“Be Strong in the Faith” Canon Lawyer and Pastor for the Building Up of the Ecclesial Communion

Full Professor of Fundamental Moral Theology in the Theological Department of Lugano

The human, scientific, and ecclesial personality of Eugenio Corecco is entirely enclosed and marvelously concentrated in his first Pastoral Letter as Bishop of Lugano: Be Strong in the Faith, directed to the faithful for the Easter of 1987. 1 This Pastoral Letter seems to us to offer the most appropriate method for grasping the key features of a rich and many-sided character, who, in a faith fully lived, always found the unitary and synthetic point of expression. His profound research capabilities, his theological categories of reference, his pedagogical awareness of the path of the persons entrusted to him, make themselves here forcefully apparent.
The broad perspective that Eugenio Corecco was able to embrace can be see in two further incidents. On the eve of his consecration, June 28, 1986, standing in cloistered convent of Benedictine nuns, he explained on television the motto chosen for his episcopal ministry: “in omnibus aequitas quae est Deus”: “I am convinced, with the entire Christian tradition that produced this formula as early as the thirteenth century, that equity is a superior form of justice. Indeed, it coincides with the justice of God. The justice of God is mercy and pardon. It does not have the human scale as its symbol, in which giving and possessing are meticulously weighed, but it has the Cross for its symbol, which is the expression of the redemption and the pardon of God.” 2 Almost seven years later, on the occasion of the pontifical celebration for the first “Dies Academicus” of the Theological Faculty founded by him, on January 13, 1993, he said: “The study of theology, however, is indispensable in order for the Christian to know how to give to the world the profound – and thus also the rational – reasons for his faith, as from the beginning St. Peter exhorts us in his first letter (1 Pt 3:15). The study of theology, however, must not fail to have the consequence of bringing about the existential adherence of our person to the person of Christ. Only in this way can our testimony avoid the risk of becoming ideological, becoming instead the communication to others of the experience of faith that we ourselves live.” 3 Here the erudition of the jurist and the intelligence of the theologian appear, both led back to the Source – the person of Christ – which sustains them in that ecclesial horizon, of whose truth the pastor is the guarantor.
In Be Strong in the Faith, this organic harmony of presentation reaches its summit.
It is necessary also to be aware of the notable space occupied by epistolary correspondence in the episcopal magisterium of Msgr. Eugenio Corecco. Next to the classical Pastoral Letters (Be Strong in the Faith, Easter 1987; For the Constitution of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, January 1988; Virginity in Priestly Ministry, directed to members of the diocesan presbyterium for Holy Thursday in 1988; Proclaim the Gospel, Lent 1989; Preparation and Celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation, Lent 1991; Religious Education in the Schools, Lent 1993, an open letter directed to all parents; and Pastoral Zones, November 4, 1987 on the feast of St. Charles Borromeo), we find, in fact, a series of writings of considerable importance sharing a common literary genre: the five Letters from the Synod Bishops, gathered in Rome in the autumn of 1987 on the theme “The Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and in the World, Twenty Years after the Second Vatican Council”; the Letters from Latin America and from the Holy Land (February 1988); and finally a second series of four Letters from the Synod of October 1990 on the identity and formation of the priest, the last of which is specifically directed to youth.
What I would like to attempt here is to briefly bring out the constantly recurring themes, certainly of the letters, but first in the collection of canonical and theological writings of Msgr. Eugenio Corecco. These themes are faith, the human person, and his ecclesial dimension (in synthesis: “fides et communio,” a formula which could have as its juridical counterpart, “ius et communio” or “canon law and communio,” chosen as the title of this collection of writings). I limit myself here to an analysis of Be Strong in the Faith, the great programmatic letter opening his episcopal ministry, in which the rich personality of the author comes out very clearly. I will make this examination by reviewing the direct references of Msgr. Corecco to the texts of Holy Scripture, the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and the teaching of the pontifical Magisterium. This will enable us a) to gather the connection between faith, the person, and the Church, and b) to place ourselves within the ecclesial dimension which nourishes the faith of the believer.

1.An All-Absorbing Faith
The Pastoral Letter Be Strong in the Faith contains three references to the Second Vatican Council, which, by themselves, would be sufficient to justify our approach. It opens with a citation of Gaudium et Spes 43, 1, in which the dramatic contemporary situation is described: “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.” After having identified the ultimate cause of this split in the loss of the religious sense, Msgr. Corecco, introducing the question of the fullness of the person considered in all his constitutive components, refers to Dei Verbum 5, when he lucidly affirms: “Whereas the rational knowledge of the existence of God commits man at the level of his intelligence, faith in the mystery of the Trinity present in the world through Christ and the Church necessarily involves man ‘entirely’ (DV5), in the totality of his mental, volitional, psychological and emotional faculties. In the act of faith, man does not respond to God with only a part of himself, but with the consent of his entire person.” To whom precisely is the adhesion of faith of the entire person directed? In the response we encounter a reference to Lumen Gentium 1, and the relationship of Christ and the Church is taken up. Our faith is directed “to that God who concretely manifests Himself in the world through the human face of Jesus Christ, still present in history through the Church… The Church, in fact, despite her many aspects of precariousness, is the unmistakable sign of the presence of Christ the Savior in the world.”

2. An Ecclesial Faith
Msgr. Corecco suggests that we would glory with joy in the act of faith if we were aware of what it is: full of amazement and thankfulness to God for having immersed us in the depths of the Trinitarian mystery. This description of the dynamics of the personal act of faith culminates with the affirmation – supported by Eph 1:4-5 in which St. Paul describes the mystery of salvation in the Church – that “adherence to the Church coincides thus with adherence to the mystery of the Trinity, in whose image and likeness man has been created ‘through Christ’ (Eph 1:5). In fact, in Christ our Lord ‘God has chosen us before the foundation of the world’ (Eph 1:4).” The response and the free and personal adherence of man to the revelation through which God manifests Himself to man as a Trinitarian being, is possible only thanks to a supernatural gift that God Himself makes to man: the grace of faith. For this reason, before the passage cited above with reference to the letter to the Ephesians, Msgr. Corecco repeats at the opening of his pastoral letter – indicating it as a historical confirmation of the affirmation of the Conciliar Fathers in GS 43, 1 – the vibrant exhortation of St. Paul to the Christians of the first generation: “Only you must remain firmly founded in the faith and steadfast and not withdrawing from the hope of the gospel which you have heard” (Col 1:23). The following citation: “And be not conformed to this world!” (Rm 12:2), stigmatizes the cultural retreat of the modern Christian with regard to the dominant opinion and prevailing habits of the time, the dissociation lived in the intimacy of his ego, in which the modern Christian is defined as a “person divided in himself.”
All the other scriptural references of the Letter Be Strong in the Faith are located in the final part in which Msgr. Corecco treats the necessity and urgency of catechesis, understood as an indispensable instrument for the regaining of the Christian faith on the level of contents and on that of an existential, personal, and communitarian commitment. This faith is a faith “of the Church and in the Church.” Only by taking it up all the way can we arrive at an adequate expression of our personality. Besides Mt 19:29 and 1Cor 2:10-15, above all 1 Thes 5:21, Col 2:8 and 1 Pt 3:15 furnish other converging methodological criteria for the “critical and prophetic position that the Christian must assume in the contemporary world,” in the words of the Bishop of Lugano. In so far as the contemporary world is living the drama of the “rupture between the Gospel and culture” (expression of Paul VI in the Encyclical Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 20, to which we shall return), the position of the Christian cannot fail to be critical and prophetic. Here is the Christian task handed down to us from St. Paul and St. Peter, essential for the newness of life that is inherent in the truth and greatness of faith in Christ to be able to determine the concrete life of those who profess it and the judgments in which it is expressed: “Test all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Ts 5:21); “See to it that no one deceives you by philosophy and vain deceit, according to human traditions, according to the elements of the world and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8); up to the conclusive and extremely positive exhortation: “Be ready always with an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pt 3:15).

3. A Missionary Faith
A passage from the first pastoral letter of the then Card. Montini (1957), who with his election to the papacy became one of the major artisans of Vatican II itself, offers Msgr. Corecco the basis for determining the final cause of that crisis in which contemporary man is caught and is floundering: “Behold: before us there is the panorama of our contemporary world, full of life, of thought, of activity, of conquests. The earthly city is being transformed and constructed in new and great forms of civilization. Man is growing: in numbers, in culture, in power. Studies and business, enterprises and interests, machines and money, voyages and riches, amusements and pleasures, dreams and projects absorb his spirit, which has become clear, calculating, enterprising, social, hedonist. He is taken up with novelty. Even his hopes have become dynamics for the present. The earth is his kingdom. And the kingdom of heaven? And the future life? And the supernatural destiny of man? And God? Modern man is losing the religious sense.” “We have perhaps a thousand reasons to evaluate with a certain interior distance the enthusiasm and the optimism of the man who became the future Pope Paul VI,” comments Msgr. Corecco, offering then some examples of the dramatic human events of recent decades. “Perhaps we have reason today to be cautiously less optimistic, but one point remains firm, and it is the dramatic affirmation formulated by Cardinal Montini with absolute lucidity thirty years ago: modern man is losing the religious sense.” In other words, that capacity inscribed in the human person of globally posing the problem of the destiny and the ultimate sense of his existence, is becoming clouded.
Faced with the various ideological forms of understanding the human condition (consumerism, democratic conformism, liberal rationalism, up to Marxist ideology), all aimed at reducing its significance in the service of a political quest for power, Msgr. Corecco challenges Christians to become aware of themselves above all as men (first aspect), taking profound consciousness of the natural religious longing inscribed in every man in his concrete reality, created in the image and likeness of God Who is One and Three, and who therefore cannot be reduced in his dignity. It is in this regard that the reference is made twice to the Encyclical Redemptor hominis of John Paul II. The awareness of being Christians, of having received as a gift the capacity to accomplish the act of faith in Christ the Savior (second aspect), will then be more mature and consistent. A reference to the Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi tradendae and to the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater completes the final treatment of catechesis, which is necessary so that all become “strong in the faith,” in the image of “Mary who has become really present in the mystery of Christ precisely because ‘she has believed’” (RM, n. 2).
It is the Church, Mater et Magistra (John XXIII), who generates new sons and daughters with Baptism and who nurtures the innate religious sense with the teaching of the truths of the faith. Citing Paul VI (Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 79), Msgr. Corecco states that catechesis and preaching should not transmit “doubts and uncertainties born of an erudition poorly assimilated, but certainties that are solid because they are anchored in the Word of God. The faithful need these certainties for their Christian life; they have a right to them, as children of God.” From here, passing through the ecclesial adherence of the whole human person to the divine Person of Christ, Christian faith becomes the criterion of life. At this point Evangelii nuntiandi is cited again for the third and last time (n. 19): “For the Church it is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation.” Faith thus remains always partial, incomplete and immature, until it is expressed in judgments that affect life, and have a “missionary impetus,” to use the expression of the second great Pastoral Letter of Msgr. Eugenio Corecco, Proclaim the Gospel (Annunciate il Vangelo).

4. “Communio” and Evangelization
The three conciliar references (GS 43; DV 5; LG 1), the eight Scriptural references (Col 1:23; Rm 12:2; Eph 1:4-5; Mt 19:29; 1 Thes 5:21; Col 2:8; 1Cor 2:10-15; 1 Pt 3:15) and the eight references to the pontifical Magisterium (one to John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, three to Paul VI Evangelii nuntiandi, and four to John Paul II, Redemptor hominis [twice], Catechesi tradendae e Redemptoris Mater), in addition to the reference to the first Pastoral Letter of Cardinal Montini, seem to us to capture the connection between faith, the person, and the Church, as it emerges in Be Strong in the Faith, as well as the personality itself of its author, the illustrious canon lawyer who became the Bishop of Lugano.
Two final citations offer us a summary. From them there flows that simplicity which only the saints have known how to live, and thus how to express. The famous Augustinian phrase shows the original tension of the human person for the Infinite and the drama inherent in existence: “You have made us, Lord, for Yourself, and our hearts are troubled until they rest in You!”. The formula with which St. Pius X opened his Catechism confers the eternal perspective and the full reason that our fleeting time must be lived with dignity: “God has created us to know, love and serve Him here below so as to be able to enjoy Him forever in heaven.” Aware of this, it will be possible for the Christian to regain in its fullness that faith in the Trinitarian mystery which he has received as a gift through Baptism, the great ecclesial action which has made him a living member of the Body of Christ.
In the closing discourse of thanksgiving at the International Symposium on the Canonistic Studies of Eugenio Corecco, which took place at Lugano on November 12, 1994, the Bishop of Lugano, already profoundly marked by illness, in reference to a statement by Prof. Gerosa, explained: “This ‘Ordinatio fidei’ has absolutely not been the fruit of a mental lucubration, made in a purely speculative way. It is born from an ecclesial experience…, from an experience which has made it come naturally to me to speak in scientific terms about concepts and notions such as faith, communio, and many other things,” which in any case have had an impact from the existential point of view on the lives of youth. 4
Prof. José Luis Illanes has written of him: “Thanks to his profound understanding of Christian faith and life, Corecco has been able to conceive theology and the study of canon law as two intimately united areas which constitute a decisive element in the service of evangelization… This is one of the most precious gifts that Eugenio Corecco has left, not only to the Theological Faculty of Lugano, but also to the international theological and canonical world and to the Church of these last years of the twentieth century.” 5 Society itself cannot but gain advantage from testimonies of such greatness, because its healing “begins in men who aspire in a generous way to distant things. One of these men was Bishop Eugenio.” 6

1 Siate forti nella fede, in: Il monitore ecclesiastico della Diocesi di Lugano 93 (April 1987), n. 4, 168-185, and in pamphlet form, the first of a series of ten, in which the most significant events of the episcopal Magisterium of Msgr. Eugenio Corecco are gathered. Direct reference will later on be made many times to this letter. Siate forti nella fede is also published by the Piemme in the collection “Euntes docete” directed by G. Card. Biffi (n. 26).
2 “Omelia alla Televisione della Svizzera Italiana,” in: Associazione Internazionale Amici di Eugenio Corecco, Vescovo di Lugano 1 (November 1996), n. 1, p. 10.
3 E. Corecco, «Siate forti nella fede», ed. by F. Lombardi and G. Zois, Edizioni Giornale del Popolo (Lugano 1995), p. 181.
4 L. Gerosa (ed.), Antropologia, fede e diritto ecclesiale (Milan: Jaca Book, 1995), p. 141. On this occasion, Prof. L. Gerosa and L. Müller have officially presented and edited the German edition of some canonical writings of E. Corecco: Ordinatio fidei. Schriften zum kanonischen Recht, (Schöningh, Paderborn 1994).
5 J. L. Illanes, “Maestro di scienza e di vita cristiana: l’esempio di un vero pastore,” in: E. Corecco, Siate forti nella fede,” ed. by F. Lombardi and G. Zois, loc. cit., pp. 374-375, or in: G. Borgonovo (ed.), Gesù Cristo, legge vivente e personale della Santa Chiesa. Atti del IX Colloquio Internazionale di Teologia di Lugano sul «Primo capitolo dell’Enciclica Veritatis Splendor»,” (Casale Monferrato: Piemme, 1996), pp. 301-302.
6 S. Grygiel, “Egli mirava alle cose lontane…,” Rivista Teologica di Lugano 1 (1996), n. 1, p. 152. Prof. Grygiel gave his testimony one year after the death of Msgr. Corecco and on the occasion of the fourth Dies Academicus of the Theological Faculty of Lugano (March 16, 1996).