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CANTALAMESSA-PREACH Dec-2-2005 (530 words) xxxi

Church is not so good at being 'fishers of men,' priest tells pope

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the Catholic Church has a rich array of teachings and traditions to help Christians live holy lives, it is not so good at bringing people to Christ in the first place, a Capuchin told Pope Benedict XVI.

"Our past has prepared us better to be pastors rather than fishers of men," Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa told the pope and top Vatican officials Dec. 2.

Father Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, leads meditations for the pope and his closest advisers on Fridays in Advent and Lent.

Father Cantalamessa said almost everyone in the world has heard of Jesus, and "writers manipulate" his life and message in popular books and films, adding that "'The DaVinci Code' is the latest and most aggressive episode in a long series."

But having heard the name Jesus and having heard his message in a way that brings a person to faith are two entirely different things, the preacher said.

The Catholic Church has built "an immense doctrinal edifice" around its faith, but the basic message -- "Jesus is lord" -- has never changed, he said.

As Christianity spread around the world, faith in Jesus was almost an assumption, and the church focused on educating believers in doctrine, dogma, prayer, spirituality and morals, he said.

Presenting the whole array of doctrine to modern men and women who do not know Christ as lord "is like putting one of those old heavy brocade capes on the shoulders of a child," he said.

"This is one of the reasons why in some parts of the world many Catholics abandon the Catholic Church for other Christian realities; they are attracted by a simple and effective proclamation that puts them in direct contact with Christ and allows them to experience the power of his Spirit," he told the pope.

While it is important to nourish and guide believers, Father Cantalamessa said, the church must recognize that it needs to bring people to the point of faith first.

"We must proclaim the basic message neat and tidy, at least once, not only to catechumens, but to all," he said.

Unlike the sects that focus repeatedly and almost exclusively on being born again, the Catholic Church follows the faithful with teaching and guidance to help them mature in their faith and pass through moments of suffering with their faith intact, he said.

Father Cantalamessa told the pope and Vatican officials they have one question more important to ask themselves than what place Christ has in modern society: "What place does Christ occupy in my life?"

The preacher said one can proclaim "Jesus is lord" only after saying, "Jesus is my lord. He has every right over me. I hand him the reins of my life. I no longer want to live for myself, but for him who died and rose for me."

The act of faith means allowing Jesus, his teaching and his example to enlighten and cleanse every dark or untidy space in one's life, he said.

"That is the best way this Advent to prepare a welcoming manger for Christ who comes at Christmas," he said.


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