Eucharist creates the communion the world needs

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Even in societies increasingly marked by divisions and prejudice, Catholics gather every Sunday “in the Lord’s name and acknowledge that they are brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said.
The communion with Jesus and with others that happens at each celebration of the Eucharist must extend beyond the walls of the church and transform societies with the good news of salvation in Jesus and greater harmony among people, the pope said Nov. 10 at a meeting with members of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.
The committee is preparing the next International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Budapest, Hungary, in 2020.
Pope Francis said the choice of the Central European city “raises a fundamental question: What does it mean to celebrate a eucharistic congress in the modern and multicultural city where the Gospel and the forms of religious affiliation have become marginal?”
The response, he said, must be to find ways to foster a “eucharistic culture” that is “grounded in the sacrament yet perceptible also beyond the limits of the church community.”
At every Mass, he said: “The miracle is repeated: In the hearing of the word and in the sign of the broken bread, even the smallest and lowliest assembly of believers becomes the body of the Lord, his tabernacle in the world.”
To form a “eucharistic culture,” he said, each Catholic must experience communion with Jesus, regularly encountering him in prayer and following him into the world.
Eucharistic adoration, a key feature of eucharistic congresses, contributes to creating that culture by teaching Catholics not to separate “our sacramental communion with him from our communion with his members and from the missionary commitment that follows from this.”
Communion with Jesus should then lead to an attitude of service in imitation of him, the pope said. “Christians serve the cause of the Gospel by being present in places of frailty, under the shadow of the cross, in order to share and to bring healing.”
Within Catholic communities and in society at large, many situations cry out for the “balm of mercy,” the pope said. “We think of families in difficulty, young people and adults without work, the sick and the elderly who are abandoned, migrants experiencing hardship and acts of violence, and so many other forms of poverty.”
In all situations of need and suffering, he said, Catholics can “spread the seeds of a eucharistic culture by becoming servants of the poor, not in the name of an ideology but of the Gospel itself, which becomes a rule of life for individuals and communities.”
Every celebration of the Eucharist reminds the community of Gospel values and concepts that can help make cities and nations more livable, the pope said.
“We need think only of the word mercy,” he said. In societies where there reign “different kinds of fear, oppression, arrogance, cruelty, hatred, forms of rejection and lack of concern for the environment,” the celebration of the Eucharist proclaims that God’s mercy is stronger than all of them.
The celebration of a eucharistic congress, he said, is a reminder to Catholics that “the Eucharist stands at the very heart of the church’s life. It is a paschal mystery that can enhance the baptized as individuals, but also the earthly city in which they live and work.”

Defend church from those who seek to destroy it

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As the Synod of Bishops finished its work, Pope Francis called on all Catholics to defend the church from those who are influenced by the “great accuser” seeking to destroy it.
After thanking the synod members, observers and experts following the vote on the final document Oct. 27, the pope said that although church members are sinful, “our mother (the church) is holy,” but “because of our sins, the great accuser always takes advantage.”
While in some parts of the world, Christians suffer persecution because of their faith in Jesus, there is “another type of persecution – continuous accusations – in order to dirty the church. The church cannot be dirtied. The children, yes, we are all dirty, but not the mother. Therefore, this is the time to defend the mother,” he said.
“It is a difficult moment,” he continued, “because through us, the great accuser wants to attack the mother. And no one touches the mother!”
Before concluding the synod’s final meeting, Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako of Bagdad, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch and synod president-delegate, said the synod “was a gift for us and for the whole church.”
Cardinal Sako also appealed to the pope, the synod members and young people to not forget about the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
“If the Middle East is emptied of Christians, Christianity will be left without its roots,” he said. “We need your humanitarian and spiritual support as well as your solidarity, friendship and closeness until the storm passes.”
The patriarch also reiterated the support of the world’s bishops for Pope Francis. Citing an Arab saying, Cardinal Sako told the pope that “the fruitful tree is struck with stones.”
“Go forward with courage and trust,” he told the pope. “The barque of Peter is not like other ships. The barque of Peter, despite the waves, remains firm because Jesus is inside, and he will never leave it.”
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, also expressed the assembly’s “filial affection and profound adherence to your Petrine ministry.”
Addressing the young people who served as synod observers, Cardinal Baldisseri thanked them for “their presence, their contributions, their interventions and their suggestions. They have show us the freshness of their youth, their generosity, imagination and resourcefulness.”
In his off-the-cuff remarks, Pope Francis also thanked the young men and women at the synod “who brought their music here to us in the hall.”
“Music is the diplomatic word for uproar,” he said to laughter and applause.
The synod, he said, “is not a parliament” but rather “a protected space for the Holy Spirit to act.”
The fruit of the synod, he added, is not just a final document for Catholics around the world, but a work of the Spirit that must first “do something in us, it must work in us.”
“We are the recipients of the (final) document. It is primarily for us. Yes, it will help many others, but we are the first recipients. The Holy Spirit did this among us. Do not forget this, please,” Pope Francis said.
“It is the Holy Spirit who gave us this document, for all us including myself, to reflect on what he wants to tell us.”

At Romero Mass: Saints risk all for love of Jesus

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Carrying Pope Paul VI’s pastoral staff and wearing the blood-stained belt of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, Pope Francis formally recognized them, and five others, as saints of the Catholic Church.
Thousands of pilgrims from the new saints’ home countries – Italy, El Salvador, Spain and Germany – were joined by tens of thousands of others Oct. 14 in St. Peter’s Square to celebrate the universal recognition of the holiness of men and women they already knew were saints.
Carolina Escamilla, who traveled from San Salvador for canonization, said she was “super happy” to be in Rome. “I don’t think there are words to describe all that we feel after such a long-awaited and long-desired moment like the ‘official’ canonization, because Archbishop Romero was already a saint when he was alive.”
Each of the new saints lived lives marked by pain and criticism – including from within the church – but all of them dedicated themselves with passionate love to following Jesus and caring for the weak and the poor, Pope Francis said in his homily.
The new saints are: Paul VI, who led the last sessions of the Second Vatican Council and its initial implementation; Romero, who defended the poor, called for justice and was assassinated in 1980; Vincenzo Romano, an Italian priest who died in 1831; Nazaria Ignacia March Mesa, a Spanish nun who ministered in Mexico and Bolivia and died in 1943; Catherine Kasper, the 19th-century German founder of a religious order; Francesco Spinelli, a 19th-century priest and founder of a religious order; and Nunzio Sulprizio, a layman who died in Naples in 1836 at the age of 19.
“All these saints, in different contexts,” put the Gospel “into practice in their lives, without lukewarmness, without calculation, with the passion to risk everything and to leave it all behind,” Pope Francis said in his homily.
The pope, who has spoken often about being personally inspired by both St. Paul VI and St. Oscar Romero, prayed that every Christian would follow the new saints’ examples by shunning an attachment to money, wealth and power, and instead following Jesus and sharing his love with others.
And he prayed the new saints would inspire the whole church to set aside “structures that are no longer adequate for proclaiming the Gospel, those weights that slow down our mission, the strings that tie us to the world.”
Among those in St. Peter’s Square for the Mass was Rossi Bonilla, a Salvadoran now living in Barcelona. “I’m really emotional, also because I did my Communion with Monsignor Romero when I was eight years old,” she told Catholic News Service.
“He was so important for the neediest; he was really with the people and kept strong when the repression started,” Bonilla said. “The struggle continues for the people, and so here we are!”
Claudia Lombardi, 24, came to the canonization from Brescia, Italy – St. Paul VI’s hometown. Her local saint, she said, “brought great fresh air” to the church with the Second Vatican Council and “has something to say to us today,” particularly with his 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” on human life and married love, especially its teaching about “the conception of life, the protection of life always.”
In his homily, Pope Francis said that “Jesus is radical.”
“He gives all and he asks all; he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart,” the pope said. “Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange?”
Jesus, he said, “is not content with a ‘percentage of love.’ We cannot love him 20 or 50 or 60 percent. It is either all or nothing” because “our heart is like a magnet – it lets itself be attracted by love, but it can cling to one master only and it must choose: either it will love God or it will love the world’s treasure; either it will live for love or it will live for itself.”
“A leap forward in love,” he said, is what would enable individual Christians and the whole church to escape “complacency and self-indulgence.”
Without passionate love, he said, “we find joy in some fleeting pleasure, we close ourselves off in useless gossip, we settle into the monotony of a Christian life without momentum where a little narcissism covers over the sadness of remaining unfulfilled.”
(Contributing to this story were Carol Glatz, Junno Arocho Esteves and Melissa Vida.)

Be grateful to parents, never insult them

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone’s parents, Pope Francis said.
“Among us there is also the habit of saying awful things, even profanity. Please, never, never, never insult other people’s parents. Never! Never insult a mother, never insult a father,” the pope said Sept. 19 during his weekly general audience.
“Make this decision: from today forward, ‘I will never insult someone’s mom or dad.’ They gave life! They should not be insulted,” he told those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
Gray clouds forming above the square did little to dampen the spirits of thousands of pilgrims who cheered as they waited for the pope to pass by in his popemobile.
As customary, the pope greeted them, blessed religious articles and kissed children who were brought up to him.
During the general audience, the pope continued his series of talks on the Ten Commandments and reflected on the obligation to “honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”
To love and respect one’s father and mother, he said, means “recognizing their importance with concrete actions that express dedication, affection and care.”
“Honor your parents: they gave us life. If you have distanced yourself  from your parents, make an effort and return, go back to them, perhaps they are old. They gave you life,” the pope said.
Pope Francis explained that the promise of a long life that comes from honoring one’s parents associates happiness with one’s relationship with them.
“This centuries-old wisdom declares what human science has only been able to elaborate upon a little over a century ago: that the imprint of childhood marks a person’s life,” he said.
However, this commandment does not require mothers and fathers to be perfect and regardless of the merits of one’s parents, “all children can be happy because the achievement of a full and happy life depends on the proper gratitude to those who have brought us into the world.”
The pope recalled the example of saints who despite being orphaned or having lived through painful childhoods grew up to “live virtuous lives because, thanks to Jesus Christ, they reconciled with their life.”
Recalling the life of Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio, who will be canonized alongside Blesseds Paul VI and Oscar Romero Oct. 14, the pope said that although Blessed Sulprizio lost his mother and father when he was very young, he “reconciled with so much pain” and never betrayed his parents.
“We should also think of St. Camillus de Lellis, who, out of a dysfunctional childhood, built a life of love and service; St. Josephine Bakhita, who grew up in horrible slavery; or Blessed Carlo Gnocchi, orphaned and poor; and even St. John Paul II, who was impacted by the death of his mother at a tender age,” he added.
In the light of love, Pope Francis said, sad and painful experiences “can become for others a source of well-being.”
Thus, he said “we can begin to honor our parents with the freedom of adult children and with merciful acceptance of their limitations.”

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

Facing facts, coming to terms with one’s past bring peace

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – People need to make peace with their lives and anything they are running from, rather than lose themselves to escapism and playful distraction, Pope Francis said.
There is an “industry of distraction” in full force today, which paints the ideal world as being “a big playground where everybody has fun” and the ideal individual as one who “makes money in order to have fun, find satisfaction” in the many “vast and diverse avenues of pleasure,” he said Sept. 5 during his weekly general audience.
Such an attitude leads to “dissatisfaction with an existence anesthetized by fun, which isn’t rest, but alienation and escaping from reality,” he added. “People have never been able to rest like they can today and yet people have never felt as much emptiness as they do today.”

Pope Francis greets the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope continued his series of audience talks about the Ten Commandments, focusing on keeping the Lord’s day holy.
It seems like an easy commandment to fulfill, he said, but it isn’t because people need to recognize there is a false kind of rest marked by avoidance and distraction, and authentic rest, which is being at peace with and giving thanks for the gift of life.
After God made the heavens and the earth, he rested, making the seventh day holy. This day reflects “God’s joy for all he created. It is a day of contemplation and blessing” and giving praise – not running away, the pope said.
“It is a time for looking at reality and saying, ‘How beautiful life is!’” he said. “To the idea of rest as escaping reality, the commandment responds with rest as blessing reality.”
In fact, the Eucharist, which lies at the heart of Sunday, means “thanksgiving,” he said; it is a day to thank the Lord for his mercy, his gifts and for the gift of life.
Sunday, he added, is a day to come to terms with one’s life, to find peace – realizing life is not easy, “but it is precious.”
So many people have so many options available for having fun, but they are not at peace with their lives, he said.
“Distancing themselves from the bitter wounds of their heart, people need to make peace with the thing they are running from. It is necessary to reconcile with one’s past, with the facts one is not facing, with the difficult parts of one’s own existence,” he said, asking everyone to reflect on whether they have come to terms with their own life.
Finding peace is a choice, he said. It is not changing one’s past, but is becoming reconciled with what has happened, “to accept and give value” to one’s life.

Do good to fight indifference, apathy, pope tells young people

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Being a Christian isn’t just about not doing evil, but it is a daily exercise in loving others through good works and deeds, Pope Francis said.
Many times, Christians can be tempted to “think they are saints” and justify themselves by saying, “I don’t harm anyone,” the pope told thousands of Italian young adults Aug. 12.
“How many people do not do evil, but also do not do good, and their lives flow into indifference, apathy and tepidity! This attitude is contrary to the Gospel and is also contrary to the character of you young people who, by your very nature, are dynamic, passionate and courageous,” he said.
According to the Vatican, an estimated 90,000 people were in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s address and Angelus prayer after an outdoor Mass celebrated by Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, president of the Italian bishops’ conference.
Filling the square and the main street leading to St. Peter’s, the weary pilgrims braved the scorching summer temperatures of Rome and were cooled off by the cascading spray of water from Vatican fire department hoses.
After the Mass, the pope arrived in his popemobile and greeted the crowd, occasionally catching items that young people would throw toward the moving vehicle or stopping to bless babies and young children.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims as he arrives in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Aug. 12, after an outdoor Mass celebrated by Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, president of the Italian bishops’ conference. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

The Italian pilgrimage, which included an evening meeting in Rome with the pope Aug. 11, was part of the Italian church’s preparation for October’s Synod of Bishops on young people and vocational discernment.
In his talk before the recitation of the Angelus, Pope Francis reminded the young men and women to live their lives “in a coherent way, not with hypocrisy” by renouncing evil and doing good.
“To renounce evil means saying ‘no’ to temptation, to sin, to Satan,” the pope said. “More concretely, it means saying ‘no’ to a culture of death that manifests itself in escaping from reality toward a false happiness that expresses itself in lies, fraud, injustice and in contempt of others.”
Pope Francis invited the youths to repeat the words of St. Alberto Hurtado as a reminder of their baptismal call to action: “It is good to not do evil, but it is evil to not do good.”
He also urged them to be “protagonists of good” and to not be satisfied with simply not doing bad things.
“It isn’t enough to not hate, you need to forgive; it isn’t enough to not hold a grudge, you need to pray for your enemies; it isn’t enough to not be the cause of division, you need to bring peace where there is none; it isn’t enough to not speak ill of others, you need to interrupt when you hear someone bad-mouthing another,” the pope said.

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

At pallium Mass: Jesus wants disciples unafraid to aid others

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – God wants his disciples to bring his mercy and love to everyone, everywhere on earth, which means it may cost them their “good name,” comfort and their life, Pope Francis said on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.
Following Christ requires “that we open our hearts to the Father and to all those with whom he has wished to identify,” particularly the downtrodden, the lost and the wounded, “in the sure knowledge that he will never abandon his people,” he said during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square June 29.
“Jesus wants to liberate his disciples, his church, from empty forms of triumphalism: forms empty of love, empty of service, empty of compassion, empty of people,” he said. The Mass was celebrated the day after Pope Francis created 14 new cardinals from 11 different nations.
Both new and old cardinals as well as 30 archbishops appointed over the course of the past year were invited to be in Rome to concelebrate the feast day Mass with Pope Francis. The archbishops came from 18 countries, the majority coming from Latin America and others from Africa, Asia and Europe.
As has become standard practice, Pope Francis did not confer the pallium on new archbishops during the liturgy, but rather, blessed the palliums after they had been brought up from the crypt above the tomb of St. Peter. As each archbishop approached him by the altar, the pope handed each one a small wooden box tied with a thin gold ribbon. The actual imposition of the woolen band was to take place in the archbishop’s archdiocese in the presence of his faithful and bishops from neighboring dioceses.
The pallium is a woolen band that symbolizes an archbishop’s unity with the pope and his authority and responsibility to care for the flock the pope entrusted to him.
Addressing the cardinals and archbishops during his homily, the pope spoke about what Peter teaches them about the life and risks of being Christ’s disciple.
It was Peter who recognized Jesus as “the Christ, the son of the living God,” and it was Peter whom Jesus turned to, saying “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”
But, when Jesus showed his disciples he must go to Jerusalem, be killed and be risen, it was Peter who protested.
Jesus “kept bringing the father’s love and mercy to the very end. This merciful love demands that we, too, go forth to every corner of life, to reach out to everyone, even though this may cost us our ‘good name,’ our comforts, our status … even martyrdom.”
Peter reacts to this mandate of martyrdom by saying, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you,” which makes him become “a stumbling stone in the Messiah’s path,” the pope said.
“Thinking that he is defending God’s rights, Peter, without realizing it, becomes the Lord’s enemy; Jesus calls him ‘Satan.’” he said.
“Like Peter, we as a church will always be tempted to hear those ‘whisperings’ of the evil one, which will become a stumbling stone for the mission,” the pope said.
Sharing in Christ’s mission, which is to anoint the people, the sick, the wounded, the lost and the repentant sinner, so that they may feel “a beloved part of God’s family,” means sharing Christ’s cross, which is his glory.
“When we turn our back on the cross, even though we may attain the heights of glory, we will be fooling ourselves, since it will not be God’s glory, but the snare of the enemy,” he said.
Do not be Christians who keep “a prudent distance from the Lord’s wounds,” because Jesus touches human misery and “he asks us to join him in touching the suffering flesh of others,” the pope told those assembled.

Value contributions refugees can make

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis called on nations working to develop a global compact on refugees to make sure they help ensure migration is safe, legal and humane.
While nations work to forge proper policies, every individual, “each of us, is called to draw near to refugees and find with them moments of encounter, to value their contribution so that they, too, can be better included in the communities that receive them,” the pope said June 17.
“It is by these encounters and with this mutual respect and support that there is an answer many problems,” he said.
The pope’s remarks came at the end of his Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square.
He reminded people of World Refugee Day June 20, which the United Nations promotes, he said, as a way to “call attention to the experience – often lived with great anxiety and suffering – of our brothers and sisters who are forced to flee their homeland because of conflict and persecution.”
The pope noted the ongoing effort by many nations in creating and adopting a global compact on refugees, which would promote “a migration that is safe, orderly and legal.”
“I hope that the states involved in this process may reach an understanding to assure, with responsibility and humanity, assistance to and the protection of those who are forced to flee their own country,” he said.
Pope Francis also led people in a Hail Mary for the people of Yemen and prayed that international leaders would ensure “the already tragic humanitarian situation does not get worse.” CAFOD, the overseas aid agency of the bishops of England and Wales, has warned that a Saudi-led coalition’s assault on Hodeida, Yemen’s main port city, will have a “catastrophic impact” on the ability of relief groups to get food, medicine and other aid to vulnerable Yemeni families in urgent need of assistance.

Pope ‘ashamed’ by church’s failure to listen to abuse survivors

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – In a letter to Catholics in Chile, Pope Francis expressed shame for the church’s failure to listen and defend survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy.
Released by the Chilean bishops’ conference May 31, the letter from the pope said that the time of “revision and purification” in the church was possible through the efforts of abuse survivors “who, against all hope or painted as discredited, did not tire of looking for the truth.”
They are “victims whose cries reached to heaven. I would like to once again publicly thank all of them for the courage and perseverance,” the pope wrote.
The Vatican announced earlier in the day that “the pope will send the president of the Chilean bishops’ conference a letter written personally by him and addressed to all the people of God, as he had promised the bishops.”
The Vatican also announced that Pope Francis will send Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos back to Chile and visit the Diocese of Osorno “with the aim of advancing the process of reparation and healing of abuse victims.”
Shortly after, Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez Errazuriz of San Bernardo, president of the Chilean bishops’ commission for abuse prevention, and Auxiliary Bishop Fernando Ramos Perez of Santiago, secretary-general of the Chilean bishops’ conference, held a news conference in Santiago to release the eight-page letter.
In his message, the pope said it has been a “time of listening and discernment” for the church to get to the root of the sexual abuse crisis in the Chilean church and to find concrete solutions and not “mere strategies of containment.”
He also acknowledged the church’s shortcomings in not listening to survivors of abuse.
“Here, I believe, lies one our principal faults and omissions: to not know how to listen to victims. Thus, partial conclusions were built that lacked crucial elements for a healthy and clear discernment. I must say with shame that we did not know how to listen and react in time,” the pope wrote.
In January, the pope sent Archbishop Scicluna and Father Bertomeu to Chile to listen to people with information about Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who, according to survivors, had allegedly witnessed their abuse by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima.
Pope Francis said their visit was made after “verifying the existence of situations that we did not know how to see and listen.”
“As a church, we cannot continue walking while ignoring the pain of our brothers and sisters,” he said.
The church, he continued, must say “never again” to a culture that not only allowed sexual abuses to occur but also “considered a critical and questioning attitude as betrayal.”
“The culture of abuse and cover up is incompatible with the logic of the Gospel given that the salvation offered by Christ is always an offering, a gift that demands and requires freedom,” the pope said.
The pope also encouraged Chilean Catholics to continue their devotion to popular piety which is “one of the few areas where the people of God is above the influence of that clericalism that seeks to control and restrain the anointment of God upon the people.”
Like Christ, who did not hide his wounds after his resurrection but rather showed them to his disciples, the church must also be willing to show its own wounds to “be able to understand and be moved by the wounds of the world today.”
“A church with wounds doesn’t place itself at the center, it doesn’t think itself perfect, it doesn’t look to cover up and conceal its evil, but instead places them before the only one who can heal wounds and he has a name: Jesus Christ.
After the letter’s release, Juan Carlos Cruz, one of three survivors who met with Pope Francis April 27-29, said he was moved by the pope’s letter.
“There are phrases in the letter that are things that we spoke about with the pope, such as the culture of cover-ups. It is an emotional feeling to know that he was listening to us and it wasn’t just a salute,” Cruz said May 31 in an interview with Chilean radio station Tele 13.

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.)

Parishes grow only when people are welcomed, heard

By Cindy Wooden
ROME (CNS) – After months of study and discussion, the parishes of the Diocese of Rome have recognized “a general and healthy exhaustion” with doing the same things over and over, touching the lives of fewer and fewer people as time goes on, Pope Francis said.
Changing the way parishes – and their priests and involved laity – operate will not be easy, the pope said, but members of the diocese must set out to follow the Lord more closely, deal with the reality in their neighborhoods and learn how to show everyone living within the parish boundaries that they are recognized and loved.
Pope Francis addressed some 1,700 diocesan leaders, both clergy and laity, May 14 at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the diocese of Rome.
In the process of identifying the “spiritual illnesses” of the diocese, the pope said, the priests and parish leaders made it clear that they are tired of being content with what they have been doing for years.
A renewed outreach, the pope said, must begin by “learning to discern where God already is present in very ordinary forms of holiness and communion with him.”
There are people in the parishes, he said, who might not know their catechism, but they see the basic interactions in their lives through a lens of faith and hope. Calling for a “revolution of tenderness” in parishes and the diocese, Pope Francis said that while “guiding a Christian community is the specific task of the ordained minister – the pastor – pastoral care is based in baptism and blossoms from brotherhood and is not the task only of the pastor and priests, but of all the baptized.”
The pope’s speech marked his formal reception of a diocesan report on “spiritual illnesses” afflicting the city. Through a process that began in Lent, parishes identified the main challenges as “the economy of exclusion, selfish laziness, comfortable individualism, wars among us, sterile pessimism and spiritual worldliness,” according to a statement from the diocese.
The priest who summarized the findings at the evening meeting told the pope that a lack of education in the faith was identified by many of the groups; that lack was seen regarding basic church teachings but also regarding how the Gospel and its values could be brought to bear on modern problems.
Pope Francis told them the process of identifying the problems had two benefits: a recognition of “the truth about our condition as being in need, sick,” but, at the same time, a recognition that even if people have failed, God is still present and is calling his people to come together and to move forward.
“Our parishes,” he said, “must be capable of generating a people, that is, of offering and creating relationships where people feel that they are known, recognized, welcomed, listened to, loved – in other words, not anonymous parts of a whole.”
To move forward, he said, Catholic communities must look at “the slaveries – the illnesses – that have ended up making us sterile.”
Often, he said, parishes are slaves to doing things the ways they always have been done and to investing time and energy in projects and programs that no longer meet the needs of the people.
“We must listen without fear to the thirst for God and to the cry that rises from the people of Rome, asking ourselves how that cry expresses the need for salvation, for God,” he said. “How many of the things that emerged from your studies express that cry, the invocation that God show himself and help us escape the impression that our life is useless and almost robbed by the frenzy of things that must be done and by time that keeps slipping through out hands?”
Too often, he said, evangelization also is stifled by “faith understood only as things to do and not as a liberation that renews us at every step.”
Pope Francis asked the diocesan leaders to dedicate the next year to “a sort of preparation of your backpacks” for setting off on a multiyear process that would lead to a “new land,” a place marked by new pastoral action that is “more responsive to the mission and needs of Romans today, but also more creative and liberating for priests and those who directly collaborate in their mission and in the building up of the Christian community.”