Called to Sow Hope and Build Peace

Service d'Animation Missionnaire

Missionary Conversation with Monsignor Vittorino Girardi

Monsignor Vittorino Girardi, bishop emeritus of the diocese of Tilarán-Liberia, Costa Rica, was the special guest of our missionary conversation, as part of the activities held during the Week of Prayer for Vocations 2024. Inspired by Pope Francis' main theme for this year's day: Called to sow hope and build peace, Mons. Vittorino shared his message:
"To be a Christian is to be a sower of hope," he asserts. We sow hope because we are images of the infinite. This premise should outline the contour of our waiting. What is the reason for my hope?

"Without hope, the enigmas of life remain unresolved," Monsignor Vittorino asserts. We, disciples of the Risen One, are urged to be a sign of hope, to be salt and light to the world. Especially in these times, where some governments and rulers proclaim: let us free the poor from suffering, disguised as kindness to the poor, sick, weak, and marginalized. Let us legalize euthanasia, for it is an act of kindness for the suffering.

Monsignor Vittorino continues his intervention recalling Jesus' parable "salt, in itself, is useless. However, it gives flavor from its simplicity. Similarly, the missionary disciple of Christ is called to give flavor to the world from his living environment."

God is the term

"What do those who say they do not believe believe in? What do those who say they do not hope for hope in?" he asks. "If no one awaits me at the end of the road, then we can fall into meaninglessness. But if it is God, my Creator, who gives meaning to my life, then God himself is the goal."

Because God is our starting point and our destination, we are bearers of hope. "If nothingness overwhelms me," he asserts, "what does it matter if God exists or not? Either God resolves death for me, or to me, God is useless! That is why hope ends up putting order in the world."

Hope, the little sister of charity and faith, walks hand in hand with them. Although hope is small and apparently weak, it is, in a way, the one that leads to faith and charity along the paths and trails of this life. "Without eschatological hope, there is no mysticism, and without it, there are no heroes," Monsignor Girardi asserts convincingly.

No one is exempt from existential doubt about the meaning of life. Especially in the most important events of one's own life, no one can completely evade the aforementioned question: what have I come into the world for? Only God gives a full and absolutely certain answer to this problem. God, who calls human beings to higher thoughts and to a humble search for Truth.

"The Church knows perfectly well that its message resonates with the deepest desires of the human heart when it claims the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who despair of their highest destinies." The Christian message, far from diminishing man, must spread light, life, and freedom for human progress. Saint Augustine understood this very well when he affirmed: "You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."

What you desire most can make you suffer if God is not at the center of your deepest longings.
"We are citizens of the infinite," Monsignor Vittorino insists again. We have been created for Love from love. The hope that moves us is sustained by a God crazy about human beings.

The Saint of the Smile

Monsignor Vittorino recalls in his exposition Josefina Bakhita, a Sudanese saint who lived in slavery. Despite the adversities of her life, Bakhita never abandoned hope. She is often called the saint of the smile. "Her body was marked by the whip. Made a slave since childhood, when she became a nun as a free woman, she came to say that without that terrible experience she would not have known the Creator, the owner of everything." Josefina Bakhita was accustomed to the "masters" in her slavery. "Now that I am a Christian, I discover that my owner is the Creator," Bakhita said. We can say without fear that Bakhita is a singer of hope.

A perennial song to life

Nothing that God has created should harm us, or make us suffer. The supreme truth is Life. And the best good news there is, the best we can announce, is that death has been overcome. Christianity is good news. We proclaim the joy of the Risen One. And that is why we must be messengers of hope.

"Whoever believes in me, though he may die, yet shall he live" (Jn 11:17-27). Christianity is therefore a perennial song to life.

Being Builders of Peace

Can it be said that "death" is a reason for hope? For Monsignor Vittorino, the answer is a resounding "Yes." It is that, in Jewish tradition, the word death means what separates us from God. For the believer, for the one who recognizes Christ as the Risen One, the conqueror of death, death does not have the final word. "I dare to say," he asserts, "that the most beautiful day for a missionary is the day of death. Death does not defeat us. Nonsense does not defeat us. Hopelessness and pessimism do not defeat us. Life triumphs over death." Therefore, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8).

Jesus appears to the disciples as the Crucified Risen One. With his wounds and open hands. His first word is always: Peace be with you. Jesus has triumphed over death, thus renewing the hopes of his friends, giving them his peace. A missionary is, therefore, an announcer and builder of peace (Mt. 10:11).

Peace is not a bargain

Jesus constantly announces peace, he leaves us his peace. However, we find in the Gospels apparently contradictory fragments. In the same passage where Jesus sends his disciples to bring peace to the world, Jesus himself expresses: Do not think that I have come to bring peace, but war/division (Mt 10:34). What does this mean?

Monsignor Vittorino reasons: the issue is that "Christian peace is not cheap, it implies constant struggle. It is a struggle between shadows and fatalism, against light and hope. If the world hates you, Jesus says, remember that they hated me first."

Nicodemus, for example, lived a constant struggle, an inner struggle. Nicodemus entered a process of conversion. Christian peace is the fruit of conversion. "Christian peace is the peace of a forgiven person. Whoever welcomes Christ proclaims peace. One proclaims and proclaims what dwells within him. What dwells in you, that is what you communicate! Peace is only communicated if it dwells in you, being a forgiven man."

From Saul the persecutor to Paul the forgiven

At the feet of Saul they placed the tunics of Stephen when he was stoned (Acts 7:54-60). Saul was very young when he witnessed the stoning of Stephen. The fact that he was very young confirms the fact that he could not stone. On the road to Damascus, the former persecutor of Christians, met the Lord. He underwent a process of personal conversion and change. He experienced a process of forgiveness. Paul becomes a disciple and missionary, feeling forgiven and loved. And then, he proclaims what he has seen and heard.

Paul is a reconciled man because he lives the peace that only Christ can give.

A Christian is a victor over pessimism

"In Galatians 5:22," Monsignor Girardi continues his reflection, "Paul speaks of being born again of water and the Spirit to be witnesses of hope."
Those of Christ are those who have been crucified by the flesh. When the word "flesh" is used, it refers to the human being. That is, all human beings are of Christ. And it is Christ himself, the Risen One, who invites us to announce peace and to be builders of a new world. That is our hope.

Vittorino Girardi Stellin, M.C.C.I. (March 24, 1938, Lendinara, province of Rovigo, Italy)

He was ordained a priest on March 30, 1963, at the Major Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome).
He earned his Doctorate in Theology in Rome in 1982 and a Diploma in Atheism Philosophy and Pastoral of Catholic Action from the Italian Episcopal Conference, as well as in Mariology from the "Marianum" in Rome.

He served his priestly mission in several countries: Spain, Kenya, and Mexico. He has been a professor at prestigious universities and has resided in Costa Rica since 1993, where he was a formator at the Comboni Seminary in Sagrada Familia and a professor at the Catholic University, Juan Pablo II University, and the Central American Theological Institute.

In 2002, he was appointed the third bishop of the Diocese of Tilarán-Liberia. He held this position until February 6, 2016, becoming the Bishop Emeritus of the aforementioned diocese.