Father Teófilo “Teo” Nieto will go to tell Pope Francis how he pastors 43 rural parishes in the Spanish Diocese of Zamora

Rural pastoral care enters the Synod of Synodality

Javier Fincias

From tomorrow, April 28, until May 2, the world meeting “Parish Priests for the Synod” will be held in Vatican City, with the assistance of the Holy Father.

Exaudi spoke with Father Teo Nieto, one of the three hundred parish priests from around the world, chosen for this purpose, who will carry his voice and experience from the rural world.

After processing this unexpected appointment… With what feelings and expectations do you come to the meeting of parish priests for the Synod?

I arrive, above all, with an available heart and an open mind, willing to listen and contribute from experience. From here on, pride (a feeling that I don’t like) mixes with fear, I fear not knowing how to transmit the voice of the Rural World. These days I have found that the people of my town are proud and excited and that scares me.

How do you think that Synodality is energizing the pastoral work that you do?

I feel that Synodality comes, in some way, to certify what we have been working on for a long time, which is a joint work between lay people (especially women, and this is important to emphasize), religious life (with the privileged presence of Sister Avelina, religious of the Love of God) and a group of priests that has changed over time. However, what is really important is that we try to do this joint work feeling that we live a church of brothers and sisters and that we do not resort to synodality, only out of necessity due to the shortage of clergy. My pastoral work has always been inspired by this conviction.

Your election has been much commented on because of the numbers involved: 43 parishes, 155 thousand kilometers, your age… do you think they have called you because of those numbers or to share your strong commitment to rural pastoral care?

I find it very sad that these figures are used. Firstly because the figures do not speak of daily work and secondly because, if it were by figures, there are many more brothers who are doing the same thing (or more “kilometers”). I don’t know what motivated my choice (and I’ve stopped wondering), what I know is that I’m going to try to take advantage of it.

Not everyone knows that you are an advisor and promoter of the Rural Christian Youth Movement, which belongs to the specialized Catholic Action… What changes in rural areas does this ancient, but always current, movement of the Church propose?

Like all Catholic Action, we have the basic scheme of SEE-JUDGE-ACT. And, when a deep analysis of reality is carried out, it is discovered that “acting” is always new because reality is very changing. Specifically in the Rural World, the presence of movements, betting on evangelization in a social key (working for the development of people), today has to be translated into two basic things: being transmitters of hope and creating “leaders” to the Rural World. Our world needs references of a different style than those proposed by neoliberal society, and our people need people who energize and rebuild the associative movement. The Church has a lot to contribute in this regard.

Returning to the 43 parishes… How do you divide the work? Do you have help or do you do everything yourself…?

We are a team… and this is important to emphasize. What we call the “Missionary Team” is made up of a group of lay people, Avelina (who is the nun I mentioned before), a group of priests (among whom there are two in the process of insertion into the diocese), and a deacon awaiting priestly ordination. The idea is that the people of this Team (the lay men and women) are the references for these communities and we are on that path.

Those attending the event will contribute to the writing of the Instrumentum laboris, for the Second Session of the Synodal Assembly in October of this year… What would you like to see included regarding rural pastoral care?

There are many things that I would like to see included (role of the laity, the goods of the Church…), but I think I should focus my attention on the place where I am, which is the Rural World. And I want to translate this into provoking prayerful reflection (so that it reaches our hearts) on the importance of the small, the simple, the weak. Sometimes in the Church we have beautiful discourses and great theologies about the small, but that is not reflected in pastoral plans (we have to believe it… we have to pray it). Which has a basic derivative: the role of women. In my reality, in the towns that have welcomed me, women have an essential role, socially and ecclesiastically.

Let’s return to you… Apart from being a multifaceted parish priest 24/7 and being 54 years old, you are a proffesor of religion and a doctoral student with a thesis in the making… How do you avoid getting exhausted, frustrated or isolated? We ask this as advice for “rural priests”…

The thing about not getting exhausted, not getting frustrated, is always premature to say because it can hit us at any moment. Although in reality we would have to distinguish between it “coming to us” and it reaching us chronically. That we feel exhausted at many moments in our lives simply means that we are human and fully aware of the tension of trying to build the Kingdom. At least for me, fatigue comes many times, but I maintain myself through prayer and the presences that God’s closeness brings to my daily life. I think it is very important that diocesan priests learn to live a spirituality in contact with the concrete reality to which we are called and that we know how to grow together with the community we serve, let ourselves be taught and welcomed by the people around us… I receive a lot encouragement from specific people and families.

At festivals, baptisms and funerals in rural areas, attended by inhabitants with little parish or community participation. How does the closeness of the Church with the rural world make you feel? And at the same time, what does it commit them to?

All of these are specific moments in which we have to decide: continue “scolding” people for not being there or hugging them because they are there (it’s the parable of the Prodigal Son). I think that the homily is a privileged instrument for this and I do not believe that it is the time for great theologies but for simple tenderness. The gospel is tenderness made into words. Letting words of tenderness reach the heart ends up contrasting, questioning one’s own life… Furthermore, in these small towns, whether you attend mass or not, there is always the opportunity to have close contact.

Are you concerned about the possibility of reaching a “despopulated Spain”? What is the proposal that the Synod is taking in the face of this reality?

Make no mistake… it is the West, with our lifestyle, that is “depopulating.” I am convinced that the Church must be an engine of hope for those places that do not count in our cultural paradigm in which the “big” and the “effective” is what takes precedence. The curious thing about this world is that it goes for the big, but destroys the great utopias. We must continue building that great utopia that is the gospel, knowing that it is a gift that our task demands and believing that in the small things the presence of the Risen Lord is found.

Closing… We also know that other topics occupy your time and sleep. Tell us something about them and what they propose. For example, rural identity…

In Laudato the Pope does tell us about how dangerous it can be to lose a culture… Rural culture is in “danger of extinction.” We must maintain it, defend it, but not as a museum piece to be preserved, but as a living organism that must remain in contact with other cultural identities and thus continue to grow and show itself to the world as a real alternative of life for a mass society, of thought. unique and full of rush.

The rural economy and/or alternative economy…

This is the latest campaign/reflection of the Rural Christian Youth Movement, convinced that there are economic experiences in the Rural World that are a true alternative. Tracing to update what the economic lifestyles of people were can help us overcome the current economic paradigm that tells us that “there is no salvation outside of capitalism.”

Bet on local, local commerce…

Benedict XVI told us a very nice thing, he told us something like that “buying is not only an economic act, it is an ethical act.” The economy of local commerce is the economy of small things. The large “purchasing” centers (on the Internet) concentrate employment (and population), providing little quality of life for these workers. Local commerce feeds families and serves simple people who are lost in the digital world.

Public health…

He participated in the Platform in defense of Public Health in Aliste, convinced that you cannot do business with something as important as health. It is negotiating with the well-being of people. Public health is a good example of a basic principle of the Social Magisterium of the Church: the Common Good.

A lack of morals in free trade agreements.

I’m trying to analyze these treaties. I still have a long way to go, but I am seeing that free trade agreements do not seek the well-being of the people. They look for economic growth measured around GDP, which means that (as economist Enrique Lluch often says) what we all have is measured, but this does not mean that each one has enough for a decent life.

As a Church, we have to have a serious word about this to say that commerce has to be a mechanism to satisfy the needs of everyone, not a god to serve and to serve myself, to satisfy whims, even if that means exploitation. of people and the planet.

The demystification of the rural world…

You only truly love what you know and recognize in depth. When someone wants to have a presence in a town without knowing it, without knowing its greatness and miseries, it will not last long in that town. I like to say that love cannot hide the truth, but you must love despite the truth.

We cannot say goodbye without asking you what all readers want to know… How is your agenda for today and tomorrow…?

Here, if it were the radio, there would be laughter… The agenda can be configured in many ways: prayer, going for a quick run to clear my head, classes, meetings, studying, preparing for meetings, etc. all very planned. Until a call, or WhatsApp message, comes from the funeral home (or the family) and, then, the day is reconfigured and the tenderness remains to visit the funeral home; and prayer, to build the homily that serves to transmit hope and say goodbye with dignity. In short, I want my agenda to always be full of hope, to transmit the presence of the Risen Lord in the midst of every reality.

José Antonio Varela Vidal