Continuing Education and Formation: toward an outward looking, space creating Christianity

At the invitation of the Council of Continuing Education of the Custody of the Holy Land, priests, male and female religious, as well as directors of schools and group leaders came together to explore the question of pastoral activities. This time of formation was conducted by Father Francesco Iannone, professor of dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Faculty of Theology of Southern Italy.

Although it is frequently set in opposition to theology or relegated to an inferior place, pastoral activity is actually “the essence of the Church”, Professor Iannone explained at the beginning of the session. In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, he deepened the understanding of these words, “Everything in the Church is pastoral because the Lord created the Church for mankind, not for itself. Everything should be directed toward mankind.” A brilliant speaker, he offered a reflection in three steps: the Word, the liturgy, and finally the training of key figures in the Church.

On Monday, February 17th, the discussion was centered on the Church, proclaimer of the mystery and the Word of God. Tuesday saw a workshop on the liturgy, “source and summit of the pastoral ministry”, nourishing intense exchanges and sharing of experiences among the different priests and friars who were present.

On Wednesday, the professor addressed the behavior and competences of pastoral workers. He took advantage of the occasion to restate the Church’s need for humility as the Church must be “a means offered to people so they can hear the call of the Father, and never an end in itself” at the risk of no longer responding to the needs of the people but rather to one’s own needs. He pointed his finger at a series of stumbling blocks, such as simplifying the pastoral ministry to event planning or to the emotional level, as well as getting into a corner and concentration the work in one person, reinforcing the image of “over hierarchization” of the church. He called for an act of awareness: “There was a “before” your action and there will be an “after” your action. God is giving and in Christ we decided to follow his example. The pastoral ministry is the love of Christ in action, and love possesses nothing. Let’s stop talking about ‘our parish’ and ‘our faithful’; we are an entity in motion.”

Differentiating “formation” and “information”, he also invited those responsible for pastoral work in the Holy Land to be demanding of themselves. These days the faithful have a thousand alternatives to Sunday Mass, and the pastoral ministry must reconceive and renew evangelization. He also invited them to imagine pastoral formation centers, not only for the clergy, but also for the laity that is beginning to emerge in the Middle Eastern religious world. The session’s questions centered on this issue. What role should be allocated to the laity? How should activities be shared and abilities discerned? The professor replied that “pastoral work requires flexibility, continuity and lots of patience, which are the conditions for the Church to be the site of Eucharistic hospitality.” Fra Mario, a priest from Jericho, made these thoughts his own: “Christians are a minority and the same people are subjected to too many demands. We need to welcome a new division of responsibilities in the Church’s apostolate. This is a priority and a benefit to the Christian community.”

The program ended on Thursday evening with a talk on “Living the Church in the Middle East”. He evoked the great change of this century: the end of a “triumphant and powerful Church run by Rome” in favor of a return to the Man, and therefore, to Jerusalem, the city of origins. He tackled the spiny question of the decreasing number of Christians and invited the participants to turn their gaze to Jesus of Nazareth. He also lived in the Middle East, in a different time, of course, but he, too, had to cope with cultural difficulties, different languages and customs that are sometimes devoid of sense or disturbing. “Christ knew that his human life would end in a fall but, aware of his origins, he did not experience it fatalistically. Quite the contrary; he thought of the “afterwards” – a Church, of what we are today,” explained Professor Iannone. In this way, he warned Christians of any attitude of folding in on oneself. “To defend oneself is also to dry up. Christians should understand that it is in creating space and living in relation to the other that they fully live their relationship with God.” At the end of these days of formation, he expressed his wishes for a “Custody turned outwards, because openness is already charity.”

The Custody and all the participants warmly thank Professor Iannone, not only for his precious instruction, but also for his kindness and his humor, which made this formation a true time of spiritual and intellectual refreshment.


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