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from issue no. 08 - 2009

Interview with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires

We are not owners of the gifts of the Lord

Interview with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio by Gianni Valente

If the priests of Buenos Aires aim to make “every effort” to help their fellow citizens approach the first sacrament, they can rest assured that they have the archbishop by their side. For Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio the important things are these.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio greeting the faithful at the shrine of San Cayetano, in the Liniers quarter, Buenos Aires, 7 August  2009

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio greeting the faithful at the shrine of San Cayetano, in the Liniers quarter, Buenos Aires, 7 August 2009

Some priests In Buenos Aires are taking steps to facilitate the celebration of new baptisms and encourage them in every way. What is driving them?
JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO: The Conference of Latin American Bishops held in 2007 in Aparecida reminded us to proclaim the Gospel by going out to find people, not sitting in the Curia or the presbytery waiting for people to come to us. In the third to last paragraph, the Aparecida document casts back thirty years and returns to the apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi of Paul VI, which described “apostolic zeal” as “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing”, of “proclaiming with joy a Good News that has been learned through the mercy of the Lord”. But this is expressed not so much by planning initiatives or exceptional events. The Evangelii nuntiandi itself repeated that “if the Son came, it was precisely to reveal, by His words and His life, the ordinary paths of salvation”. It’s the ordinary that one can achieve in missionary fashion. And baptism is paradigmatic in that. I think the parish priests of Buenos Aires are acting in that spirit.
Do you think that concern to facilitate baptism is tied to specific and local situations, or is a criterion that can be recommended for everyone?
BERGOGLIO: The concern to encourage in every way the administration of baptism and the other sacraments involves the whole Church. If the Church follows its Lord, it comes out of itself, with courage and compassion: it doesn’t remain locked in its own self. The Lord works a change in those who are faithful to Him, makes them look up away from themselves. That is the mission, that is witness.
In the handbook on baptism prepared and distributed by the diocese of Buenos Aires answer is given to possible criticism from those who say that the sacraments should not be “a bargain offer” and that the requirements of preparation and readiness should be held to. Is the criticism valid?
BERGOGLIO: There is no sellout, no exchange. The parish priests are observing the directions given by the bishops of the pastoral region of Buenos Aires, which meet all the conditions required by the Code of Canon Law, according to the basic criterion expressed in the last canon: the supreme law is the salvation of souls.
In your opinion, are the cases where baptism is denied to children because the parents are not in a canonically regular marital situation justified in some way?
BERGOGLIO: To us here that would be like closing the doors of the Church. The child has no responsibility for the marital state of its parents. And then, the baptism of children often becomes a new beginning for parents. Usually there is a little catechesis before baptism, about an hour, then a mystagogic catechesis during liturgy. Then, the priests and laity go to visit these families to continue with their post-baptismal pastoral. And it often happens that parents, who were not married in church, maybe ask to come before the altar to celebrate the sacrament of marriage.
It sometimes happens that ministers and pastoral workers assume almost a proprietorial attitude as if the decision to grant the sacraments or not were in their hands.
BERGOGLIO: The sacraments are signs of the Lord. They are not performances or the conquests of priests or bishops. In our vast country there are many small towns or villages that are difficult to reach, where the priest arrives once or twice a year. But popular piety feels that children should be baptized as soon as possible, and so in those places there is always a layman or woman known by everyone as bautizadores who baptize the children when they are born, awaiting the arrival of the priest. When the priest comes, they bring him the children so he can anoint them with holy oil, completing the ceremony. When I think of it, I’m always surprised by that story of those Christian communities in Japan that were left without a priest for more than two hundred years. When the missionaries returned they found them all baptized, all married validly for the Church and all their dead had been buried in Christian fashion. Those laymen had received only baptism, and by virtue of their baptism they had also lived their apostolic mission.
According to some people unless there is adequate understanding and preparation the sacramental rite is in danger of becoming something “magical” or mechanical. What do you think?
BERGOGLIO: Nobody thinks that we don’t need catechesis, preparing children for confirmation and communion. But we must always look at our people as they are, and see what is needed most. The sacraments are for the life of men and women as they are. Who maybe don’t talk all that much, but their sensus fidei captures the reality of the sacraments with more clarity than that of many specialists.
Can you give us some incident in your pastoral experience that highlights this sensus fidei?
BERGOGLIO: Just a few days ago I baptized seven children of a woman on her own, a poor widow, who works as a maid and she had had them from two different men. I met her last year at the Feast of San Cayetano. She’d said: Father, I’m in mortal sin, I have seven children and I’ve never had them baptized. It had happened because she had no money to bring the godparents from a distance, or to pay for the party, because she always had to work ... I suggested we meet, to talk about it. We spoke on the phone, she came to see me, told me that she could never find all the godparents and get them together ... In the end I said: let’s do everything with only two godparents, representing the others. They all came here and after a little catechesis I baptized them in the chapel of the archbishopric. After the ceremony we had a little refreshment. A coca cola and sandwiches. She told me: Father, I can’t believe it, you make me feel important... I replied, but lady, where do I come in, it’s Jesus who makes you important.

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