Pastoral letter Year of Faith

Pastoral letter
by the Bishop of Helsinki,
Msgr. Teemu Sippo S.C.I.

Year of Faith

Dear members of the Diocese,

Nearly a year ago, Pope Benedict XVI declared that the entire Church is to celebrate a Year of Faith from October 11, 2012, through November 24, 2013. The day that marks the beginning of the Year of Faith is 50 years to the day from the beginning of the Second Vatican Council as well as exactly 20 years since the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Year of Faith ends on November 24, 2013, as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.

The purpose of the Year of Faith

For the Year of Faith, the Holy Father has written an apostolic letter called Porta fidei, or “The door of faith”. In it Pope Benedict says that faith offers us entry into a life of communion with God and into his Church. All we must do is step over the threshold in order to hear the word of God and let God’s mercy influence our lives. To enter through that door of faith is to start a lifelong journey that begins with baptism, making God our Father. That journey ends through death in eternal life, the fruit of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus.

It is the will of Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit to draw in all those who believe in Him into his own glory. To profess faith in the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is to believe in one God who is Love: the Father, who in the fullness of time sent his Son for our salvation; Jesus Christ, who in the mystery of his death and resurrection redeemed the world; the Holy Spirit, who leads the Church across the centuries as we await the Lord’s glorious return. (cf. Porta fidei, 1)

The Holy Father wants to wake people up to think about the Christian Faith, because it can lead them to salvation and to the fullness of life. An important function of the Year of Faith is to lead the members of the Church to a better knowledge of their own faith. Through that their faith can come alive, become strong and pure. It can make faith a tangible reality. Its beauty and truth can reveal itself to people as a great treasure. This leads naturally to the faithful beginning to express their faith to others as well. The Pope writes: ”We will have the opportunity to profess our faith in the Risen Lord in our cathedrals and in the churches of the whole world; in our homes and among our families, so that everyone may feel a strong need to know better and to transmit to future generations the faith of all times. Religious communities as well as parish communities, and all ecclesial bodies old and new, are to find a way, during this Year, to make a public profession of the Credo.” (Porta fidei, 8) But the Pope also adds that it is the gift of the Holy Spirit that strengthens our witness.

Challenge for the Diocese of Helsinki

Thinking of our own Diocese, we must face the fact that we are in a challenging situation with regards to the growth of faith and bearing witness to it. We are a small and dispersed minority in a vast country. Catholics here represent many different nationalities, various groups with their own languages, cultures, ways and traditions. Building communities and parishes is a challenge, particularly for the pastors of geographically large parishes. Religious education, catechesis, the passing on of the faith to children and young people, is a big effort for the diocese, for the parishes, for teachers and families.

Our society is rapidly becoming more secularised. People are more and more alienated from the Church and their faith, while negative attitudes to religions and churches are growing. In particular, the world’s largest and most influential Christian community, the Catholic Church, is criticised, especially in the media. This creates an image of our Church that is only negative.

A strong faith is the answer

That is why we Catholics need a strong conviction in our faith as well as courage to walk the way of faith, even if we the journey is uphill. We need to have an independent attitude and question some phenomena in society, particularly in matters of morals. It is our task to be a sign of our faith in God and in His goodness to the world around us. As the Gospel says, we can be “the salt of the earth”, and “a city built on a hill-top”, so we must let our light shine (Mt 5). Our faith impacts and radiates on our environment – not least through active neighbourly love. We are encouraged and comforted in the knowledge that we too are included in the promise that Christ gave to His disciples: “I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” (Mt 28:20)

How we can make the Year of Faith bear fruit

We have thought about how to celebrate the Year of Faith in our Diocese; how we can deepen our faith; how we can make our faith bear fruit and live our faith better; how we can bear witness this year. To promote faith, the Nordic Bishops’ Conference has decided that each of the bishops in Scandinavia will publish two homilies on sentences in the Creed. The homilies will be published in all the Nordic countries. In parishes, the Year of Faith will be promoted through homilies during Sunday Mass, but also in prayers and talks. In addition, the bishops encourage the faithful to form prayer and discussion groups. In these smaller groups, the faithful can talk about the Creed and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one of the important fruits of the Second Vatican Council. Naturally, the celebration of the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist, is key to the Year of Faith. A pious celebration of the Holy Mass is always the deepest expression of our faith; Holy Mass is the heart of our faith. The Eucharist feeds us, giving all of us in the body of the Church the strength we need. The Sacrament of Penance also provides an ever-new experience of God’s mercy and a chance of a new beginning.

Praying together, talking to each other – all this helps to build our faith. But private study of our faith and individual prayer are also helpful. Last year saw the publication of a Finnish-language prayer book in accordance with the Second Vatican Council, which can give our spiritual life joy and energy. Everyone can pray the Liturgy of the Hours and the Rosary. All these help to build our faith and make us able to bear witness – not just in words, but in our own lives, with joy and conviction! In professing our faith, we can feel the bond that connects us to many Christians of other denominations who are close to us.

In the First Epistle of Peter it is said: You “are being kept safe by God’s power through faith until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the final point of time. This is a great joy to you, even though for a short time yet you must bear all sorts of trials; so that the worth of your faith, more valuable than gold, which is perishable even if it has been tested by fire, may be proved – to your praise and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. You have not seen him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him you believe in him and so are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described; and you are sure of the goal of your faith, that is, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:5-9)

May the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, lead us to her son Christ and ask Him to bless our Year of Faith.

Helsinki, October 2012

+ Teemu Sippo S.C.I.
Bishop of Helsinki