By Bishop John Sherrington
I visited Brazil in September in response to La Palavra Viva’s invitation to teach for a week in their School of Evangelisation in Curvelo. My theme, which was to be developed during the week was Evangelisation and Virtue. This would examine the response to the encounter with the living Christ who is merciful, loves, saves and walks with us.
Attending the sessions were about 100 young people (18 ‒ 25), who have committed one year of their lives to a course on formation which includes a number of mission experiences during which they spend a week in schools and parishes in Minas Gerais. They share their faith with other young people and tell of the hope that is in their hearts because of their faith in Jesus Christ. For each student, an experience of encounter with Christ leads them to commit this year to Christ. For some it is an experience of evangelisation; for others, more one of deepening catechesis and formation.
Pope Francis tells us that evangelisation begins with the joy of grateful remembrance of meeting Christ (Evangelii Gaudium 13) and that the Church grows ‘by attraction’ to Christ (EG 15). The Pope said to the bishops gathered in Brazil for World Youth Day 2013, ‘On the streets of Rio, young people from all over the world and countless others await us, needing to be reached by the merciful gaze of Christ the Good Shepherd, whom we are called to make present.’
These students are inspired by his words and wish to make Christ present to others. It is this experience which the students seek to explore and to deepen so that they may share their faith with others. During this year at the school, their faith is nurtured not only by the classes but also by the liturgy with its very charismatic music and by the consecrated members of the community, including priests, consecrated laity and married members. A discipline of prayer, Eucharistic adoration and the Rosary builds up a life of prayer and community.
Over 12 seminars and daily Masses, I explored the theme with special emphasis on Laudato Si’ and Amoris Laetitia. The focus on the virtues helped the students to understand themselves better in the light of the gift of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, as well as the cardinal virtues of justice, prudence, temperance and courage. The virtues enable the students not only to keep the rules given by Christ but more deeply to grow in goodness and holiness to become conformed to Christ. As St Gregory of Nyssa wrote, ‘The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1803). The saints are witnesses to the life of virtue and so the course has provided the opportunity to reflect on the lives of saints, including St Teresa of Calcutta, St Thomas More, Blessed Oscar Romero, as well as patrons of the community St Francis of Assisi and St Thérèse of Lisieux. Laudato Si’ offered a particular opportunity to reflect on the virtues of justice and temperance whilst Amoris Laetitia offered the opportunity to explore the meaning of Christian love, chastity and relationship in Christ. By understanding that the virtuous life leads to holiness, the virtues offer an understanding of the new life in Christ and can be the means of evangelisation of young people and families.
Bishop John is pictured with members of the Palavra Viva community.