Feast of Our Lady of Aparecida
Church of Saint Mary of the Angels, Church Street
I am particularly happy to celebrate with the Brazilian Catholic Community in Dublin the Feast of Our Lady of Aparecida and the 300th anniversary of the finding of the miraculous statue. I greet the Ambassador of Brazil and each one of you members of the Brazilian Catholic Community on this special day for all Brazilians.
The Feast of Our Lady of Aparecida is the National Feast of Brazil but it is also of great significance for the whole Church. The Shrine of Aparecida is the largest Marian Shrine in the World. In the past years, the name of Aparecida has become associated with the Conference of the Latin American Bishops of 2013 and the great movement of renewal of the Church right across Latin America. As Cardinal Bergoglio, Pope Francis played a vital role in that event. If we want to understand the Pope’s desire for renewal in the Church, we must learn more about that Aparecida event and its concept the permanent mission of renewal in the Church.
Ireland has much to learn from the Church in Brazil. Yes, in the past Irish priests and religious went to Brazil as missionaries to evangelise. Today, we have much to learn from the Church in Brazil. You as members of the Brazilian Catholic community have your special contribution to bring to the Church here in Ireland.
Our Mass this afternoon is a reflection of the place of young people in the Brazilian Church. Very rarely in Ireland today would one see such a gathering of young people who come to profess and share their faith as we see here today. Very rarely in Ireland today would one see such a youthful and enthusiastic faith as you show.
The reports on the religious demography of Ireland of the recent national census, published this week, show a significant drop in this country of those who consider themselves Catholic. What is most significant is to see the drop among young people who no longer consider themselves Catholic and the almost corresponding growth among people of the same age group of those who registered as having no religion. Interestingly that age group is precisely the age group that is represented here today by so many young Brazilians.
What has the Irish Church to learn from you? It is not enough to attribute the decline in the numbers of young people who feel a bond with the Church to the growth in secularisation that is evident in most western countries. It is also an indication of a failure of the Catholic Church in Ireland to win the hearts of young people. The Catholic Church in Ireland lived under the impression that a Church that was strong in numbers and in social influence was really a Church that was strong.
Much of the discussion about renewal in the Irish Church focussed on structures and on the role especially of priests and religious. The crisis is not about numbers and structures but about faith and witness to faith. None of our structures will survive if we do not find ways of witnessing to faith in Jesus Christ as something vital and attractive for the young men and women of our modern society. The census results indicate that the Church in Ireland is not being successful in that.
Even more deeply, we have to ask the deeper question about the very structures themselves and whether they really speak of faith in Jesus Christ and of the radical newness of his message. A tired Church will not reflect the radical newness of the Gospel. A tired Church will more likely be fearful of radical newness.
We have heard a Gospel reading that is very familiar to us. It is a Gospel reading however, which is easy to misunderstand. Saint John challenges us to go beyond the externals of the event of the wedding feast at Cana. Changing water into wine would be miraculous. It would of itself hardly be one of the ways in which Jesus “would reveal his glory”. Jesus’ glory is not the glory of a magician.
Our Gospel reading contains many hidden and deeper messages than appear at first sight. Indeed, it is a Gospel reading that can help us to understand where renewal in the Church must begin.
Our Gospel reading is about Jesus’ concern for us when we find ourselves inadequate and when we fail. Jesus miracle prevents the host of the wedding from public embarrassment. As in all the Gospel representations of the mercy of Jesus, Jesus’ response is never minimalist. The Mercy of Jesus goes way beyond human estimation to the point of bordering on extravagance. The six water jars would have contained about 600 litres of wine that would have sent the guests to hospital with intoxication. However, the sign is that Jesus is always merciful in ways that seem extravagant to the rationality and the narrowness of our thoughts. The extravagant generosity of Jesus is something that encourages us in our failures and compromises.
We have to ask if the Church as we know it really reflects that extravagant generosity of mercy that surpasses all human measurement and rejects judgementalism and small mindedness. Faith in Jesus is faith that is open to the future and never a faith of fearfulness. Judgementalism and small mindedness are in fact always signs of lack of faith and a lack of trust in the power of God’s generosity.
A second dimension of renewal that emerges from our Gospel reading is about the place of Mary in the Christian life. From the first moments of the Gospel, at Cana, Mary knows how to make known to Jesus the needs others and she knows how to make the path of Jesus known to us. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, she remained the one who always accompanied him. Today she accompanies us on our search for Jesus.
Speaking to young people of Brazil gathered in Aparecida some weeks ago, Pope Francis noted: “amid the uncertainties and insecurities of each day, amid the precariousness that situations of injustice create around you, be sure that Mary is a sign of hope who will encourage you with great missionary zeal. She knows the challenges with which you live. With her maternal attention and companionship, you will realize that you are not alone”.
A final indication of the way towards renewal is to be found in the remark of the chief steward: “you have kept the good wine until now”. The message of Jesus is always new and must shake us up to beyond where we are. A great danger is for the Church to allow itself to be trapped in old ways. There are even those who feel that the Church would prosper by going back to older rites and traditions. Evangelization means bringing “new wine” into the hearts of believers. Evangelisation requires courage. Evangelization is not about tweaking the current situation. Renewal is not just about changing Mass times and Parish boundaries.
The fishermen who three hundred years ago after fishing without great results, launched their nets again were surprised to find an image of Our Lady covered in mud.
Pope Francis appealed to Brazilian young people to ask Our Lady of Aparecida “to transform the ‘nets’ of your life – networks of friends, social networks, material and virtual networks, realities that are often divided – into something more meaningful: a community”.
Pope Francis called for the building of mission communities. He called them mission communities “on the move”, bringing the newness of the Gospel into society as the light and leaven of a more just and fraternal society.
We need such communities of young people to renew the Church. I thank all those who work within the Brazilian Roman Catholic Community in Dublin for the work they do and I pray that the mission communities among Irish young people will be strengthen and encouraged by your example. ENDS
- This is the 300th anniversary of the finding of a miraculous statue of Our Lady- now celebrated as Our Lady of Aparecida. The Feast of Our Lady of Aparecida is the National Feast Day of Brazil and the Shrine of Aparecida is the largest Marian Shrine worldwide. A group over a hundred young Brazilian Catholics, who gather regularly in the Capuchin Church of Our Lady of the Angels in Church street, will join with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in special celebrations for this anniversary at 4pm this afternoon (Sunday)