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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis — whose restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) have been criticized as a stab through the heart of Christian Tradition — says respecting cultural traditions is crucial to evangelizing.
Speaking to an international congress on religious life last week via video, the pontiff bemoaned a failure on the part of those in religious life to enculturate — to learn the traditional practices of cultures and assimilate them — in order to evangelize.
Francis exhorted: "When this enculturation does not take place, Christian life — and moreover, the consecrated life — winds up in the most aberrant and most ridiculous gnostic positions."
Gnosticism is a collection of religious ideas that emphasizes personal spiritual knowledge above orthodox teachings, traditions and authority of the Church. It holds that secret knowledge held only by a few is the source of salvation.
"Enter the life of faithful people, enter with respect for their customs, their traditions, trying to carry out the mission of enculturating the faith and evangelizing culture. It is a binomial: enculturate the faith and evangelize culture," Francis pleaded.
In the text of his message to the conference, he cited paragraph 246 of Evangelii Gaudium, his 2013 apostolic exhortation on the sharing of the gospel: "It is not just about being better informed about others, but about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us."
The irony of using the term "gnostic" to describe the faithful's adherence to Church orthodoxy was not lost on faithful Catholics, who have criticized Francis for allowing and encouraging pagan cultural practices that include idol worship — a violation of the First Commandment.
Francis further opined that the gnostic phenomenon can be seen "in the misuse of the liturgy, for example. The important thing is the ideology and not the reality of the peoples, and that is not the gospel. Do not forget the binomial: enculturate the faith and evangelize culture."
Since the publication of his motu proprio Traditionis Custodes last month, Francis has caused the consternation of many traditional Catholics, both clergy and laity, for failing to appreciate celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) as a beloved cultural tradition.
For example, Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales opined that it seemed to "undo entirely the legal provisions made for the Traditional Mass by Pope Benedict, and to take us back not only to the situation before the 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, but even before 1988, when Pope John Paul II — who was canonized by Pope Francis — described the more ancient Mass as a 'rightful aspiration' of the faithful."
Francis' comment about liturgical "ideology" comes after Italian laity penned an open letter asking him to end the "ideological civil war" in the Church.
Cardinal Raymond Burke referred to the motu propio as "severe and revolutionary," while Cdl. Gerhard Müller agreed that the measure was "harsh," adding, "Instead of appreciating the smell of the sheep, the shepherd here hits them hard with his crook."
In like manner, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) expressed it was "deeply saddened by the reasons given for limiting the use of the Missal of St. John XXIII, which is at the center of its charism." FSSP was founded during the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II to offer the pre-Vatican II liturgy.
However, Traditionis Custodes was applauded by some clerics, including Cdl. Walter Kasper, who claimed to know that a majority of Catholics are opposed to the ancient rite of the Mass.
Fr. James Martin S.J., who is frequently criticized for his positions on the LGBTQ agenda, sees the Traditional Latin Mass as a source of "divisiveness." In America magazine, for which he is an editor, he wrote: "Overall, I agree with Francis' motu proprio, not simply based on my own experience of the growing divisiveness over the Mass, but even more on his consultation with bishops around the world who have weighed in on the experiences of the People of God."
Francis instead suggesting the faithful embrace Teología del Pueblo (Theology of the People) to which he adheres.
Theology of the People is a school of thought that sprang from Argentina in the early 1960s when Francis was a Jesuit seminarian. Seen as a response to Vatican II and the Second Episcopal Conference of Latin America (CELAM), it is recognized as a current within the broader Liberation Theology, which seeks to reconcile aspects of Marxism with Catholic social doctrine.
Theology of the People finds a "preferential option for the poor" as in Liberation Theology but does not emphasize Marxist class struggle. Instead, it focuses on the struggle of "people" and "anti-people," as taught by Fr. Lucio Gera, an influential theologian who denounced oligarchies that seek their own interests over the poor. His writings are believed to have influenced the current pope.
Father Juan Carlos Scannone, S.J. (1931–2019), who founded Teologia del Pueblo, taught the future pope in seminary. Father Scannone claimed Francis understands the "people" as a "polyhedral figure" in which each culture can give something to the wider world in which cultural differences are respected.
In Evangelii Gaudium, "people" is mentioned at least 164 times; it is the most frequently used noun in the document.
The Virtual Continental Congress that the pontiff addressed was organized by the Congregation of Latin American Religious Life (CLAR) and held Aug. 13–15.