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Church exists to proclaim Christ, not itself, pope says

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church must not become a distant memory for men and women today but must be a welcoming place where everyone feels at home, Pope Francis said.

Too often, people judge the church to be either irrelevant in today’s world or perceive it as "too powerful in comparison with the great poverties of the world," the pope said Sept. 21.

"I would say that it is right to be concerned, but above all to be mindful if one perceives a worldly church, that is, one that follows the criteria of success of the world and forgets that it does not exist to proclaim itself, but rather Jesus," he said.

Pope Francis made his comments to 300 people participating in an international meeting of schools, movements and associations involved in the new evangelization. The Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization sponsored the meeting.

Reflecting on the meeting’s theme, "Is it possible to meet God? The paths of the new evangelization," Pope Francis said that like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, people sometimes do not recognize God even when he is close to them.

A church that is more concerned with "defending its good name" than with proclaiming the Gospel, he warned, ends up "being more of a beautiful museum artifact than the simple and festive home of the Father."

"What our brothers and sisters often ask of us, perhaps without being able to pose the question, corresponds to one’s deepest needs: to love and be loved, to be accepted for what one is, to find peace of heart and a joy that is more lasting than entertainment," he said.

Pope Francis said that the church can reach out to others by following Jesus’ example with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, that is "not so much by teaching, never by judging, but by making us companions on the road."

The church achieves this by not "pretending to have immediate answers and without giving pre-packaged answers, but rather sharing words of life; not aimed at making proselytes, but by leaving room for the creative force of the Holy Spirit, who frees the heart from the slavery that oppresses and renews it," the pope said.

To proclaim God to others, he added, does not mean to "justify his existence" because "even the devil knows that God exists." Instead, the church fulfills its duty to proclaim God’s love by "giving witness to the joy of knowing him."

"God is not the answer to an intellectual curiosity or to a commitment of the will, but an experience of love, called to become a story of love," Pope Francis said. "The mystery of God is never exhausted; it is as immense as his love."

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