THE GOSPEL IN EVERY HOME CHRIST IN EVERY HEART
«Dear brother, Dear sister, this Book which you have received is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God». This is how the Holy Father begins his letter to accompany the Gospel according to Saint Mark, now being distributed by thousands of lay people to every family in Rome. The letter is personal, direct communication, a style to which the Holy Father has accustomed his faithful since his election. With this letter the Pope invites men and women, young and not so young, to discover anew the Word of Jesus. "Open this Gospel with confidence - he writes - read it carefully and meditate it deeply, on your own or together with your loved ones in the family. In it you will find peace of heart, and the hope and strength to meet life's varying situations, even the hardest and most trying, day after day."
This is the concrete realization of Rome diocese's main objectives for Lent 1997: "The Gospel in every home", parish spiritual-exercises and a series of talks by personalities of the ecclesial and secular worlds. This is in fact the City-Mission, an initiative called for by the Holy Father in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, which through these initiatives is, as it were, "taking flesh" throughout the local Church and throughout the city.
Announced by the Pope in 1995 on December 8th - the Feast of the Immaculate Conception - and solemnly inaugurated on May 25th 1996 with a Liturgical Celebration on the Vigil of Pentecost in Saint Peter's Square, the City-Mission is advancing on three levels: formation and prayer, dialogue with the city, and first-evangelization. It aims first of all for what is described by Pope John Paul II as the primary objective: «to prepare the hearts of the people of Rome to receive the grace of the Holy Year and re-discover faith in Jesus Christ and in the riches of Christian life and culture, the motives for the particular duty entrusted to the Eternal City regarding the rest of the world».
During this pastoral year 1996-1997, the diocesan community is living an intense time of formation on the theme "Jesus Christ only Saviour of the world, yesterday, today and for ever". Twelve thousand missionaries nearly all lay people, volunteers from parishes, religious communities, associations church groups and movements, are being prepared by means of monthly meetings being held, until May 1997, in the 27 "missionary zones" into which the diocese of Rome has been divided. This formation on themes indicated by the Holy Father in the Tertio Millennium Adveniente, is sustained by prayer in numerous spirituality centres organized in parishes, communities, and monasteries. «To go forward on our City-Mission - said Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia, Vice regent of the diocese - the aspect of prayer and spirituality is both fundamental and central». Hence the preparation of a liturgical guide offering suggestions and examples for celebrations and different occasions of prayer through this first year of preparation for the Jubilee, enlightened by the person of Jesus Christ.
But the City-Mission includes also dialogue. This is apparent from the three conferences on the theme "Faith and the search for God" held in the Basilica of Saint John in the Lateran, the Cathedral of Rome, when speakers such as Cardinals Biffi of Bologna, Martini of Milan and Lustiger of Paris, sat alongside famous Italian journalists and writers, Levi, Zavoli. And also from two talks held in Advent and Lent addressed more to the secular world, people engaged in politics, public administration, social communications, art or culture, given respectively by American Cardinal O' Connor of New York and German Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
As an introduction to the City-Mission and a first concrete sign of commitment for new evangelization, we have then this distribution of the Gospel of Mark. At the end of January, when the Pope received in audience the Rome city- Council and presented the Mayor with a copy of the Gospel he said he is "convinced that joyful proclamation of Jesus Christ is wisdom of life which will benefit also civil co-existence of all who live in the city". So, on February 16th, the first Sunday of Lent, in every parish church there was a solemn rite during which a few representatives of the city missionaries were officially entrusted with the Gospel, defined by the Holy Father as "the foundation Book of the Mission". In this way the whole diocesan community was drawn to participate in the initiative.
But it will be even more involved when this "door to door" distribution of the Gospel is completed: roughly a million copies have been printed. The book is however not merely distributed, because these twelve thousand missionaries, and with them thousands of other families and individuals charged by the parishes, actually enter the home, offering a few words of simple explanation about the initiative. This helps prepare the ground for the work of the actual mission throughout the parishes which will begin with the start of the next pastoral year, and in 1999 will reach out to the various territorial environments.
The distribution of the Gospel with its accompanying letter written by the Pope, says the Cardinal Vicar for Rome, Camillo Ruini, «is an important, symbolic and significant undertaking, an invitation to each family to discover, through reading the Gospel, the roots of our faith, to accept Jesus Christ as news which is good for family life». In fact Pope John Paul underlines in his letter, «there is no more astonishing news than this: God comes to us in person, he became one of us, was crucified, and is Risen and invites each one of us to share in his very own life, forever». The Gospel of Mark was chosen because it is the basic text for this Liturgical year and also because it was written in Rome, by a faithful disciple of Saint Peter. Non-Italian Catholics living in Rome will also receive a copy of the book in their own language. Rome diocese then, is knocking on all the doors, delivering the "Gospel of hope" into every home. And the Holy Father's wish «that there will be many of these and other similar initiatives» has already drawn an enthusiastic "yes" from many other local Churches.