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April 25, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The Church would ignore the “real crisis” she faces today if she focuses on social justice issues rather than her basic mission to evangelize, Cardinal Robert Sarah warns in a newly-published interview.

“The Church is gravely mistaken as to the nature of the real crisis if she thinks that her essential mission is to offer solutions to all the political problems relating to justice, peace, poverty, the reception of migrants, etc. while neglecting evangelisation,” the cardinal told Aid to the Church in Need on April 18.

Sarah, who is the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, said that while the Church “cannot disassociate herself from the human problems,” she will ultimately “fail in her mission” if she forgets her real purpose. 

The cardinal quoted Yahya Pallavicini, an Italian and former Catholic who converted to Islam, to drive home his point: “If the Church, with the obsession she has today with the values of justice, social rights and the struggle against poverty, ends up as a result by forgetting her contemplative soul, she will fail in her mission and she will be abandoned by a great many of her faithful, owing to the fact that they will no longer recognize in her what constitutes her specific mission.”

The Church’s mission is summed by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel when he sent his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This mission, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, means “proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God.”

Sarah’s remarks are interesting given the emphasis Pope Francis has placed on the Church working with migrants and refugees. In his addresses to world leaders, Pope Francis frequently highlights political problems, such as migration, with little mention of Christ or the Church's evangelical call.

The Pope’s emphasis on building bridges not walls, on calling migrants “not a danger,” and on calling hospitality to refugees “our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism” has prompted some bishops’ conferences to shift their priorities. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, for instance, was pressed by Francis appointees to rewrite its 2016 election guidelines with an emphasis on immigration, poverty, and the environment while downplaying life and family. 

Bishop Robert McElroy, appointed as head of the Diocese of San Diego by Pope Francis, argued at that time that the guide’s emphasis on the evil of abortion was out of step with Francis’ priorities.

“Pope Francis has, in certain aspects of the social doctrine of the Church, radically transformed the prioritization of Catholic social teaching and its elements,” McElroy urged the assembly at that time. “Not the truth of them, not the substance of them, but the prioritization of them, has radically transformed that, in articulating the claims that fall upon the citizen as believer and disciple of Jesus Christ,” he added.

McElroy called  “immigration” the “key [issue] we have to face now in our local church,” in a speech he gave in February to the World Meeting of Popular Movements. 

In his interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Cardinal Sarah criticized charitable organizations, specifically mentioning “Catholic ones,” that focus “unilaterally and exclusively on addressing situations of material poverty” while neglecting spiritual poverty. 

“But ‘man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”, as Jesus tells us,” the cardinal said. 

Sarah said that those who work to make the world more just, mentioning especially priests and bishops, must continually draw strength from God if their work is to bear lasting fruit. 

“For it is true that those bishops and priests who do not take the time – at least for a few days – to place themselves in the presence of God in solitude, silence and prayer, risk dying on the spiritual level, or at the very least, drying out spiritually within,” he said.

“For they will no longer be capable of providing solid spiritual nourishment to the faithful entrusted to them if they themselves do not draw strength from the Lord in a regular and constant manner,” he added.