Foto: IKA // Hrvoje Josip Bišćan i kardinal Mario Grech
On June 2, 2023, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Mario Grech of Malta, Bishop Emeritus of Gozo, who is in Croatia to pray for the Sixteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, granted an interview at the Apostolic Nunciature in Zagreb to the reporter Hrvoje Josip Bišćan of the Croatian Catholic Network, which we present in its entirety.
Your Eminence, we thank you for the time you have set aside for the Croatian Catholic Network. In all your meetings these days, what has been your impression of the Church in Croatia?
First of all, I give thanks to the Lord, because when I came to Central Europe, I was not expecting to encounter such a vital Church. I met with the bishops during the session of the Croatian Conference of Bishops, as well as individually, and must say that I really received very interesting testimony from the pastors who walk with their people.
When I celebrated the Eucharist on May 31, the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it truly impressed me. Popular piety is very important.
For me, it is a means to help us proclaim the Gospel. Popular piety can be an instrument that not only helps us convey the gospel but also to find a language that can help everyone understand what we are communicating.
Considering your role as the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, do you think that the faithful around the world understand that we are all part of the Church, with the same dignity but in different ministries?
I think that this is the perspective, that is, the goal of the synodal process, to help the whole Church be aware of the primordial gift we receive at baptism. I am a bishop and priest because I am a Christian but, unfortunately, and I shared this with the bishops, some of our Catholics, although Christians, are not fully aware of the benefits and beauty of the gift of baptism.
I hope that we shall be able to reach more believers through the synodal process and help them understand that they possess this spiritual treasure because, if the synodal Church is the one that listens to the Holy Spirit, and we all receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, everyone can contribute something.
In light of the increasing and growing conflicts in the world, how is the Church called to participate in world problems—war, hunger, armaments…? Is the war in Europe, in Ukraine, a defeat for Christians, and what is the role of Church diplomacy in all of this?
At a recent audience with the Holy Father, we discussed synodal issues. He emphasized that this Synod is being celebrated in the middle of a war. I believe that he was not only thinking about the conflicts in Europe but also elsewhere, so we must bear this in mind.
I believe that the proposal of the synodal Church, characterized by communion, participation and mission, can also be a response that the Church can give to the world to achieve the gift of peace, as well as resolving certain injustices in the world. The more we draw closer to each other, the more we have a message to convey to this individualistic, fragmented and conflicted society.
You are an expert in canon law. The painful topic of scandals at various levels is tearing the Church apart. Can they be prevented and, if not, how should they be penalized?
I think that the synodal Church can also be the answer, which will help us to deal with all types of abuse. Why? In my opinion, abuses are the result of the wrong way we use authority. Abuse is abuse of authority.
If we as a synodal Church could agree that we must bear the burden of authority, in an evangelical manner, I think that we should be in an even better position to fulfill our responsibilities.
We recently celebrated the ten years of Pope Francis’ pontificate. Which of his concepts and acts would you single out as key?
I think that his first encyclical, Evangelii gaudium, is still his Magna Carta, in which he presents his vision of the Church that opens itself and should go to the streets and squares. These days, a journalist asked me if I was saddened because the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary was not celebrated in the cathedral, owing to the earthquake damage. I told him that I felt that I was present in the cathedral because a cathedral is not merely a building but the assembled people of God.
This is what the Holy Father is trying to help us understand and live by, that the entire people of God make up the Church, and with respect to the charisms and ministries, everyone can contribute to the holiness of the Church and the common good of society as a whole.
Pope Francis speaks about the passion for evangelization, the Church which reaches out to people, while the Church in Europe seems sluggish and tired. Does this mean that believers are indifferent, superficial or really tired?
Allow me to present an introduction. The Church is not only the Church in Europe. In recent months, I have participated in synod sessions on other continents: Asia, Africa, even for the eastern Churches. I must say that I was full of enthusiasm and hope because I witnessed that these Churches are different. There is enthusiasm in them and people speak enthusiastically about Jesus, his Church and humanity, which is very promising.
The question is why it seems that we in Europe are tired, given that in Europe there are very positive Church experiences that may not be on the front pages of newspapers but they do exist. Now we need to intensify these experiences of the Spirit in order for Christian life, the pastoral life present in small communities, to create a new Church experience in Europe.
At the end of our conversation, how important is it to experience and recognize the Church as the mysterious Body of Christ that must not be divided?
You have reminded me of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, in which he asks the Father for us all to be one. This is a challenge that I think will only be completely fulfilled in eternity. Of course, this does not mean that we should give up unity. We should just not be discouraged if we still notice these differences.
If we speak about unity, it does not mean that we have to be the same. Unity is not uniformity but rather unity in diversity. There are obviously fundamental issues and beliefs that are common to all but there is also a lot of room for us to celebrate our diversity.
I believe that, even today, our prayer should be for us all to be one with the Holy Spirit, while at the same time respecting the individuality of each person, culture, history and nation.