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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Meeting with priests and consecrated persons in Milan

This morning, shortly before 10:00am, the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with priests as well as consecrated men and women in the Cathedral of Milan.

At the entrance to the Cathedral, the Pope was welcomed by the Auxiliary Bishops, the Archpriests, the Metropolitan Chapter, the Milanese Episcopal Council and the Bishops of Lombardi.

Then, in the Scurolo di San Carlo, the Holy Father paused in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and venerated the relics of Saint Charles Borromeo.

Following a few words of welcome which were offered by His Eminence, Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, the Pope responded to some questions which were asked by some of those who were in attendance.

Responses of His Holiness, Pope Francis
to questions asked by priests and consecrated persons

Question 1:  Father Gabriele Gioia, priest
Much of the energy and time of priests are spent in continuing the traditional forms of ministry, but we feel the challenges of secularization and a certain irrelevance of faith within the evolution of Milanese society, which is increasingly multi-faceted, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural.   It also happens at times that we feel like Peter and the apostles after having struggled all night and not caught any fish.  We want to ask you:  what purifications and what choices should we focus on in order not to lose the joy of evangelizing and of being people of God who bear witness to his love for everyone?  Your Holiness, we love you and pray for you.

Pope Francis
Thank you.  Thank you.

The three questions you are asking today were sent to me ahead of time.  This is always the way it is done.  Usually, I respond off the cuff, but this time I thought, on a day with a programme that is so tight, it would be better to write something in response to your questions.

I have heard your question, Father Gabriele.  First, I read it, but while you were speaking, two things came to mind.  One: catch fish.  You know that evangelization is not always synonymous with catching fish: it's a matter of going out, keeping a wider view, bearing witness ... and then the Lord, He will catch fish.  When, how and where, we do not know.  This is very important.  It is also in setting out from this reality, that we are instruments, mere instruments.  Another thing that you have said, the preoccupation that you expressed which is the preoccupation of all of you: do not lose the joy of evangelizing, because it is a joy to evangelize.  The great Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi - which is the greatest pastoral document of the post-Conciliar time, which is still current today - spoke of this joy: the joy of the Church is evangelization.  We must pray for the grace to not lose this joy.  He (Paul VI) says to us, almost at the end of that document: Let us conserve this joy of evangelization; not as evangelizers who are sad or bored, this is not good; a sad evangelizer is one who is not convinced that Jesus is joy, that Jesus brings us joy, and when he calls you, he calls you to life and he gives you the gift of joy, and he invites you into joy, even on the cross, but into joy, in order to evangelize.  Thank you for having pointed out the things you said, Gabriele.

And now, the things that I thought about this question, while I was at home, in order to be able to share with you some things that were more thought out.

a.  One of the first things that came to mind is the word challenge - which you have used: many challenges, you said.  Every era of history, from the beginning of Christianity, has been continually subjected to multiple challenges.  Challenges from within the Christian community and at the same time, challenges to the relationships we have with the societies in which faith was taking shape.  We remember the experience Peter had in the house of Cornelius in Caesarea (cf Acts 10:24-35), or the disputes at Antioch and then in Jerusalem concerning the necessity of circumcising the Gentiles (cf Acts 15:1-6), and so on.  Therefore we need not fear challenge, this is clear.  We should never fear challenge.  How often we hear people lamenting: Ah, these modern times, there are so many challenges, and we are sad ... No.  Do not be afraid.  Challenges should be faced like an ox, take them by the horns.  Don't be afraid of challenges.  And it is good that we have them, challenges. It is good because they make us grow.  Challenges are a sign of a living faith, a living community that is seeking its Lord and keeping its eyes and its heart open.  Rather, we should fear a faith that has no challenges, a faith that believes that it is complete, entirely complete: not needing anything else, complete.  Such a faith is so watered down that it is useless.  This is what we should fear.  Such a faith believes itself to be complete, as though everything had already been said and brought to fruition.  Challenges help us ensure that our faith doesn't become ideological.  There are always dangers associated with ideologies.  Ideologies grow, sprout and grow when someone believes that he possesses complete faith, and faith becomes an ideology.  Challenges keep us free from closed-in and defined thinking and open us to a fuller understanding of revealed truths.  As the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum affirmed: as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her (DV, 8b).  That which challenges us helps us to open ourselves to the mystery that is revealed.  This is the first thing that I got from what you said.

b.  The second thing.  You spoke about a multi society - multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic -  I believe that the Church, throughout her entire history, many times - even without us knowing it - has much to teach us and ways to help us face a culture of diversity.  We need to learn.  The Holy Spirit teaches us diversity.  Let us look at our dioceses, our presbyteria, our communities.  Let us look at our religious communities.  There are so many charisms, so many ways of encountering the experiences of believers.  The Church is One in a plurality of experiences.  She is one, yes.  But in a plurality of experiences.  This is the treasure of the Church.  Despite the fact that she is one, she has many forms.  The Gospel is one in its four-fold form.  The Gospel is one, but there are four and each of them is different, but their diversity is an enrichment.  The Gospel is one in a four-fold form.  This gives our communities a richness that demonstrates the action of the Spirit.  The ecclesial Tradition enjoys a great experience  of how to manage the various parts within its history and its life.  We have lived and seen it all: we have lived and seen many riches and many horrors and errors.  And here we have a good key that helps us to read the contemporary world.  Without condemning it and without sanctifying it.  Recognizing both the luminous and the obscure aspects.  In addition, it helps us to discern the excesses of uniformity and relativism: two tendencies that seek to negate the unity of our differences, interdependence.  The Church is One in her differences.  She is one, and her differences unite her in this unity.  But who is it that creates differences?  The Holy Spirit: he is the Teacher of differences!  And who creates unity?  The Holy Spirit: He is also the Teacher of unity!  This great Artist, this great Teacher of unity in the midst of differences is the Holy Spirit.  And we should understand this very well.  Then, I'll speak about this some more later, about discernment: discerning when the Spirit is the one who creates differences and unity, and when it is not the Spirit who creates differences and divisions.  How often have we confused unity with uniformity?  And they are not the same thing.  Or how often have we confused plurality with pluralism?  And these are not the same thing.  Uniformity and pluralism are not from the good spirit: they do not come from the Holy Spirit.  Plurality and unity however come from the Holy Spirit.  In both cases, what we try to do is to reduce the tensions and to cancel out the conflicts or the ambivalence to which we are subjected as human beings.  To eliminate one of the poles of tension is to eliminate the way in which God wished to reveal himself in the humanity of his Son.  Anything that does not accept the human condition can be a very clear and distinct theory but can never be coherent with Revelation and therefore remains ideological.  In order to be Christian and not illusory, faith must be supported within a series of processes: human processes, without being restricted to them.  This too is a beautiful tension.  This is the beautiful and demanding task that the Lord has left us: the already and not yet of Salvation.  And this is very important: unity in our differences.  This is a tension, but it is a tension that always makes us grow in the Church.

c.  A third thing.  There is a choice which as pastors we cannot avoid: training in discernment.  Discernment of things that seem to be opposites or that are opposites in order to know when a tension, an opposition is from the Holy Spirit and when it comes from the Evil One.  And for this reason, we need formation in discernment.  If I understand the question, diversity offers a very tricky scenario.  The culture of abundance to which we are subjected offers a horizon of many possibilities, presenting them all as valid and good.  Our young people are exposed to continual zapping.  They can navigate on two or three screens which are both open at the same time, they can interact at the same time with various virtual scenarios.  Like it or not, this is the world in which they live and it is our duty as pastors to help them get through the world.  This is the reason why I think it is good to teach them how to discern, so that they can have the instruments and elements that will help them to make their way through the journey of life without extinguishing the Holy Spirit that is within them.  In a world without possibilities for choices, or with less possibilities, perhaps things would seem more clear, I don't know.  But today, our people - and we ourselves - are exposed to this reality, and therefore I am convinced that as an ecclesial community, we must increase our habitual practice of discernment.  This is a challenge, and it requires the grace of discernment, to seek out and to learn to have the habit of discerning.  This grace is needed by little ones and by adults alike.  When we were children, it was easy for our fathers and our mothers to tell us what we have to do, and that was good - today I don't think it is so simple; in my day, yes, but today, I don't know, but in any case it is easier.  But as we grow, in the midst of a multitude of voices which all appear to be right, discernment about what will lead us to the Resurrection, to Life and not to a culture of death, is crucial.  This is the reason why I insist on this necessity.  It is a catechetical tool, and also a tool for life.  In catechesis, in spiritual guidance, in homilies, we must teach our people, teach our young people, teach our children, teach our adults to discern.  And teach them to ask for the grace of discernment.

On this point, I refer you to the section of the Exhortation Evangelii gaudium entitled: The mission that is incarnated in human limitations: numbers 40-45 of Evangelii gaudium.  And this is the third point with which I have responded to you.  These are little things that may be of assistance in your reflection concerning demands and then in the dialogue that takes place between you.  Thank you very much.

Question 2: Roberto Crespi, permanent deacon
Your Holiness, good morning.  I am Roberto, a permanent deacon.  The diaconate became a part of our clergy in 1990 and at present, there are 143 of us; this is not a large number but it is a significant number.  We are men who are fully living our own vocations, some of us are married and others are celibate but we are also fully living in the work world, the world of professionals, and there we live as clergy in the world of families and the world of work, carrying with us all the dimensions of beauty and our experiences but also our efforts and at times also a number of wounds.  Therefore, I want to ask you: as permanent deacons what is our role so that we can help to shape the face of a Church that is humble, selfless, blessed, aspects which exist at the heart of the Church and which we speak about on occasion?  Thank you for your attention and we assure you of our prayer, and together with our own prayers, also the prayers of our spouses and our families.

Pope Francis
Thank you.  You deacons have much to offer, much to give.  Let us think about the value of discernment.  Within the priesthood, you can be an authoritative voice to demonstrate the tension that exists between matters of duty and matters of will, the tensions that are experienced in family life - you have a mother-in-law, for example! - as well as the blessings that are experienced in family life.

But we must be careful not to see deacons as semi-priests and semi-lay people.  This is a danger.  In the end, we are not born as one or as the other.  No, we should not do this, it is dangerous.  Looking at it in this way, is harmful to all of us, and to you.  This way of considering you weakens the charism that is yours as a deacon.  I want to speak about this: the charism that is proper to deacons.  This charism is a part of the lift of the Church.  Deacons should never be seen as some kind of intermediary between the faithful and the pastors.  They should neither be seen as halfway between priests and the laity, or halfway between pastors and their people.  And there are two temptations.  There is the danger of clericalism: the deacon who is too clerical.  No, no, this is not good.  On a few occasions, I have seen someone when they assist at the liturgy: they seem almost to want to take the place of the priest.  Clericalism, be careful about clericalism.  And the other temptation, functionalism: becoming an aid to the priest for this or for that ... like a boy who does certain things and not others ... No.  You have a clearly defined charism in the Church and you must exercise it.

The deaconate is a specific vocation, a family vocation that calls you to service.  I like the part when (in the Acts of the Apostles), the first Hellenist Christians went to the apostles to complain because their widows and their orphans were not being helped, and they held a meeting, a synod among the apostles and the disciples, and they invented deacons for service.  This is very interesting also for us bishops, because they were all bishops, those who had made the first deacons.  And what does this passage tell us?  That deacons are servants.  They realized that in that case, their role was to assist the widows and orphans, to serve.  And we bishops: our role is to pray and to proclaim the Word; and this helps us to see what is the most important charism for a bishop: to pray.  What is the task of a bishop, the most important task?  Prayer.  A second task: to proclaim the Word.  But the difference can be seen very well.  For you deacons, your task is service.  This word is the key to understanding your charism.  Service as one of the gifts that characterize the people of God.  The deacon is - so to speak - the custodian of service in the Church.  Every word should be well measured.  You are the custodians of service in the Church; service to the Word, service at the Altar, service to the poor.  And your mission, the mission of deacons, and its contribution consists in this: in reminding all of us that faith, in its different expressions - the communal liturgy, in personal prayer, in various forms of charity - and in the various stages of life - laity, clerics, family life - possesses an essential dimension of service.  Service to God and to our brothers.  And how far you must go in this regard!  You are the custodians of service in the Church.

Herein lies the value of the charisms in the Church, both a reminder and a gift to help the entire people of God to not lose perspective and the richness of acting in God.  You are not halfway priests and halfway laity - this would be a matter of functionalizing the diaconate - you are a sacrament of service to God and to your brothers.  From this word service we derive the entire development of your work, your vocation, your existence in the Church.  A vocation which like all vocations is not only individual, but lived within a family and with a family; within the People of God and with the People of God.

In summary:
  • there is no service at the altar, neither is there any liturgy that does not open us to service of the poor, and there is no service to the poor that does not lead to the liturgy;
  • there is no ecclesial vocation that does not come from the family.
This helps us to re-evaluate the diaconate as an ecclesial vocation.

Finally, today it seems that everything must serve us, as though everything were focused on the individual: prayer serves me, the community serves me, charity serves me.  This is a fact of our culture.  You are the gift that the Spirit gives us in order that we might see that the right path goes in the opposite direction: toward prayer that serves, toward service to the community, in solidarity with the service to God and to our neighbour.  May God give you the grace to grow in this charism of caring for service within the Church.  Thank you for all that you do.

Question 3:  Mother Mary Paola Paganoni, osc
Your Holiness, I am Mother Paola from the Ursulines and I am here in the name of all the persons of consecrated life who are present in the Church of Milan but also in all of Lombardy.  We thank you for your presence, but above all for the witness of life that you offer us.  Beginning with Saint Marcellina, the sister of Ambrose, until the present day, consecrated life in the Church of Milan has always been a living presence, significant, with ancient forms - you see us here - and with new forms.  I want to ask you, Father, how we can be for today, for mankind today, witnesses of prophecy, as you say: custodians of wonder and bear witness with our poor lives to a life that is obedient, pure, poor and fraternal?  And then, given our small numbers - which seem to be numerous, but our age is elderly - given our diminishing strength, for the future, which peripheries should we choose, which areas should we prioritize in a rekindled awareness of our minority - minority in society and minority also in the Church?  Thank you - We assure you of our daily remembrance in prayer.

Pope Francis:
Thank you.  I am pleased, I am pleased to hear the word minority.  It is true that this is one of the charisms of the Franciscans, but also all of us should be minors: this is a spiritual attitude, the minority, which is like the seal of a Christian.  I like to hear that you have chosen that term.  I will begin with this final word: minority, normally the word minority - but I'm not saying that this is the case with you - is a word that is accompanied by a sentiment: We seem to be so many, but many of us are elderly, we are few ... And the sentiment that is beneath all this is?  Resignation.  This is a sad sentiment.  Without realizing it, every time we think about it or see that we are few in number, or in many cases that we are elderly, we experience a weight, fragility rather than splendour, our spirits begin to be corrupted by resignation, and resignation leads to sloth ... I recommend that if you have time, you should read what the desert fathers said about sloth: it is something that is so current, today.  I believe that this is where the first actions are born, to which we must pay attention: a few yeses, minor yeses, we are elderly yes, are we resigned? No!  Very thin are the threads that recognize only before the Lord the fact that we can be examined from our interior.  The Cardinal, when he spoke, said two words that touched me very much.  Speaking of mercy, he said that mercy restores and gives peace.  This is a good remedy against resignation: this mercy that restores and gives peace.  When we fall into resignation, we distance ourselves from mercy, we should go immediately to someone, to the Lord and we ask for mercy, because mercy restores us and gives us peace.

When resignation takes hold of us, we live with the imagination of a glorious past that, far from awakening the initial charism, surrounds us more and more with a spiral of essential heaviness.  Everything becomes heavier, more difficult to overcome.  And here, this is one thing that I did not write but that I will say, because it is a bit bad to say it, please excuse me, it happens and I'll say it.  Some structures begin to be heavy and empty, we do not know what to do, and we think about selling the structures in order to have money, money for our old age ... The money we have in the bank starts getting heavy, and poverty, where have you gone? But the Lord is good, and when a religious congregation does not follow the path of their vow of poverty, they usually send a treasurer who is bad and who destroys everything!  And this is a grace! (laughter, applause)  I said that everything becomes heavier and more difficult to endure.  And the temptation is always to seek human security.  I spoke of money, which is one of the most human sources of security we have.  For this reason, it is good for all of us to revisit our origins, to make a pilgrimage to our origins, a memory that saves us from whatever is imaginary or glorious though useless about our past.

With the eyes of faith, we can see - says Evangelii gaudium - the light which the Holy Spirit always radiates in the midst of darkness, never forgetting that “where sin increased, grace has abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). Our faith is challenged to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds (EG, 84).

Our founding fathers and mothers never considered themselves to be in the multitude or even in the great majority.  Our founders felt moved by the Holy Spirit in a concrete moment in history to be a joyous presence of the gospel for their brothers; to renew and build up the Church as leaven in the dough, like salt and light in the world. I am thinking, it is clearly a phrase from one of our founders but many have said the same thing: Fear the multitudes.  May many not come, for fear of not training them well, fear of not providing your charism ... Someone called it multa turba.  No.  They simply thought about taking advantage of the gospel, to develop a charism.

I think that one of the reasons that stops us or takes away the joy is this aspect.  Our congregations are not born to be the base, but a little salt and a little yeast would contribute to helping the base to grow; because the People of God have all the condiments that were missing.  For many years, we have been tempted to believe, and many have grown up with the idea that the religious family should occupy spaces more than operate processes, and this is a temptation.  We should have processes, not occupy spaces.  I am afraid of statistics, because many times they deceive us.  They tell the truth about some things but afterwards the illusion takes hold and leads us to deception.  Occupy space rather than initiate programmes: we were tempted by this because we thought that since we were many, conflict could prevail over unity; that an idea (or our impossibility to change) was more important than reality; or that the part (our little part or vision of the world) was superior to everything ecclesial (cf Evangelii Gaudium, 222-237).  This is a temptation.  But I have never seen a pizza master who takes a half-kilo of yeast and 100 grams of flour to make a pizza, no.  On the other hand, the yeast does the work to make the flour rise.

Today, reality challenges us, today reality invites us to become once again a bit of yeast, a bit of salt.  Last night, in the Osservatore Romano, which is published at night but with the date of today, there is a story about the departure of the last two Little Sisters of Jesus from Afghanistan, from among the Muslims; because there were no more Sisters and those who were there were elderly, they are coming home.  They spoke Afghani.  They were beloved by everyone: Muslims, Catholics, Christians ... Why?  Because they bore witness.  Why?  Because they are consecrated to God the Father of all.  And I thought, I said to the Lord, while I was reading about this - look for it, today, in l'Osservatore Romano, it will make you think about the person about whom you asked the question -: Jesus, why do you leave these people like this?  And I thought about the people of Korea, who in the beginning had three-quarters of the Chinese missionaries - in the beginning - and then for two centuries the message was proclaimed only by the lay people.  The Lord's ways are as He wishes them to be.  But it would be good for us to make an act of trust: it is He who leads us through history!  It's true.  We do all we can to grow, to be strong ... but we should never give up.  Begin programmes.  Today reality challenges us - I repeat - reality invites us to once again be yeast, a bit of salt.  Can you think of a meal with a lot of salt?  No one would be able to eat it.  Today, the truth - for many reasons which we cannot stop right now to analyze - calls us to have processes rather than to occupy spaces, to fight for unity rather than attacking past conflicts, to listen to reality and to open ourselves to the masses, to the holy faithful People of God, to everything ecclesial.  Open yourselves to everything ecclesial.

A blessed minority, which is invited once again to rise, to rise according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has inspired the hearts of your founders and your own hearts too.  This is what we need today.

Let us go on with one last thing.  I would not dare to tell you which existential peripheries should direct your mission, because normally the Spirit has inspired charisms for the peripheries, inspires us to go to these places, to the corners that are usually abandoned.  I do not believe that the Pope can say to you: focus on this or that.  What the Pope can tell you is this: there are few of you, there are few of you, be who you are, go to the peripheries, go to the borders to meet the Lord, and renew the mission of your founders, go to the Galilee of your first encounters, return to the Galilee of your first encounters!  This will be good for all of us, to bring about growth, to multiply.  At this moment, I am thinking about the confusion that our Father Abraham faced: he looked toward the skies: Count the stars! - but I can't - your descendants will be as numerous as they.  And then: Your only son - the only one, the other one has already left, but this one had the promise - make him climb the mountain and offer him as a sacrifice.  From this multitude of stars, to sacrificing His son, God's logic is not clear.  Only one thing is clear: he calls for our obedience.  And this is the path that we must follow.  Choose the peripheries, reawaken the processes, increase your hope that has been spent and weakened by a society that has become insensitive to the suffering of others.  In the fragility of our Congregations, we can make them more attentive to the many fragilities that surround us and transform them into places of blessing.  This will be a moment when the Lord says: Stop, there is a young goat there.  Do not sacrifice your only son.  God and take the anointing of Christ, go.  I am not trying to send you away, only to say: go and take the mission of Christ with you, make it your charism.

And let us not forget that when we put Jesus in the midst of his people, the people will find joy.  Yes, only He can restore joy and hope, only He can save us from living with an attitude of mere survival.  Please no, this is resignation.  Don't just survive, live!  Only this attitude will make our lives worthwhile and keep hope alive in our hearts.  Put Jesus there, where he should be: in the midst of his people (Homily for the Mass of the Presentation of the Lord, XXI World Day of Consecrated Life, 2 February 2017).  And this is your task.  Thank you mother, thank you.

And now, let us pray together.  I will give you my blessing and I ask you, please, to pray for me because I need to be supported by the prayer of the people of God, by those who are consecrated and by priests.  Thank you very much.

Let us pray ...

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