THE PASTORAL LETTER OF THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF INDIA IN PREPARATION FOR THE JUBILEE YEAR 2000
CBCI CENTRE 1, Ashok Place, Near Goldakkhana New Delhi - 110 001
As the Third Millennium draws near, all of us eagerly look forward to a new world order. This expectation has been voiced in diverse ways by different groups of people in keeping with their particular ideologies and religious beliefs. For the Church, this represents a kairos - a time characteristic of the special inteervention of God through His Spirit - in the course of her pilgrimage towards the new earth and new heaven. In the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II invites the entire Church to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit for a renewal of Christian life and mission in the world. We too, the Christian community in India, are challenged to give our specific response to the Spirit of Jesus during this period, so crucial to the nation and the Church in this country.
1. The Significance of the Jubilee Year
a) Jubilee in the life of the people of God of the Old Testament
For Israel, the Jubilee was a time specially dedicated to God who had liberated them from Egypt. It was a time during which they were called upon to enjoy their freedom as the people of God, to renew their covenant with Yahweh and to look forward in expectation of the messianic age, by committing themselves to its realization. Hence it was also a time to effect the freedom from slavery and poverty.
b) Jubilee in the life of Jesus
Jesus Christ began His public life, proclaiming a Jubilee year (Lk.4, 16-30). He envisioned it as a time of God's intervention in the history of the people to bring about their total freedom and integral well-being by means of the Gospel that He preached and the miracles that He performed. The climax of this divine intervention was realized in the redemptive events of Christ's Death and Resurrection. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the first believers, this Jubilee was extended to the whole world.
c) Jubilee in the life of the Church
The Church has celebrated many Jubilees in the course of her history in order to remind herself of the great event of her salvation in Christ and of her mission as a community anointed by the Spirit to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Thus Jubilees were celebrated at intervals of 25 and 50 years to enable the Church to relive the mystery of Christ in her life and mission.
d) Jubilee 2000 and Vatican II
Vatican II, styled by Pope John XIII a 'new Pentecost', inaugurated a Jubilee for our times by challenging the Christian community to renew its life and mission. Pope John Paul II has called it a period of New Evangelization. In his Apostolic Letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, the link between Vatican 11 and the great Jubilee of 2000 is underscored. "The Second Vatican Council was a providential event, whereby the Church began the more immediate preparation for the Jubilee of the Second Millennium. It was a Council like earlier ones, yet very different; it was a Council focused on the mystery of Christ and the Church and at the same time open to the world" (no. 18). The same Apostolic Letter continues: 'The preparation for the new millennium, therefore, can only be expressed in a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church" (no.20). It is necessary, therefore to recapture and relaunch the basic thrust of Vatican II in order to make the Church effectively respond to the Lord who is beckoning her to encounter the new millennium.
2. The main Thrust of the Preparation for the Jubilee 2000
The main theme of the Jubilee Year 2000 is obviously the Mystery of Christ in the life of the Church and of the world today. The Church of the first centuries was a community that lived the Easter experience intensely and was deeply touched by the Spirit of the Risen Lord. In course of time however, as she grew in numbers and became organized institutionally, her experience of the Spirit tended to lose its freshness. Vatican II was a special intervention of the Spirit in her life, a New Pentecost, which was meant "to impart an ever increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful" (SC. 1). This requires that the Christian community encounter Christ anew not only as the centre of its own life, but also as the focal point of the history of the world. This will in its turn lead to a transformation of life and a renewed enthusiasm for proclaiming the Good News to the world. This is what the New Evangelization implies in its deepest significance.
a) Jesus Christ, the centre of the Church and of human history
Inaugurating the Jubilee at Nazareth, Jesus highlighted the fact that He was fulfilling all the other Jubilees of the Old Testament and gave it a liberative and redemptive thrust. This should be the thrust of our Jubilee. Continuing His mission through the Church today, Jesus seeks to respond to the aspirations and yearnings of humanity, be they social, religious or economic. Therefore Christian communities themselves must both practise and propagate the authentic values of justice, freedom and equality and, in concrete, stand for the rights of the weak, the poor and the oppressed. Only when His redemptive plan is realized in our human situations, does Jesus become the centre of history.
b) A springtime for Christian life
The implications of accepting Christ as the centre of the Church and of the world can be synthesized into two phrases: the conversion of the Christian community and the transformation of the Christian community into an evangelizing community. Before initiating the Jubilee Year, Jesus invited all to repent and believe in the Gospel (Mt.4,19; Mk.1,15). At the end of His ministry - the Jubilee Year - Jesus asked all His followers to go forth and proclaim the Good News to the whole world (Mt.28,1920; Mk. 16,15). In order that the beginning of the third millennium may be a veritable springtime of Christian life, two conditions must be verified: the re-evangelization of Christian communities and the evangelization of the world by Christian communities.
i) Re-evangelization of Christian communities
The first requirement for an authentic evangelization is repentance. This requires the renouncing all sin, be it personal or communitarian. "The joy of every Jubilee is above all a joy based upon the forgiveness of sins, the joy of conversion" (TMA no.32). Once this is realized, there will be reconciliation at all levels between God and human persons as well as among human persons themselves. Conversion will lead us to a renewed commitment to Christ. This is the deepest meaning of believing in the Gospel. Vatican 11 has shown us the path leading to this faith renewal. Among the chief means proposed by the Council in order to revitalize the faith of the Christian communities, are: a renewed interest in the Word of God, and an active and lived participation in the liturgy. Thereby Christians will be enabled to experience the Mystery of Christ more deeply and bear witness to the joy of being redeemed.
ii) Evangelization of the world by the Christian communities
A transformed and reconciled Christian community is an effective instrument for reconciliation and unity among the peoples of the world. This is the goal of evangelization. This evangelizing thrust should permeate all the activities of the Church. Her structures should be so renewed by the power of the Spirit as to become instruments for the proclamation of the Gospel in all contexts. In other words, she should realize that evangelization is not merely one of her activities, but it is her only activity. This will give her a new identity, an identity in terms of her mission.
3. The Proposal of the Holy Father for the Jubilee 2000
In the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, the Holy Father divides the period of preparation for the Jubilee into two phases:
The first - called the ante-preparatory phase - extends from 1994 to 1996. This period "is meant to revive in the Christian people an awareness of the value and meaning of the Jubilee Year 2000 in human history" (TMA no.3 1). The chief focus is on making the Christian community realize the need of repentance and reconciliation as well as that of strengthening its faith commitment.
The second - the preparatory phase - lasts three years, from 1997 to 1999. The first year (1997) is dedicated to Jesus Christ. The faithful are to be initiated into a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ: (a) by creating a renewed interest in Sacred Scriptures whereby they came to know Him for the first time, (b) by fostering a renewed appreciation of Baptism whereby they were first related to His Person and (c) by a deeper understanding of their commitment in faith to Him through a process of Catechesis. Mary will be present as a model of faith specially manifested in her Divine Motherhood.
The second year (1998) is dedicated to the Holy Spirit who is the gift of Christ to the Church so that she may continue her mission in the world. The main focus will be on the sacrament of Confirmation whereby the Spirit confers on the Church manifold charisms for the fulfilment of her role in the world, namely, the mission of evangelization which is meant to give the world the hope for a new creation. In order to fulfill this task effectively, it is necessary to build up unity within the Church, which is founded on the activity of the Spirit. Mary is presented as a model ofperfect docility to the Spirit in the work of salvation.
The third year (1999) is the year of the Father. The main focus of this year is the establishment of the Fatherhood of God in the world. Alienation present at different levels in our human relationships is the cause of the lack of experience of this Fatherhood within the human community. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation this alienation is to be removed and a community of Charity to be established. This charity will have to be expressed through a preferential option for the poor and the outcast, through an approach of dialogue with the great religions and the secular ideologies of the world. It is to usher in a civilization of love. Mary will be presented as the perfect model of love for God and neighbour.
The great Jubilee year 2000 will be the year of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It will be celebrated with the International Eucharistic Congress in Rome. A meeting of all Christians can put in evidence the ecumenical and universal character of the Jubilee.
4. India and Jubilee 2000
The Indian Church is called upon to play her own specific role in the preparation and celebration of this great Jubilee. The Church in India is a heavily institutionalized community. A recent survey has highlighted the fact that this community is very much in need of deepening its Godexperience. The image that we reflect both within and without the Church clearly manifest this. The Church in India must become a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led community. For this, our Christian communities need to be reevangelized; only then will they become evangelizing communities.
a) Evangelization of the Church in India.
To become an evangelized community, the Church in India should seriously take up the issue of reconciliation in the following areas of her life.
i) The very first condition for a reconciled community is the personal conversion of its members because all the evils present in the community have their origin in the human heart. It is necessary for every Christian to listen and accept once again the call of the Lord: Repent and believe in the Gospel.
ii) The Church should eschew and eradicate all discrimination based on caste, wealth, social status, linguistic, ethnic and gender differences from our Christian communities. These are directly
opposed to the Gospel and an evangelized community can never tolerate them.
iii) In a society like ours, where the socioeconomic scenario is still marked by injustice, inequality and oppression, the Church should reaffirm her option for the poor and express it both in word and deed as the basic sign characterizing her presence in the midst of the millions of poor in this country.
iv) Conflictual situations arising from strained relationships among bishops, priests, religious, laity as well as among communities should be thoroughly gone into and appropriate measures for healing these ills should be initiated.
v) Contrary to the plan of God and the explicit will of Christ, particularly the last thousand years have witnessed the scandal of a divided Christian people - a real obstacle to the preaching of the Gospel. The image of a divided Christian community has been a source of counter-vatness to the Gospel also in our country. Christian Unity must therefore be given a special place in our plans and programmes.
b) The evangelizing Church of India
The faith of the Church in India should be renewed in such a way that she can become an evangelizing Church. She has to shed the image of an institution that lives for itself and acquire the awareness that she is essentially a community in a state of mission for the others. This conviction should permeate the entire Christian community. Among the challenges that confront the Church in India as an evangelizing community are the following:
The Christian community in India cannot fulfill her mission of evangelization unless she experiences the Risen Lord present in her midst. She must experience Him in the Word and the Sacraments; she must experience Him in fraternal love. She must develop a capacity for contemplation. This will be realized only when the Gospel touches the very depths of our hearts, when Christ lives in the very recesses of our being, penetrating it even to the level of the unconscious. It is then that the Spirit of Jesus, who is the real source and energy of our Christian life, will become operative in our day-to-day life. We will not derive our strength merely from our institutions, but from our ability to bear witness to Christ.
ii) Indian society is multi-religious. Hence our mission of evangelization should be reviewed taking into account this fact, in the spirit of Vatican II. Interreligious dialogue should become an indispensable element in this, not only on the level of the elite and hierarchy, but above all on the level of every diocese, parish and individual. It should become a reality on the grass-root level.
iii) A deep insertion into the cultures and traditions of the people is necessary, if the Church is to make the Mystery of Christ relevant to our land. Inculturation therefore is an absolute need for an effective evangelization.
iv) The purpose of evangelization is to give life to the world: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (JQhn 10,10). Today more than ever, life is threatened by many forces of death through the spread of violence, abortion and other such evils, even in our own country. As we prepare for the Jubilee year which renews the offer of life made by Christ, the Christian community has to make a special effort to inculcate, foster and defend the sanctity of human life. This is,,Qne, of the ways in which we are called to fulfill our mission of evangelization today.
v) The Christian community should effectively proclaim the values of the Gospel in our crisis-ridden society. Hence it becomes necessary to denounce both in word and deed all forms of corruption, unhealthy competition, consumerism, etc.
vi) It is necessary to create an awareness in Christian communities, that by virtue of the Sacraments of Initiation which they have received, they have become communities of faith in Jesus Christ. This faith should be deepened in such a way that they become effective witnesses of the risen Lord in the midst of the world. The sacrament of Baptism by which they have bec ome members of the Church is a call to be evangelizers.
vii) Every Christian by virtue of the Sacrament of Confirmation has received from the Spirit, charisms that are meant for the evangelizing mission of the Church. The leaders of the Church should foster the functioning of roles and ministries by which these charisms become operafive.in the Church and in the world. This requires that the role of every member of the community must be discovered within the integral evangelizing mission of the Church and,not merely within its administrative structure. It is important to keep in mind that administration is at the service of evangelization.
viii) Every parish, as a community of the baptized and confirmed, as a community that constantly experiences the Paschal Mystery through the celebration of the Eucharist, is by its very nature an evangelizing community. This missionary consciousness should be deeply instilled into all its members. The formation of basic Christian communities can be of great help in this.
ix) The parish lives its Christian life primarily and basically in the family. The renewal of Christian life would necessarily imply the renewal of the Christian family. It is in the family that the Christian learns the first lessons of Christian love, selflessness and sharing, which are absolutely necessary to evangelize the modern world, steeped as it is in individualism and consumerism. In his Apostolic letter for the year 2000, the Holy Father says that the preparation should start from the lowest unit of the Christian community, the family: "Each family in some way should be involved in the preparation. Was it not through a family of Nazareth that the Son of God chose to enter into human history?" (T@ no.28).
x) The devotional life of our people, especially the practice of popular devotions, should become expressions of faith and ardent love for the Person of Christ. This can help all of us to free ourselves from mediocrity and superficiality in our Christian life. There will emerge more zeal in all the devotees to spread the Good News of God's love even as the early Christians did.
xi) The ministers,of the Church should realize that they are primarily the ministers of the Word, whatever their role in the Church. The priority of the ministry of the Word must be clearly and unambiguously inculcated into the priests, religious and laity.
xii) Consecrated Religious life in India needs thorough renewal so that it may express the radicality of the Gospel commitment to the Kngdom of God. It must become a clear sign for the people of this land as symbolizing a community of God-seekers guided by the Spirit of Christ. The guidelines for the renewal of Religious Life, given by Pbpe John Paul 11 in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vitci Consacrata should be carefully studied and implemented.
At this point we would like to point out that during the post-Vatican II period, the Church has, on numerous occasions, proclaimed and reaffirmed almost all of the above values. But their practical implementation has not been very apparent. Reflecting on this situation, we feel that our approach to renewal has hitherto mainly consisted in a critique of the structures of the past. It has to some extent lacked that creativity which originates from the Spirit with a view to building up a new Church and a new world around us. The Christian community has not been sufficiently touched to the core by the Spirit of Pentecost, as a result of which it has not always succeeded in bringing the Good News to the people. It is necessary therefore, that the Church in India experience anew the power and the unction of the Spirit, if a new evangelization is to take place in this country through her.
5. Focus on implementation
As we conclude this letter, lest we get lost in a welter of ideas, we would like to sharpen our focus by concentrating on some practical points that are related to the above and which can be implemented throughout the length and breadth of India:
i) There should be an intensive drive to introduce the whole Church in India to daily personal prayer, a time of silent exposure to the power and love of God in our lives, a daily re-evangelization of our deeper selves.
ii) The determination to bring about unity and reconciliation at all levels of the Church should be fostered. We must sharpen our awareness of the evils of the caste system and fight this aberration with consistency. The formation of Conciliation Boards in every diocese will also be a useful means to facilitate reconciliation wherever it is called for.
iii) An all-out effort should be launched to end hunger and malnutrition among all sections of the people in our parishes. The Bread that is broken at each Eucharist, which is our food of sharing as the community of the Lord, must stimulate us to ensure that no one will go to bed hungry. This must be the first and most obvious expression of our option for the poor, our bringing the Good News to the poorest of the pgor - that Jesus loves them and cares for them.
iv) Steps should be taken to organize a reflection on 'Church for India 2000' in the year 1999. This will be the climax of our Jubilee preparations. The concrete shape which this will take will have to be studied and planned at various levels during these coming three years.
As the Third millennium dawns on our country, where Christianity has been in existence practically from its very inception, we want to project a renewed face of the Church which will radiate Christ so that our brothers and sisters of India will be able to experience the loving kindness of the Saviour. It is our goal to build up in our country a Catholic community that is intent on becoming a fully reconciled community, free from all discrimination, a Christian community that is healed of all its divisions, a religious community that lives in harmony and a human community that has discovered its true source of life in love and sharing. If this is to be realized, we need to undergo a thorough conversion, for it is only through the body of the transformed Christian community, that Christ can shine in His radiance to the world around us. We shall then communicate the joy of the redeemed to all our brothers and sisters: the Good News of Jesus for the emerging India of 2000.
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