Interview of “Il est Vivant” with Michel-Bernard de Vregille, General Moderator of the Emmanuel Community

We must not allow our faith, our joy and our hope to be stolen from us!


“Il est vivant!” * : The Church is a “topic” that is especially close to your heart. Why is this? (*He is alive!)

Because I love the Church! I was born into a profoundly Catholic family. Three of my uncles were priests, and among my aunts, one belonged to a missionary order, and another was a Sister of Charity. My grandparents and parents were all practicing believers. That is how it was and I give thanks to God for it. All of them in the family were witnesses to me of lives given to Christ within the Church. So I owe them a great deal and they passed on to me their love and trust for the Church. Lastly, I have seen, time and again, in all aspects of my life, how much the Church is a mother. For example, I remember that in 1991, at the beginning of my professional career in mass marketing, the encyclical of Saint John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, shed light on my life of faith at work, and led me to read Rerum Novarum, an encyclical written 100 years previously which is unbelievably modern. These two texts drove me to ask myself: Where was Jesus in my professional life? What was the coherence between my beliefs as a disciple of Christ and my attitude at work? I was deeply impressed by the relevance and prophetic nature of the Church. When people criticize the teaching of the Popes, I usually ask them if they have read the texts, and to believers, whether they have prayed about them.

Isn’t it … “out of place” to say things like that when the Church is going through a profound crisis?

It is extremely painful to see that some members of the Church have sinned very gravely and it is unbearable to see so many victims marked irreparably by the wounds caused by these abominable acts. We ourselves have recently experienced a great ordeal of this type in one of the parishes entrusted to us. In association with the parish priest and the diocese we have begun to do everything in our power to bear this ordeal, starting with caring for the victim and their family, and also ensuring that the civil courts are able to carry out their work.

Yet, and this is our faith, we believe that the Church is the Mystical Body of which Jesus is the Head, and that it is the sacrament of salvation (Lumen Gentium §48). This mystery is far beyond us, and while the members of the Church are sinners, the Church herself is holy (CCC, §§748-750). We must also look at all the saints of the Church, and all its martyrs, with all that we owe them, yesterday and today, and at all those who are at work at this very moment by giving their lives in obscurity and who will never be spoken about.

The voice of the Church is probably one of the most free and enlightening voices there is today. This is the case, for example, on bioethics, or migrants. Her voice is vital to the world! “In the Church, holy and yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to progress towards holiness,” Pope Francis reminds us in the exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (§15).

But can such words be heard in the face of so many scandals?

My wife Catherine and I have six children and five grandchildren. When one is a member of a family and the family is going through a trial, there are two solutions:
– either we leave the family, cut ourselves off, judge the others, and say “I’m no longer one of them”; we exclude ourselves and deny all responsibility;
– or we bear it with them, suffer with them, offer ourselves with them, and we act to make our contribution – however modest – to what needs to be done to support and save the members who are suffering, or at fault, and to allow the family to shine once more.

It is the same thing when you are a member of the Church. To use a sporting image, are we on the stands watching and commentating on the event taking place in the stadium or are we on the field instead, taking part with all the others? We are members of the Church. It is our family. It is up to us to be converted so that she can be ever more the bearer of the Good News!

Finally, in adversity, when we must move forward with clear thinking, it is important for us to be more ready to support the Holy Father, bishops and priests by moving forward with them, rather to than to give way to facile criticism or be tempted to look for scapegoats. As such, we were able to see for ourselves in the tragedy that I mentioned above, how much the Church “institution” and its pastors in France had worked and reacted, and were continuing to make progress so that the unbearable blindness of the past would no longer be possible. The Church must continue the work. It must be a model in this area and think deeply and act in order to make progress in all areas. The organization by Pope Francis of a Summit on the
Protection of Minors in February 2019 in Rome is a major step forward. Once again, with reference to the sin that still remains, we all share in the responsibility
because the Church is not an abstract organization and it is the personal sins of its members and the way in which these were covered up that led to the crisis we are going through.

But how do we understand that we share in the responsibility for acts that we did not commit?

Whether we like it or not, we bear within us the mark of Original Sin. Spiritual combat exists; the Devil exists, as Pope Francis has reminded us many times since the beginning of his Pontificate. A French writer said with humour: “When I have doubts about the reality of Original Sin, it is enough for me to look at myself in the mirror.”

I think that as a believer, it is impossible to look at the current situation without accepting our share in the responsibility. The call to conversion is for each one of us. Of course, fortunately, most of us have not committed atrocities or perversions, but as members of the one body; we must each bear our share. Our mission in the Church as it goes through the storm is not to “save the furniture” but really to save souls! The purification of the Church happens through the recognition of the very grave evil committed by some of its members and through the conversion of all of them, that is to say, our conversion, starting with my own.

What do you think is the remedy for all these evils?

There is only one, it is the sacrifice of Christ which made our redemption possible! By dying on the Cross, He saved us once and for all. Jesus took on everything; even though He alone was innocent, He became sin for us. The Church is not a philosophical club, a political party or an association. It is the Person of Jesus whom we are following! So, in these times of trial, let us meditate on the Way of the Cross and question ourselves. Do we watch Jesus passing by with his Cross or do we push through the crowd to carry it with Him? Do we spit on the face of Jesus or do we accompany Him to the foot of the Cross as Mary did, and as each of us is called to do, so that “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24)?

Today we see the Church disfigured and wounded, as the body of Jesus during his Passion was – swollen, bruised, and dripping with sweat – and it was the sins of men that was the cause. Yet this body “beyond human semblance” (Isaiah 52:14), was that of Jesus who saved us by his offering, his sacrifice and his Resurrection. This Church that we see disfigured today, wounded and bruised, is the sacrament of Salvation. The sacrifice of Christ has re-opened the gates of Heaven once and for all for each of us, whatever our situation. The mercy of God saves us, this is an immense hope. Mercy is the impassable boundary which God has set to evil, and the Church is the sacramental reality of it here on earth!

As Moderator of the Emmanuel Community, where do you think the Community should stand on these very sensitive issues?

Since I took up this mission, I am, on important subjects, often asked: “What does the Emmanuel Community think about this?” On such occasions I like to reply that the Community is part of the Church and is at its service. There is no “magisterium” of the Emmanuel Community. Our “compass” is the Church, guided by the successor of St. Peter. We listen to what the Church teaches us. It seems to me that within the charism of our Community, there is this burning desire to represent confidently in the heart of the world all that that we are taught by the Church.

I immediately say that this in no way detracts from our profound freedom to be what we are and to boldly put in place the initiatives that the Holy Spirit inspires us! The Church herself encourages us to do so. Thus, on a daily basis, we wish to remain faithful in following Christ’s teaching, proclaiming the Good News, and becoming artisans of mercy.

I would also like to say how amazed I am to see the grace of communion that we enjoy with other communities, whether they come from the charismatic Renewal or not. We advance together as brothers and sisters, each according to the gifts we have received. All of us are bearers of the Pope’s calls to us to love the world as it is, and to love all men! It is a real joy to do all this together.

In these great difficulties that the Church is going through, how can one still have hope?

I believe, not only that it is possible to have hope, but that, paradoxically – just like those illnesses where the worst symptoms appear when the epidemic is coming to an end – that the “peak” is behind us. We are going to be surprised by the “resurrections” that we shall witness. Scripture teaches us that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Do we believe this? On my travels, on my various missions, I am very often filled with wonder at the Holy Spirit’s inventiveness in renewing the Church. He is prompting missionary initiatives and is giving the world the young prophets that it needs to build the “civilisation of love“. The realism which makes us face up honestly to the present situation is, at the same time, making us see with certainty and humility that the Lord is among us and is saving us.

The Virgin Mary is with the Church whose Mother she is, as on earth she was the mother of Jesus. She intercedes for us and encourages us to remain close to her Son, at the heart of the Church, in the world and trusting in the successor of St. Peter and his ministers. We must not allow our faith, our joy and our hope to be stolen from us! Let us give thanks to God and go forward, since “The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who ploughs shall overtake the one who reaps,” (Amos 9:13). And that is where we are!

The Scandals in the Church: Where do we stand?

Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God