The “Catacombs’ Pact of the Poor & Servant Church”

Catacombs of Domitilla

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the convocation of the Second Vatican Council, we remember fondly the Alliance of the Catacombs of the Servant and Poor Church. On November 16, 1965, a few days before the Council ended, forty Council Fathers celebrated Eucharist in the Roman Catacombs of Domitilla. There they signed the Alliance of the Catacombs. Dom Hélder Câmara, whose 100th birthday is being celebrated this year, was one of the prime movers in this prophetic group. In 13 points, the Alliance insists on the Evangelical poverty of the Church: without honorific titles, without privileges, and without worldly ostentation. It insists on collegiality and on co-responsibility in the Church as People of God. It calls for openness to the world and brotherly and sisterly welcome.

SourcePedro Casaldáliga – Circular 2009

We, bishops gathered in the Second Vatican Council, made aware of the deficiencies of our lives of poverty according to the Gospel; encouraged by each other; in an initiative in which each one wishes to avoid singularity and presumption; united with all our brothers in the Episcopate; counting above all on the grace and strength of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the prayers of the faithful and the priests of our respective dioceses; placing ourselves in thought and prayer before the Trinity, before the Church of Christ and before the priests and faithful of our dioceses; humbly conscious of our weakness, but also with all the determination and strength which God wishes to give us as grace, commit ourselves to the following:

1) We will seek to live according to the ordinary manner of our people, regarding habitation, food, means of transport and all which springs from this. Cf. Mt 5,3; 6,33s; 8,20.

2) We definitively renounce the appearance and reality of riches, especially regarding to our manner of dress (rich material, loud colours) and symbols made of precious materials (they should in reality be evangelical signs). Cf. Mc 6,9; Mt 10,9s; At 3,6. Neither gold nor silver.

3) We will not possess real estate, goods, bank accounts etc. in our own names; if it should be necessary to have them, we will place everything in the name of the diocese, or of charitable and social works.. Cf. Mt 6,19-21; Lc 12,33s.

4) Whenever possible, we will entrust the financial and material administration in our dioceses to a commission of competent laity, conscious of their apostolic rôle, so that we may become less administrators and more pastors and apostles.. Cf. Mt 10,8; At. 6,1-7.

5) We refuse to be addressed, orally or in writing, by names or titles which signify prestige and power (Eminence, Excellency, Monsignor…). We prefer to be called by the evangelical title of Father. Cf. Mt 20,25-28; 23,6-11; Jn 13,12-15.

6) In our behaviour and social relations, we will avoid anything which may seem to confer privileges, priority or any preference for the rich and powerful (such as: banquets, offered or accepted, class distinction during religious services Cf. Lc 13,12-14; 1Cor 9,14-19.)

7) In the same way we will avoid the fostering or pampering of the vanity of anyone, in order to seeking reward or solicit donations, or for any reason whatsoever. We will invite our faithful to consider their donations as a normal participation in the cult, the apostolate and social action. Cf. Mt 6,2-4; Lc 15,9-13; 2Cor 12,4.

8) We will dedicate whatever is necessary of or time, reflection, heart, means etc to the apostolic and pastoral service of people and groups of workers and of the economically weak and underdeveloped, without prejudice to the other people and groups in the diocese. We will support those laity, religious, deacons and priests who the Lord calls to evangelize the poor and the workers, sharing the work and life of labourers. Cf. Lc 4,18s; Mc 6,4; Mt 11,4s; At 18,3s; 20,33-35; 1Cor 4,12 e 9,1-27.

9) Conscious of the demands of justice and charity, and their mutual relationship, we will seek to transform assistential activities into social works based on justice and charity, which take into account all that this requires, as a humble service of the competent public organs. Cf. Mt 25,31-46; Lc 13,12-14 e 33s.

10) We will do our utmost so that those responsible for our government and for our public services make, and put into practice, laws, structures and social institutions required by justice and charity, equality and the harmonic and holistic development of all men and women, and by this means bring about the advent of another social order, worthy of the sons and daughters of mankind and of God. Cf. At. 2,44s; 4,32-35; 5,4; 2Cor 8 e 9 ; 1Tim 5, 16.

11) Believing the collegiality of the bishops to be of the utmost evangelical importance in facing the burden of human masses, in a state of physical, cultural and moral misery – two thirds of humanity – we commit ourselves:

– to participate, according to our means, in the urgent investments of the episcopates of poor nations;

– to demand that the plans of international organizations, but witnessing to the Gospel, as Pope Paul VI did in the UNO, adopt economic and cultural structures which no longer manufacture proletarian nations in an ever richer world, but which will permit the poor masses to overcome their misery.

12) We commit ourselves to share, in pastoral charity, our lives with our brothers and sisters in Christ, priests, religious and laity, so that our ministry constitute a true service; so,

– we will really try to „revise our lives“ with them;

– We will find collaborators who will be more animators according to the Spirit, rather then according to the chiefs of this world;

-we will seek to be more humanly present, more welcoming…;

– We will show ourselves to be open to all, whatever their religion. Cf. Mc 8,34s; At 6,1-7; 1Tim 3,8-10.

13) On returning to our respective dioceses, we will make this resolution known to our people, asking them to help us by their understanding, collaboration and prayers.


New Pact’s Action Points

The new pact paid tribute to the “martyrs that were the members of the base ecclesial communities” and others who “shed their blood for this option for the poor, for defending life and fighting for the protection of our Common Home.”

Among its 15 action points were to “defend the Amazon jungle” in the face of climate change; to commit to an “integral ecology”; and to renew the Church’s preferential option of the poor, helping native peoples to preserve their “lands, languages, stories, identities and spiritualties.”

There was no criticism of pagan traditions or spiritualties; rather, they rejected “all types of colonist mentality and posture” and instead called on parishes and dioceses to “welcome and value cultural ethnic and linguistic diversity in a respectful dialogue with all spiritual traditions.”

Further points included denouncing “all forms of violence and aggression” toward native peoples, their identity and territories, “announcing the liberating novelty of the Gospel,” and urging the Church to “walk ecumenically” with other Christian communities.

The call for establishing a “synodal lifestyle” was also proposed, as was the urge to “consolidate” an “adequate ministry of women leaders of the community,” and “new paths” of pastoral action where lay contributions are prominent in attention to those on the peripheries as well as “migrants, workers and the unemployed.”

The new pact also urged a “happily sober lifestyle” in the face of “the avalanche of consumerism,” the reduction of use of plastics, the promotion of “agro-ecological products,” and being on the side of those persecuted for “denouncing and repaying injustices” and who defend “the earth and the rights of the poor.”

The oath closed by recalling words from Pope Francis encyclical Laudato Si (Care for Our Common Home), in which he wrote the Eucharist of the Covenant is “an act of cosmic love” that joins heaven and earth and “embraces and penetrates all creation.” In the bread of the Eucharist, he wrote, “creation is projected towards divinization” and is a “source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.”

Participants’ Perspectives

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the synod’s relator general, celebrated the Mass, which was attended by about 250 faithful, including other synod participants, representatives of REPAM, the body running the Oct. 6-27 meeting, religious and local faithful.                                                                                            

In his homily, Cardinal Hummes said the location was a reminder of the “difficult times” of the early Church, marked by persecution. The Church, he added, “must always return to its roots here and in Jerusalem.”

Turning to the synod, he said it is a “fruit of the Second Vatican Council” and that “new ways are being sought to carry out the mission of proclaiming the word.” The great evils of the world are due to the money that feeds corruption, conflict and lies, and so the Church must always be “praying.”

Concelebrating the Mass were key figures of the synod, including Bishop Erwin Kräutler, one of the main authors of the synod’s controversial working document, and Jesuit Cardinal Pedro Ricardo Barreto, vice president of REPAM. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, was also present, although he did not concelebrate but stood at the back of the church.

Cardinal Berreto told the Register after the Mass that the new pact was meant as a “renewal” of the Church and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, but he firmly rejected it was meant to signify any renewal of liberation theology.

Archbishop Fisichella said the renewal of the pact was “a beautiful sign” and also said it was not meant as a kind of resuscitation of liberation theology. “It is in continuity with what happened just after Vatican II,” and the original pact proposed a “deep engagement with the poor.”

He said the emphasis on the environment in the new pact was a “consequence of Laudato Si.” The engagement at this moment is with both “the poor and creation,” he added.

On whether people should be concerned about the new pact, given the criticism of what the earlier one led to, Archbishop Fisichella said: “No, this is something new — read the text, this is something very important, because in some ways this is a fruit of the synod.”

Franciscan Sister Sheila Kinsey, executive pro-secretary of the justice, peace and integrity of creation commission of the Union of Superior Generals (USG) and International Union of Superior Generals (UISG), told the Register that, for her, the priority for the Amazon was ensuring that indigenous people have the benefits of their resources, especially in mining communities.

On criticism that the synod has, for some, seemed to be more about politics and social justice than worship, faith and salvation of souls, Sister Sheila said it is important, “through faith, to find ways to work together.”

This is how those against the faith “destroy: They politicize issues that are really of our faith, and we get caught up in that,” said Sister Sheila, who is not taking part in the synod. “That’s how they co-opt our message — the two extremes, both on the left and on the right, on both sides.”

The answer, she said, was “to be clear: It’s about caring for each other and how we can do that” and putting “Christ at the center.”

It is about “bringing Christ’s presence to one another, the presence of Jesus who is within our hearts,” Sister Sheila said. “The presence of Christ whom we receive in the Eucharist needs to be our life, the center of our lives.”