself as indispensable to the mission and to make every success of the mission depending on my own. Sometimes pastoral agents feel so indispensable that they cannot be moved from “their mission”. They are not available for other missions. We have to avoid that in the new evangelization. In the past, because of the lack of personnel, the missionaries were working alone very often, without a team. That situation enhanced this individualism, if the missionary was changed, he or she moved with his or her benefactor because they were friends helping him or her more than they were friends helping him or her more than helping the mission. This is what we have to avoid in the new evangelization. We have, more and more, to work as a team; for practical reasons, because if at any time we lack help, the mission does not depend on one individual. I recall here the traditional Zulu Proverb: “If you want to go fast, walk alone; but if you want to go far, walk with others”.
Q: How do you understand the Kingdom of God?
Bishop Rodrigo: The kingdom of God is a plan or a program. The kingdom of God and the plan of salvation for me are interchangeable. It is where God may be the point of reference for everything. The king is the head, the king is the point of reference for all people, the king unites the people, and the king rules over them and so a perfect kingdom is a kingdom of peace and justice. It is described very well in the preface of the feast of Christ the King; a kingdom of justice. It is not a territory. The evangelist Matthew never speaks of Kingdom of God, he speaks about the Kingdom of heaven; the reason is that for his Jewish sensitivity, it is better to avoid the name of God. He is a Jew writing to the Jewish community, but the kingdom of God and the Kingdom of heaven have the same meaning in the Gospels. Today the tendency among some exegetes is to translate kingdom as “kingship” underlining, not a territory, but the sovereignty of God over creation and over all humankind, to unify, to make all things one. Such is the idea in Saint Paul: to make heaven and earth only one unit. Now, this involves fundamentally a communion with God. There was an interpretation at the beginning of the past century that the kingdom of God was completely interior, completely personal, and spiritual and therefore invisible. The kingdom of God is fulfilled when I, as an individual and as a person, receive and accept the faith in my heart. So the kingdom of God is within me. It is true in a sense that if we accept in faith and we receive the message of the gospel and we live it in ourselves, we are in the Kingdom of God. However, we cannot reduce the kingdom of God to a purely individual and private reality. Those who have received the gospel create interrelations that are visible and show the kingdom of God as a new people, a new Israel, a new creation even. Others, especially in the past, identify the Kingdom of God and the Church. The Church would be identical with the Kingdom of God on earth. Today this is not accepted in Ecclesiology. There is a distinction between Kingdom and the Church. The Church is a sacrament, an instrument, a symbol, and a herald of the Kingdom and tries to live the spirit of Kingdom in itself; but the real consolation and fulfilment of the Kingdom is eschatological. As long as we are still pilgrims on earth, we are on the way of the kingdom. It is true that those who are on the way, in a sense they are already in the Kingdom because Jesus said, “I am the way”. That is why we pray in “Our Father”: “your kingdom come” every day.
Q: You say that tradition is not a simple repetition. You also say that we live in a living tradition. What do you mean by that? How do the present and the future relate with tradition?
Bishop Rodrigo: If we take an example from nature, it may help us to understand. We see here in Africa weaverbirds; they make their nest very nicely, but they never change the model. They cannot innovate or improve even their model. They are working by instinct and by repetition. The repetition may give you skills, but the repetition alone does not give you the capacity to question whether what you are doing is the best way or not, or whether the result can be improved or not. So, the element of improvement, progress, and creativity is not present in the simple fact of repetition, and that’s why what we have to examine tradition, we have to examine how relevant this tradition is today. Is what we are repeating from the past understood and relevant for today? Do people appreciate it today? Is it a symbol that continues to appeal? What tradition meant to maintain is the value conveyed through these repetitions. Can we convey these same values today in another way? Once people, jokingly, said to a bishop “you have to love tradition” and the bishop replied, “yes, I love tradition very much, and that’s is way I want to start new ones”… Someone wrote: “We have to be faithful to the fire of our ancestors, not to its ashes”.
Q: Good intention is not enough for evangelization. Could you expand on this?
Bishop Rodrigo: Good intention means good will. The person says. “I do not have bad intentions; I want to do good to people”. However, good intention needs to be submitted to the test of discernment, because with good intentions alone you can still make mistakes. If the good intention is an act of the will only, it may be an act of emotions or feelings, and with good intentions you can make a mistake; even a person treating a sick person with good intention but not having the least notion of medicine can do the contrary thing. For example, if a person, victim of a car accident is laying down motionless, the first thing is to say “don’t move until the paramedics come” because the person may have a fracture. In fact, by moving the wounded in an abrupt way the fracture may get worse, even if done with good intention. The same happens in our mission: if we do not submit it to the discernment and consult with the community, we can make serious pastoral mistakes with “good intention”.
Q: You say that we have to change the poles. God does not need our love. Could you explain more on this?
Bishop Rodrigo: We cannot say that God created the world and humankind because he was missing something. God was not missing anything; he created freely and out of love because love tends to communicate. Now, He loves us and He is fulfilled in his love. He is not deficient. If I don’t love him, anthropologically we say we offend him, we sadden God, God is not happy etc. This is our way of expressing that our relations are broken and in the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus himself compares God with the father of the prodigal son. It is clear that the father is missing his son humanly speaking. However, he is missing his son out of love, of course. Now, we have to avoid two extremes, that God is really missing something because we are making him incomplete, or we are disturbing his infinite joy, in other words, we cannot disturb his infinite joy; but the other extreme is to think that God is indifferent, for God is the same whether we love him or not. This is not true because the response, the positive response of love, is dialogue with the beloved. That is why that appears in the prayer for unity; keep them in the unity in the chapter 17 of John. “As the father loves, I love you”. If God remains indifferent how could He be compassionate? The main point is that the love, with which we love Him, comes also from Him, not from us. John is very clear in his first letter: “It is not we who have first loved Him but He who loved us first. God is the source of any genuine love.
Q: Could we say that outside love there is no salvation?
Bishop Rodrigo: Yes, I prefer this statement; “outside Love that there is no salvation”, instead of the traditional, “outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation”. Why? Because the love of God is not confined to the Church and this is developed in the First Letter of John. “God is love and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him” (1 John 4: 16). Therefore, love for one another can happen inside the Church or outside the Church. And in the final analysis is love that will save the people. Matthew 25:31-46, in the parable of last judgment, wrote, “I was hungry…” many people will say, “When did you see you? We did not know the gospel, we did not recognise you, and we were not in the Church. Yes, but whoever visited me, made an act of love, come to my kingdom. That is why love provides a better image, a better description of the salvific action of God beyond the visible belonging to the Church.
Q: Marianne Williamson says that our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Do we fear resurrection? Do we know how to preach resurrection?
Bishop Rodrigo: Well, we, people, in general, are afraid of death but it is, for a good part, because we do not have the conviction of resurrection. Many, even Christians, may hold resurrection as a theoretical truth, and we cannot even imagine what resurrection is. Usually resurrection, in popular religiosity, is comparable to re-animation or resuscitation; it is to resume the same body that we have, and to continue, to re-start a living like Lazarus. We call it the resurrection of Lazarus, in fact Lazarus was not resurrected theologically, he was resuscitated, he was re-animated (and I don’t know whether he was very happy by the way, to start again dealing with his life…). Resurrection means a new life, and of course, of this new life, we do not have experience, it is a matter of faith. We cannot imagine it because nobody has come to describe to us what the situation in the afterlife is. We know by the data of the Gospel that our bodies will be transformed and in that Paul insists that our identity will be maintained. We will be identified as Jesus was identified after his resurrection, but his body was a glorious body not the same identical earthly body. This is the only information we have about the resurrection of Jesus, as a model, but Paul has a larger idea of resurrection. This is the resurrection after death, but there is also a spiritual resurrection from sin, from the death of sin, and in that resurrection, we are already risen with Christ. We are already participating in the life that we are going to have later on. How? By Grace and in the Spirit. This is why Paul teaches “we are new creatures” (Letter to the Galatians), we are renewed in Baptism. That is the ritual of baptism in Easter, when the paschal candle is put into the water, Christ is symbolized descending to the realm of the dead to bring them resurrect to new life as the candle is brought from the water, this is the symbol of our spiritual resurrection. And if we are resurrected with Christ, wrote Paul to the Colossians, let us look for the things that are above where Christ is in glory. I mean we have to change our life. However, we have to have this joy of the gospel permanently because we are already risen with Christ. This is not so well understood and this is why we, priests, do not preach enough about this kind of resurrection.
Q: Could you go deeper on your statement “we are resurrected already”?
Bishop Rodrigo: Yes! We are resurrected from the power of sin, we are resurrected from the darkness of ignorance, we are resurrected from slavery to passions, and from the slavery of the power of darkness, the power of sin, and in that sense we are free, we can call God “Abba” Father. These all are signs of resurrection.
Q: Pope Francis was also inviting Consecrated Men and Women to keep watch. It is an invitation to prophecy but also to mindfulness. What can you say on this?
Bishop Rodrigo: What Pope Francis wants is what Vatican II already suggested in the decree of the Renewal of Religious Life. The danger is that religious life may become a ghetto, a kind of community in which everyone feels secure, is talking the truth, praying, living in community but not having any concern or any impact in the civil society around them; and that means we do not know what is happening and the prophetic aspect of Religious Life is lost. Many Christians consider the monks, the monasteries, and the religious life, as if they do not belong to this society, as though they do not belong to this world. By being religious, we should become not angelic but more human, more interested in what is happening around us and more ready to see it with the eyes of faith. When we discern that something is positive, we encourage people, but when we see signs that are not in the line of the kingdom of God, we denounce the evils of society. However, if we are not aware of what is happening, how can we have an impact in society? Our religious communities should be aware of what is happening in society, and discern what is happening in order to tell the people “keep watch.”
Q: Pope Francis is inviting us to a critical contemplation of our world. Are we equipped to do that? Do we have the skills to look at the root causes?
Bishop Rodrigo: Yes, certainly, because our pastoral theology as a theological discipline has developed very much in the last years. Pastoral theology is a real critical reflection on the action of the Church in the world, questioning and seeking meaningful answers to such questions as what we are doing? the demands of the gospel? the mandate of Christ? the meaning of that mandate? the receptivity of that mandate? the action of the Church-ad-intra? and so on. Our pastoral theology provides us with important indicators, parameters, dimensions, but of course we must employ them. When I am invited in a school, for example, how are these dimensions present in that school? We may think that the diakonia is very well because we are giving the service of education, but that school may lack koinonia, that is, communion with the parents, with families. Indeed we have aids to assessing our actions. But very often we don’t use them and this is the problem. The invitation of Pope Francis is to be more attentive and not to be afraid of being critical of our own actions with a view to being of greater service, not with a view of seeing only shortcomings and being discouraged, not with a view to being prophets of doom, as he says, but with a view of encouraging and doing better.
Q: Pope Francis is inviting us to evangelize, not only persons but also structures and politics. How can we do this?
Bishop Rodrigo: We can do it at two levels, if we take into consideration that structures come from people. People produce social structures and we have to be aware of their interaction. On the other hand, structures also shape the mentality/minds of people. So there has to be a strategy that would deal with both dimensions. A critical analysis of the structure itself (objective), be it the structure of education, health, culture, religion, etc., in the society. Here I analyse concrete structures objectively: are they helpful for our society today yes or not? Are they against the values of the Kingdom of God? This, irrespectively of who created that structure or where it comes from. On the other hand, we have to make people aware that some structures may be harmful for the society, that they are not as effective and fair as they were in the past. It is our duty, as a new generation, to revisit our own structures and not to be afraid of recognizing structures of the past that are no longer appropriate, even if they have a long tradition. Humankind by itself spontaneously makes such adjustments. We come from a system of government that consisted only in absolute monarchies, only kings, everywhere. Now from kings they came into republic and then republic, and then democracy and participation and from republic, federal republic, parliamentary republic, and so on. Society itself is reflective. We have to contribute to that common reflection proposing the changes of structures that we think, from the ethical point of view, that are better for society. In the Catholic Social Teaching of the Church, we have a fantastic guide and instrument for this structural discernment.
Q: How can we evangelize the current economic structures ruling the world?
Bishop Rodrigo: The first step is to see the situation and describe properly what is happening. A past idea was to produce more richness, more money, and more technology in order to be able to be able to redistribute it. Unfortunately, the result was more accumulation of riches in the hands of a few people, resulting in a bigger gap between the rich and the poor. This is a fact. It is up to us to analyse that and to make it known that the people are suffering in following this model. It is not because of the collapse of Communism that the Capitalistic approach of globalisation is good. It is not good, there is a structural sin there. There is ambition, lack of control, subjection to a dictatorship of the free Market. This is idolatry of economy. We need to change that structure. That is the first step. The second step is to examine what we can propose. What kind of alternative models of economy are better? That is more difficult because it requires skills, professional reflection, and in that the Church has a rich resource in properly motivated professional lay people. This is a real “lay ministry” and we can co-opt people who know deeply and are familiar with international market, international monetary funds, etc., qualified people who can propose new ways. They are the Church also!
Q: What about evangelizing the structures within the Catholic Church?
Bishop Rodrigo: The Pope is very much aware that there is a need to revise these structures. He affirms that from the very beginning of the Exhortation (No. 32). One structure is centralism. We were taking centralism in the past as a symbol of unity, and it is true, it was. However, the Pope says that too much centralism does not help the Church today, that there has to be more collegiality. Collegiality is another structure. It was accepted at Vatican II but the pope notes in the instruction that we have not advanced very far in implementing collegiality. Collegiality is having the capacity of decision-making in common even at a local level, of more autonomy, more responsibility to the particular Churches. So far, collegiality is officially recognized only in the ecumenical councils where the Bishops decide even dogmatic things, by majority voting, always in union with the Pope. Collegiality is not a matter of putting the Pope aside. However, the structure of the Synod of Bishops has to be revised, and it is being revised, and in fact the pope has already introduced some important changes. In the last meeting of the previous year, the pope changed the structures telling the bishops to “speak boldly, honestly and frankly and to listen with humility”. Nor were their remarks to be limited to 3 or 4 minutes and the bishops were allowed even to contradict one another. These were important examples of collegiality and the recognition that at the universal level it is impossible, more and more impossible, to give uniform rules appropriate to every local Church. Such might have been possible and necessary in the past. Why? Because we were living in the Christendom mentality, but now the Christendom is finished, and you can see that, even in Europe, we cannot talk about Christian countries, even catholic countries. So, each episcopal conference, each local Church has to take its responsibility. Such is an example of evangelising structures.
Q: You also talk about ecological structures. What are they?
Bishop Rodrigo: The ecological structures are the policies, international or national, that the different governments have, because they are responsible for the common good, for the protection of the atmosphere and the environment. Now if we pollute and poison the environment, we are damaging the common good. Therefore, there is an ethics in the dealing with creation. The book of Genesis is very clear: “master creation”, not “destroy creation”. Therefore, it is not that we cannot use creation, that we cannot cut a tree, and utilize nature. It is not that. We can utilize nature but we have to be mindful of generations that are to come. In addition, we should utilize creation in such a way that the side effects of our usage is not more detrimental that the progress we are pursuing. Such consideration are part of the ethics of the common good. Therefore, evangelising these structures means examining them first, critically, and also saying how we can minimise the damage, how can we avoid pollution, etc. Here, again, in the Catholic Social Doctrine, we have solid principles about environment and integrity of creation and that is part of evangelisation.
Q: Pope Francis talks about a “globalization of indifference” happening in today’s world. What does he mean by that?
Bishop Rodrigo: Well, he uses globalisation in the sense of generalisation. In fact, in the face of such big problems that emerge at the international level and that are decided at high levels – the United Nations, the Security Council, and so on – we can ask, “What can I, as an individual, do?” As an individual, I can do nothing or very little; therefore, for me all remains the same. I hear the news, I watch the TV, I learn of victims of terrorism, of migrants drowning, etc. Since I can do nothing, I become insensitive; nothing tortures me because every day the news is the same, the same disasters. Therefore, at that moment, if they ask my opinion, or they ask my collaboration, I would say: “I can do nothing”, I enter into a situation of indifference, for me this is normal that people die from Ebola or AIDS; it’s normal; especially if I am not living in that situation. This indifference affects much more the people who live in affluent societies, with comfort, and a quality of life that is very far geographically and humanly from these problems. When we live in isolation, as in an ivory tower, we feel protected. We tend even to justify these evils, “this is life, life is like that, you see, the big fish eats the small fish”, or “it has always been like that”. Others can go even further and think: “this is the plan of God; this is the will of God, the survival of the fittest”.
Q: Is it the Church integrating the Social Doctrine of the Church into her proclamation? Is the Social Doctrine of the Church well understood by pastoral agents?
Bishop Rodrigo: I would say that at the Social Doctrine of the Church is certainly influencing the ordinary magisterium of the Pope’s teachings and the documents of the different Roman Congregations. I see more and more that this is the case. If you read attentively, the Joy of the Gospel you will see that it refers several times to the Catholic Social Teaching of the Church. However, at the popular level, this continues to be our “best kept secret”. Because people do not know much about Catholic Social Teaching and can think that we don’t have qualified people to teach it to the people. We think that we need to be great experts in sociology, anthropology, economy, and all kinds of disciplines. It helps, but if you read the Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine and the Encyclical letters, you will see that they were addressed to common people and the Compendium has a common language, although the Compendium – the great initiative of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace – is still quite large. It is a reference book, it is not a book to put in the hands of a common Catholic or a common Christian. What we need in order to make it known is a vulgarize version of the Social Teaching of the Church. Short manuals, perhaps by topics or problems (ecology, races, slavery, economy… whatever) might be more effective. Such, unfortunately, does not exist in Africa. Another thing that I see is that there is a very good will in starting Justice and Peace Commissions at different levels. One of the main tasks of JPC is precisely to make known the social teachings of the Church at the popular level. Something is being done, for example, here in Kenya, through the Lenten campaigns. It is a good idea during the Lenten Season to take a topic and make it known at the parish level and to Small Christian Communities. The JPC publishes such booklets in English and Swahili for the use of communities. Something is done, for sure, but the problem is that still we are not working in much collaboration. We are rather dividing our energies a lot. There is a JPC for women Religious, there is JPC for men Religious, there is a JPC for the Bishop’s Conference, there is JPC for the Universities, etc. I have contacted members of all of them, practically, and they do not know each other, nor do they know what the others are doing. This is what, jokingly, I tell them, “you are very evangelical because the right hand does not know what the left is doing”.
Q: You talk about balancing proclamation and denunciation. Could you expand on this?
Bishop Rodrigo: It is easy to denounce, to protest is easy. When we see a problem to cry and to criticise is comparatively easy. It may be done with the best of intentions, but it is not always done in an enlightened fashion. The great challenge is to take action that would also strive to bring about improvement. What do we do to avoid or improve shortcomings? Do we expect everything to come from above? After the proclamation, comes the question. Such was the situation of John the Baptist and the question to Peter from the first converted: brethren, what must we do? And that is why I stress that even in proclamation we can produce good documents, telling what to do. But the next step is implementation of the proclamation.
Q: Religion is undergoing the risk of becoming privatized. How?
Bishop Rodrigo: A major reason for this is the misunderstanding of religion. This is not new, it has always been, even in the times of Jesus, and in the Old Testament: religion is frequently regarded as one’s private relations with God. My spiritual life (prayer) with God; confession is asking forgiveness from God, the sacraments are asking the grace of God, everything I relate to God, vertically to heaven. Therefore, it is my own responsibility. And when I die, I will be judged personally, and I have to give account of my life to God, not to anybody else. On the other hand, many have a kind of scepticism towards those who represent religion socially: the priests, and the pastors. Jesus Christ, the Gospel, that is very nice, but not the Church, the Church has many defects: priests do not preach well, they do not prepare their homilies or they have limitations and failings, and so on. And Therefore, there may be mistrust of the Church. And when I do not accept the aspect of communion with the others, I am happy with communion with God alone. That is precisely what the First Letter of Johnstresses. If one is not in communion with his brothers, how can he claim to be in communion with God? These are often false pretexts to justify a “comfortable” and private religion. However, we do must realise that religion is “re-ligare” (to bind together): in religion we are bound together with God and with the others.
Q: You say that we have to evangelize cultures in order to enculturate the Gospel. Why?
Bishop Rodrigo: Because enculturation is a bi-lateral process; it is not a unilateral process. If I pretend to take the Gospel and apply it to a culture in such a way as to make the Gospel fit to the culture or a local Church, what I am doing is changing the Gospel and not the culture. This is not enculturation. In the proper process of enculturation both change, the way of understanding the Gospel and the way of understanding the culture. The interaction of both produces a renewed culture. The Pope says that we have to revise whether every single element of culture is in line with the Gospel. We can talk about a culture of corruption, in which corruption is culturally normal, but that is against the Gospel; or a culture of slavery which was accepted for centuries, for example. Slavery existed in Europe, in society, for centuries and the majority of people did not see it as contrary to the Gospel. At that moment, thanks to prophets like Bartolomeo de las Casas, or Peter Claver, and others, voices emerged which made us aware that slavery is not in harmony with the Gospel. Paul, for example, did not speak against slavery, but he did try to humanize it, demanding that one treat slaves well, consider them like brother and sisters. But Paul never told Philemon that slavery was bad. When Paul lived he had not reached that level of enculturation. Today we go beyond that, and today we also have a heightened awareness of other injustices in various cultures, especially concerning the role of women in society and in the Church. We recognize that such structures have to be revised to that they are more in accordance with human dignity and revelation, as we have come to understand this in our present age. In this way there is an interaction between culture and the Gospel.
Q: What is the stand of the Pope about women in the Church, especially as regards decision-making and power?
Bishop Rodrigo: He recognizes that the rights and dignity of women, as we have come to understand these today, requires that women be given greater roles in the Church. That is the principle. Participation in the Church means participation in deliberation, decision-making, consultation, etc. We have bodies for that, bodies in which women can be integrated. We have from the bottom, parish pastoral councils, diocesan pastoral councils, we have Roman congregations in which women are most welcome, and they could give their own opinions and take part in decision making. The mistake is to believe this is possible only if they are permitted to celebrate the Eucharist. The Pope says that this is a mistake because the sacraments do not give any power. Sacraments are not sources of power. The power of the parish priest comes from his leadership and the consultation with the parish council. So, it’s another source of power but not the sacraments. So let us not think of the enhancing the role of women in the Church only in the confection of the sacraments, that is, the essence of the ordained priesthood. The Pope himself has taken the initiative to increase the role of women in the Vatican Curia and the congregations.
Q: Can we say that there exists a culture of corruption within the Church?
Bishop Rodrigo: Even in the Church there is corruption, because the culture of corruption can exist everywhere even if not in the same way. In the Church, the corruption may not be necessarily financial, although it could be financial as well, but it is not necessarily financial. What may happen in the Church is a confluence of influences, whereby I want to have a promotion. So I cultivate friendships that can work to bring about my name to be chosen for this or for that. That may happen in the Church and is part of what the Pope describes “spiritual worldliness” (Nos. 93-97). That is indeed spiritual worldliness. In addition, there may be people who take advantage of the structure of the Church, lay people, Christian or not, under the appearance of helping the Church financially. They may give funds in the name of a member of the Church which is then received, but received in a naïve or a-critical manner which does not ask about the source of such funds, which may be dirty money, monies being laundered, whether coming from drugs, or the mafia, or from some other illegal source. Such monies might be deposited in the account of a Cardinal or a Bishop and allegedly destined for charity. Thanks to God, such abuses are being recognized and eliminated. That is the aspect of financial corruption. Another way of corruption is this misadministration. It happens in the Church that a prelate, a Bishop or a priest, may receive an amount of money for a project, but instead of it being directed to that project, it is directed elsewhere, even if to some good. But such procedures are clearly not properly accountable nor transparent. Transparency and accountability are understandably important dimensions of modern evangelisation.
Q: You talk about the main causes of all temptations are pleasure, power and prestige.
Bishop Rodrigo: The Pope mentions these causes in the instruction because, I think, the analysis of the temptations of Christ reveal that they are the root of all temptations. Power because it is human. Power gives you at the same prestige and prestige gives you pleasure. But there is also ambition, the quest for honour, fame, glory and so on. Pleasure may be of different kinds. It may be physical, psychological, moral, success, accomplishment, and so on. In themselves, these are human tendencies that can be used for good or for bad. In the sense that even self-satisfaction, you have to have a minimum of self-esteem and a minimum of taking care of your own health but not for your own pleasure but for service. Power is necessary in authority; not as oppressing power but as a service to the common good. We can say the same is of prestige, it is good that the people see that we live the Gospel not for us to be praised but, the Gospel says it very clearly, so that people see your good works and they may give glory to the Father who is in heaven. So people may be encouraged by our good example. However, you can also give good example in a pharisaic way just to get praise, just for honour, for prestige, to be recognized. The tendencies that in themselves are human may be “disordered”, as St. Ignatius would say, because they miss the right purpose for which they exist.
Yago: Bishop Rodrigo, thanks a lot for your wonderful contribution to this blog. We have gained greatly through your witness.
Bishop Rodrigo: Thanks to you Yago!