Mission 2017 address Part 3: THE CHURCH THAT GOES TO THE MARGINS

20 June 2017
Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta.

Bishop Vincent address “The Catholic Church in post-Royal Commission Australia” delivered on 16 May at Mission 2017: one heart many voices, Sydney, Australia.



Pope Francis constantly calls us to move beyond the security of the status quo and take the risk of going to the periphery. The Church must be the Church of the poor and for the poor. The Church must go out of itself in order to be close to those in need. Conversely, the Church that does not go out into the world keeps Jesus imprisoned.

If one can detect the direction of Pope Francis’ pontificate, it has something to do with the movement from security to boldness, from inward looking to outward looking, from preoccupation with our status quo, safeguarding our privileges to learning to be vulnerable, learning to convey God’s compassion to those who are on the edges of society and Church.

Hence our challenge is to accompany people from the margins into a journey towards the fullness of life and love. It is to embrace the call of the Second Vatican Council to identify with the joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of those who are poor and in anyway afflicted. It is to be the bearer of joy to those who are most deprived of it. To do this, he/she must be able to live in and to bridge the yawning gap, the liminal space between the ideal and the real, between what the Church teaches and how the people respond.

Pope Francis challenges all of us to divest ourselves of clericalism and elitism, and return to the purity of the Gospel. His constant call to the Church to be less concerned with itself and to be more outward looking, encourages us to walk with our people in the ambiguities and complexities of their lives. The self-referential Church, steeped in a culture of splendour, is in stark contrast with the Church of the poor and for the poor. It is the latter that we who pattern ourselves according to Jesus the prophet on the margins endeavours to serve. It is like new wine in new wineskins. The new wine of God’s unconditional love, boundless mercy, radical inclusivity and equality needs to be poured into new wineskins of humility, mutuality, compassion and powerlessness. The old wineskins of triumphalism, authoritarianism, supremacy abetted by clerical power, superiority, and rigidity are broken.

I visited St John Lateran recently with a group of pilgrims from my diocese. There was one curiosity that caught my attention. It was the elaborate circular markings on the marble floor of the basilica. They were meant to assist the Pope and his entourage in liturgical processions. One could imagine how perfectly they were arrayed in their ornate vestments. The Church was synonymous with the arena of power and the enclosure for the privileged. I wonder if this was the natural progression of the imperial Church which came to be born after the conversion of Constantine. Thank God we have moved on and the vision of Church of the “anawim” is being rightfully reclaimed for our time. Thank God Pope Francis is moving decisively in this direction.

Part 4 will be published tomorrow.

To read Part 2 of the Bishop’s address, click here.


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