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An eloquent silence that echoes in Asia

The pope showed how we and the Church can live and serve the same way

  • Fr Bill Grimm, Tokyo
  • International
  • March 20, 2013
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By what he has done and what he has failed to do in the few days since his election, Pope Francis has given Catholics reason to hope or regret that much of what they have gotten used to or endured for the past 35 years or so is going to change.

On March 16, Francis gave an address to representatives of the communications media who had reported the resignation of Benedict XVI and the conclave. The pope expressed gratitude for their hard work and the effort they put into conveying the full significance of the events they reported. He also explained the reason behind his choice of Francis as his papal name.

It was a friendly, even humorous, address that showed that the pope understands the role of media.

"Be assured that the Church, for her part, highly esteems your important work. At your disposal you have the means to hear and to give voice to people’s expectations and demands, and to provide for an analysis and interpretation of current events. Your work calls for careful preparation, sensitivity and experience, like so many other professions, but it also demands a particular concern for what is true, good and beautiful."

However, the most significant thing the pope said and did was at the end of the address, when he said to the assembled journalists, "I cordially impart to all of you my blessing. Thank you." Then, while the journalists waited with pens and recording devices at the ready, he said and did nothing!

After a pause, he said, "I told you I was cordially imparting my blessing. Since many of you are not members of the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I cordially give this blessing silently, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God. May God bless you!"

The pope did not speak a Trinitarian formula in Latin nor did he make the Sign of the Cross. He simply prayed in a silence that all could share, praying that God’s children present there might share God’s blessing.

That moment of silence is especially significant in Asia, where Catholics live among a multiplicity of religions and irreligion. 

Of course, the reality that so influences the way Christians in Asia live our faith has always been the reality of the Church in the world. However, until now the Catholic Church has often appeared, and more often than not, been Eurocentric, praying and acting without much reference to the reality of the world with its many religions and a growing lack of religion of any sort.

The pope has, by just a few seconds of silence, reaffirmed the vision of the Church that animated Vatican II: the People of God on pilgrimage through this world to proclaim God’s blessing upon "the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted." 

The Asian way of being Church – respectful encounter in dialogue with others, asking God to bless them, but not imposing symbols, words or ideas, "respecting the conscience of each" – has been endorsed and demonstrated at the highest level of service in the Church.

Asia’s Catholics now have a great role to play for the Church. The pope’s blessing highlights the fact that the situation in which we live and serve is, in fact, the situation in which the entire Church lives and serves.

Our experience of evangelization in dialogue must now become the way of the whole Church, making it more and more catholic, universal. Through example as well as by explicit teaching, the Catholics of Asia can repay those who evangelized us by now showing the rest of the Church how to be faithful to Christ in humility, minority, dialogue and love.

Fr Bill Grimm is the publisher of ucanews.com and is based in Tokyo

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