Cardinal Fernando Filoni / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 9, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The mission of the Church today is not just shaped by current political realities and recent developments in the Church but by finding a focus in Christ, an Italian cardinal has said. 

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, emphasized that the Church must rediscover her strength precisely in her gaze toward Christ, going beyond a sociological vision of intervention in society.

Writing for ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian news partner, Filoni said: “In a rapidly changing world it is natural to ask ourselves if the Church, in this chameleonic and convulsive reality of geopolitics, including financial ones, has a task.”

The Church’s mission, he said, is not competitive and should never be read “as if it were an electoral competition with percentages that the media often contend for journalistic, if not ideological needs.”

Instead, he said, the mission of the Church is “moral, spiritual, but not detached from this world, that is, deeply human and living in and with the crises of humanity,” and the pope “is not at the head of a power, although he is a recognized international figure as well; not even the life of the Church can be translated in a nutshell.”

Cardinal Filoni noted that for “over a century, the Church’s interaction with the world has been extensive “because, from the institutional point of view, it no longer deals with emerging empires or new nations, and there is no episcopate that deals with simply of the religious and humanitarian life of their populations.”

According to the cardinal, a watershed moment was the speech of St. Paul VI at the Campidoglio — the city hall of Rome — on April 16, 1966. In that speech, the pope put aside the idea of ​​“supremacy in the derivation of the temporalism of the Church,” and instead, “he advocated the vocation and mission in universal projection.”

“Not only the papacy, but the whole Church, bishops, religious, baptized faithful, together regained awareness of themselves and their Christological vocation,” said the grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Second Vatican Council had, in fact, “completed a more comprehensive development of all realities starting from dignity, linked to the person and his freedoms,” he said. Therefore, “institutions were no longer in the first place.” In this way, “relations with the world, with non-Christian religions, with the Jewish world, ecumenism itself lost the rust deposited by negativities and, at the same time, the missionary spirit opened its perspective and was reformulated with a proposal respectful of the contemporary world, a place of restlessness in search of answers.”

With these results, “the moral and spiritual role of the pope had emerged enormously, relying even more on the widespread existence of a Church now present on all continents, with the features of their peoples and with native hierarchies and languages.”

Furthermore, the Church “emerged from the traditional pope-bishops, universal Church-diocesan Church, developing intermediate forms of ecclesial interaction, very necessary for approaching and knowing the world and participating in its expectations.” 

And so, Filoni continued, bishops’ conferences and the Synod of Bishops were brought about. These were not “structures of intermediate power between the pope and the bishops,” but “because of their agility they assumed an important role from a pastoral point of view, of social moderation and reference in today’s societies, as democratic as they are diverse.”

Cardinal Filoni wrote that in some cases, there had been the temptation to prevent or control the voice of the bishops’ conferences, which “demonstrates their authority.”

According to the cardinal, “the bishops’ conferences, however, as instruments of communion and mutual support between the bishops and with the pope, represent one of the most historically significant developments in the presence of the Church in the world, having placed themselves among the forms of personal jurisdiction (pope-bishop) and collegial ones (councils-synods).”

And again, he added, “a bishops’ conference, in truth, compared to the single bishop, is always better able to defend ecclesial and human values ​​at a regional or national level than the action of a single bishop; but also sometimes concerning the Apostolic See, often dealing with issues internal to individual countries and in adherence to the principle of subsidiarity, according to which the superior body must not intervene, but can support the action.”

For Cardinal Filoni, there is still much to discover in this Christological and missionary vocation, which becomes concrete in the role of bishops.

He concluded: “There are those who are already thinking of a Vatican Council III, and the opinions are respectable. But has the Second Vatican Council already exhausted its function about the role of the Church in the world?”