“France needs hope!”

Cross : I learned on May 29th of your creation as a Cardinal on August 27th, on the occasion of my constury. What does this date change for you?

Bishop Jean-Marc Avlin: I have just begun to measure what is changing in my mission…I confess it is astonishing, but the joy and prayer of the people of Marseilles reassure me, and I want to keep this anchor in my first place of work as my apostle. I also feel that this Cardinal is likely to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood which I maintain with the Bishops of France. But of course I feel a certain weight on my shoulder!

Which cardinal do you intend to be? Do you intend to take advantage of this to advance the “Mediterranean Theology” that is dear to you?

Bishop c. M. I don’t feel like representing a case that I should advance by taking advantage of an advantageous situation. Because what distinguishes the cardinal is the connection with the Holy See and even more with the person of the Pope and the service of his ministry. I don’t know yet what line of business he would ask me to help him the most for. I feel that the issue of the Mediterranean is close to his heart. Perhaps this will give us the opportunity to visit Marseille… During a discussion with him, I also understood that he loves Marseille because it lies on a dividing line and is also a meeting place: a gateway to the east and a gate to the west.

You will be the only Cardinal to occupy the French Episcopal Cardinal, so will this give you a special place in it The Church of France?

Bishop c. M. For now, but it’s just a hunch, I guess. The cardinal, even the only one – while waiting for the others – is not a representative of the bishops of France. But I feel that this gives me a special task, especially so that the people of Rome may better understand what is happening in the Church of France, and what is being sought in the midst of the difficulties and crises we pass through.

Other than those in Marseille, how do you view the divisions of French society?

Bishop c. M. I am worried, even worried. I notice that it is difficult for us to discuss without swearing. Abstentions in past elections reveal a lack of confidence in those with a political commitment. In my meetings with a certain number of elected officials here in Marseille and in the region, I have never ceased to encourage them: it is a good thing that the people take care of the city and are committed to serving their fellow citizens.

But France today needs hope! She bears very great doubts about herself, about her calling as a nation, about what, in her long history, has endowed her with riches that could be useful to others. As a result, the note of France is almost missing in the present party of states, because it is not sure enough of itself.

You describe a France weakened by its divisions. How do we confront those who influence the Church of France?

Bishop c. M. First, to return to Jesus Christ and to welcome the fellowship which His Spirit desires to weave among us in the service of the love with which the Father loves the world. Then, they prioritize the mission, because that is why the Church exists: it exists to proclaim the Gospel by serving the dignity of every human being, by working in the service of the common good, by working for the unity of the human family and by helping consciences remain awake, all because Gospel and in constant dialogue with all men and women of good will. Finally, the internal organization of the Church was regularly adapted to the new requirements of the mission.

With the crisis of sexual abuse, secularization or even the crisis of vocations, do you think the French Church is doing poorly?

Bishop c. M. I don’t think it’s bad. It is certainly going through a series of difficult crises. And this isn’t the first time in history that you’ve seen them a little earlier than others. I remember that when my ancestors went to Rome, they often received lectures about the lack of dynamism of their parishes. Now that the wave of secularization has reached more eastern countries, we are being asked for advice on how to survive in such a context … And then, certain crises are useful. The report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (Ciase) and the work that the episcopate has done with all believers makes us more vigilant and concerned with the victims and obliges us to examine our conscience extensively.

Pope Francis has already pointed out the paradox of the Church of France. On the one hand, it has to confront the defense of secularization that operates perhaps more forcefully than anywhere else, because of the political choice of secularism. This has advantages, as it places citizenship above denomination, but it also carries the risk of becoming secular, like the new religion. On the other hand, the Pope asserts that the Church of France amazes with the profusion of holiness it evokes. So it’s not short on resources, as I see it often, especially among young people.

Dioceses have been visited recently, to Toulon and Strasbourg, and to new communities … Is this a sign that the Church of France is having problems with governance, or does Rome not like France?

Bishop c. M. First, it must be recognized that governance, whether ecclesiastical, political, or economic, is becoming increasingly difficult. I’ve heard enough officials in these areas to know: Today, anyone who quickly exercises power is a target. In the Church, the problems are perhaps amplified by the sacramental dimension associated with the charge of those engaged in episcopal or priestly service. A certain number of customs must also be reviewed – what Pope Francis denounces under the name of the clergy, which, moreover, affects not only the clergy. But let’s say that “Rome does not like France”, no! Rome loves France enough, on the contrary, to exercise, when necessary, an unsuspecting vigil.

How did you receive field reactions in the context of the Synod on the future of the Church? Should we turn toward a full collegiate church?

Bishop c. M. On this Synod topic, I think the matter is more important than the word. I think the adjective Synod It should eventually disappear because it has become synonymous with church. Essentially, we want a “church” church: a church that deviates from a very exclusive hierarchical process.

With this Synod, we are in a process that seems to me almost as important as the Council, with the difference that Pope Francis wanted the word to be given first to all of God’s people. After that, it will be necessary to build something with all that. You can see a few lines. And also limits: he participated in the synodal assemblies of believers of a certain age, but much less so than young people. However, the image of the grandparents does not give a fair image of the family and its vitality …

Are you saying that the church needs reform to proclaim the faith in a different world?

Bishop c. M. the church semper . repair (“It should always be fixed”): The day she will claim that she no longer has to fix herself, she will no longer be faithful to her mystery! But in order to do so, he needs to spread unwavering devotion to tradition and fearlessly open up to the questions of today’s world. Tradition is a matter of responsibility. Each generation must expose the deposit of faith to the questions of its age. The 50-year-old never had a problem with the climate emergency or with biomedical ethics: we did! It is in these questions also that we must explain our hope.

Moreover, I believe that the Synod had not yet yielded all its fruits because it was too interested in walking. Now the reason for the Church’s existence is not to watch herself in action, but to serve the relationship of God’s love to the world (John 3:16).

Are the words of the bishops still heard? As expected and can it be heard?

Bishop c. M. In my little experience you shouldn’t talk much, but dare to do it on time and out of time. When bishops act as relays for the voiceless, their words are heard, even if they are annoying. Of course, one should always strive to live up to what they say. We don’t give lessons. We offer certification, even if it has to cost us. So yeah, I think it’s important for the church to be able to take a stand. Having said that, it’s not because you’re talking that you’re being heard, even if we pretend to listen!

You are presiding over Hajj for the first time. Do you have a special relationship with Lorde?

Bishop c. M. I first went there when I was a kid, as a family. Bernadette’s simplicity, her freedom, her dignity, have always affected me deeply. I happened to be returning from a parish pilgrimage when, on May 29th, I learned of my appointment as Cardinal. The day before, in front of the grotto, I specifically asked the Lord for the grace not to allow all the cares of church life to taint my joy – and I pray to God more for this day!

This patriotic pilgrimage is also an opportunity to pray for France and for peace: when I see the Marian devotion of the Ukrainians in Zharvania as the devotion of the Russians before the icon of Our Lady of Kazan, I tell myself that we cannot endure war without entrusting the Virgin Mary fervently to the desire for peace that dwells in us.

The theme of the 2022 pilgrimage is “With Mary, let us become witnesses of hope.” In these troubled times, how can we keep the reasons for hope?

Bishop c. M. To maintain hope, I believe in the importance of the inner work of decentralization, which consists in learning to rejoice in what God’s grace brings to others. Through this call to conversion and reconciliation, the Holy Spirit weaves communion between us and directs it towards the mission. I often feel in awe of people of all ages, believers or non-believers, who seriously experience life, its joys and sorrows, and who, against all odds, keep in their hearts the desire to live … and do good to others. This helps me bear witness to the love with which God loves the world, in Jesus Christ, for his healing and salvation, and this love is my hope.

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