Catholic Bishop Addresses Pilgrims
Monday, December 08, 2008
The Shrine at Kungkunjang again attracted thousands of Catholics and well wishers, which has always brought joy to those that go to worship there during the feast of Mary Immaculate. Bishop Ellison CSSp Catholic Bishop of Banjul addressed the congregation with words of joy and encouragement. Read the full text from a press release sent to the Point’s office yesterday.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has declared that the year June 2008/June 2009 be set aside to the memory of St. Paul. He was born 2000 years ago around the year 8 A.D. – about ten years after the birth of Jesus.
Paul was born of Hebrew parents, a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin.
He grew up at Tarsus in Asia Minor, which at that time had been a Greek colony and later became a Roman colony. This entitled him to enjoy the status of a Roman citizen. He belonged in a sense to three cultures or three worlds. However, for the first part of his life, he was rooted most of all in the culture and religion of his ancestors - the Hebrews.
In the letter to the Philippians, he tells us: ‘In matters of the Law, I was a Pharisee; as for religious fervour, I was a persecutor of the Church; as for fidelity to the Law, I was faultless’.
From his profound knowledge of the Law and the Prophets, from his experience of the Greek and Roman cultures and then his total commitment to the Risen Christ after his conversion on the road to Damascus – Paul was destined to become God’s chosen instrument to bring the Gospel message to gentiles, kings and the people of Israel. His conversion experience left him blind, helpless and humiliated for some time. It occurred around the year 35 A.D. when he would have been 25 years old. It must have been a harsh lesson for a young man who was so convinced about what he believed he should do in God’s name and so determined to do it.
All the energy and zeal which he put into persecuting the followers of Christ became focused now on proclaiming and defending the name of Christ. But there was one major difference: Paul was no longer the central player in the field of God’s mission. ‘I have been crucified with Christ and still I am alive. Yet it is no longer I but Christ living in me’. Hence he could teach such things as: when I am weak, then I am strong. We preach a crucified Christ; a scandal for the Jews and foolishness for the Gentiles. But for us who believe in Him, He is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Christ himself has brought us peace by making the Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body on the cross, he broke down the walls that separated them in order to create out of the two races one new people in unions with himself.
Paul wrote 14 letters to the various Christian communities which he founded during his three missionary journeys. These have been preserved for us in the New Testament as part of the inspired Word of God. In each letter, Paul commends them for the witness they give by their faith and hope in the Risen Lord. He encourages them to remain faithful to the message of the Gospel. And he also addresses difficulties arising from the world in which they live and also tensions within their own communities.
In Corinth, for example, Paul became aware of the factions or divisions that began to threaten the unity of the community. ‘I belong to Paul; I belong to Appolos; I belong to Cephas. And so he asks them: has Christ been split up?’
Paul himself insisted that he came among these people in weakness, in fear and in trembling simply to proclaim the good news of Christ – in order to demonstrate the power of the Spirit so that their faith would not depend on mere human wisdom.
On the other hand, Appolos attracted followers to Christ by the power of his eloquence. He was a great orator. He appealed to the intellectuals in Corinth who probably felt superior to the less well educated.
Then there were the followers of Cephas/ Peter – these were converts from Judaism and they wanted to maintain a strict observance of the Jewish Law. They found it difficult to integrate into a Gentile Christian community.
Hence, it became a turbulent community. Each group believed in Christ but they differed according to background: by their level of education, by their financial resources and therefore by their power to influence others, in their cultural and religious backgrounds and in their expectations.
And so Paul had to address this reality which could have torn apart the small, young community of disciples in Corinth. He had to find a way that would respect the origins and gifts of each group while also preserving the unity of the community? And he did this by using a very simple image - the human body.
The human body has many parts but it is still one single body; and so it is with the Body of Christ (the Church). We were all baptised into one body and all were given the same Spirit to drink: Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women…
Paul speaks about two distinct bodies of Christ: his own glorified body in which he rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven; and also his mystical body which is made up of his disciples in which He dwells on earth through His Spirit. By calling the community the Body of Christ, Paul identifies it as the physical presence of Christ in the world today. We are therefore called to be the eyes, the ears, the hands and the heart of Christ to all – and especially to the weak and vulnerable.
In this respect, the Church differs from all other human groupings. We are joined together as one not only because we share a common goal or purpose (to witness to the Gospel). As one Body, we also share a common source of supernatural life - the very life of Christ, in the same way as the branches must always be united to the vine. There is no such thing as an independent Christian; it would be as impossible as an independent arm or leg! Once amputated, an arm or a leg can no longer grasp or walk and will begin to decay. Even the head cannot say to the foot – I do not need you. The same is true of all the faithful. As separate parts, we have neither life nor purpose. If we stand apart from each other, we can no longer share the pain of our brothers and sisters in need; nor can we rejoice with those who are happy and blessed.
At the beginning of 1 Cor. 13, Paul launches into his great Hymn of Love: ‘Without love, I am nothing’. To love and to be loved always involves respect, sharing and caring for the other. St. Therese of Lisieux became ecstatic when she finally discovered her vocation in life – to be love, love deep down in the heart of the Church. The greatest of all the gifts of the Spirit.
Unfortunately, the world in which we live today is becoming more and more tainted by the spirit of individualism, selfishness, greed, power and corruption. These are almost taken for granted as normal or acceptable. Such attitudes and behaviour lie at the root of the painful violence and hostilities that we see all around us – both far and near. And it is difficult for us to remain immune to these things; they can easily touch and poison the very life of our own communities. They lead to division, suspicion and mistrust - creating barriers of all kinds and separating us from one another.
As we gather each year on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, we do so in order to pray for peace in our own communities, in our country and in the whole world – through the intercession of Mary our Mother. But we also know that the peace we enjoy can be fragile and uncertain. Peacemaking is hard; a price has to be paid. Each of us has to take one step at a time to free ourselves from our own selfish ways and habits so as to make life better even in a small way for my neighbour. We can not merely hope for peace or ask Our Lady, Queen of Peace to give peace to our communities unless we are ready to cooperate in the redemptive mystery of Her Son who has freed us from the bondage of our sin. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God’.
There can be no peace wherever justice has been ignored.
This time last year, we were well on the way towards preparing for our Diocesan Assembly – working on the theme of a ‘Dynamic Self-Reliant Church’. Let us now re-commit ourselves in a spirit of fidelity to the implementation of those decisions that were taken during the Assembly itself and also to the overall spirit of the Assembly.
Lord, make your Church throughout the world a sign of unity and an instrument of your peace.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, help us and pray for us as we strive to become peacemakers in our Church, our country and the whole world.
Source: Picture: Rt. Rev. Bishop Robert P. Ellison