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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Addressing members of the Congregation for Clergy

At 11:10am (local time) this morning, in the Consistory Hall at the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in audience, participants taking part in the Plenary session of the Congregation for Clergy.

Speech of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
addressed to participants taking part in
the Congregation for Clergy's Plenary Session

Your Eminences,
Dear brothers and sisters,

I wish you all a cordial welcome and I express my gratitude for your generous commitment to the service of priests and their formation.  I heartily thank Cardinal Beniamino Stella for his words and for all the work that has been done.

I am happy to be able to dialogue with you about the great gift of the ministerial priesthood, just a few months after the promulgation of the new Ratio Fundamentalis.  This document speaks of integral formation, capable of including all aspects of life; in this way, it indicates the way to form missionary disciples: a fascinating and demanding road.

Reflecting on these two aspects - the fascination of the call and the demanding commitments that it requires - I thought in particular about young priests, who live the joy of the beginning of their ministry and, at the same time, they are well aware of the weight it imposes.  The heart of a young priest lives between enthusiasm of the first priestly endeavours and the anxiety of apostolic fatigue, into which he dives even with a certain fear, which is a sign of wisdom.  He is deeply aware of the jubilation and the strength of the anointing he has received, but his shoulders are beginning to feel the weight of responsibility, the numerous pastoral responsibilities and the expectations of the People of God.

How does a young priest experience all of this?  What does he carry in his heart?  What does he need so that his feet, which are ready to run in order to proclaim the joyful news of the gospel, do not become paralyzed with fear at the sight of the first difficulties? ... so that he does not fall prey to the temptation to take refuge in rigidity or to abandon everything and become dispersed?

We must admit that, at times, young people are judged in a somewhat superficial way and they are too easily labeled as a liquid generation, devoid of passions and ideals.  Certainly, there are young people who are fragile, disoriented, fragmented or infected with the culture of consumerism and individualism.  But this must not stop us from recognizing that young people are capable of firmly wagering on life and living life with generosity; capable of looking to the future and in that way, being an antidote to the resignation and the loss of hope that is characteristic of our society; capable of being creative and imaginative, courageous enough to bring about change, magnanimous when it comes to giving of themselves for others and for ideals such as solidarity, justice and peace.  With all their limits, they are still a resource.

We can ask ourselves then: in our presbyteria, how do we see young priests?  First of all, let us allow ourselves to be illuminated by the Word of God, which shows us how the Lord calls young people, trusts them and sends them out on mission.

While the word of the Lord was rare in those days (1 Sam 3:1), because people were perverted and did not listen any longer to the voice of the Lord, God spoke to young Samuel, a young Temple cleric who became a prophet for his people (cf 1 Sam 3:1-10).  Then, the Lord's glance, which sees beyond outward appearances, chose David, the youngest among the sons of Jesse, and anointed him as King of Israel (cf 1 Sam 16:1-13).  To Jeremiah, who was worried that he was too young for the mission, the Lord offered his paternal reassurance: Do not say: I am young ... because I am with you (Jer 1:7-8).  Even in the gospels, we can learn that the Lord's call includes the young, and the mission of proclaiming the gospel, which was entrusted to the disciples, was not based on the greatness of human strength, but on their willingness to be led by the gift of the Spirit.

This is what I want to say to young priests: you are chosen, you are precious to the Lord! God looks at you with the tenderness of a Father and, after having made your heart enamoured, He will not let your steps hesitate. You are important in His eyes and He has confidence that you will be up to the mission to which He has called you. How important it is that young priests find parish priests and Bishops that encourage them in this perspective, and not just wait for them because there is need of change and of filling empty places!

I would like to say two things spontaneously about this. Empty places: do not fill these places with people who were not called by the Lord, do not take them from anywhere; examine a young man's vocation well, its authenticity, whether he is coming to seek refuge or because he hears the Lord’s call. To receive him only because we are in need, dear Bishops, is a mortgage for the Church! — a mortgage. Second: do not leave him alone. Closeness: the Bishops close to the priests; the Bishops close to the priests. How many times I have heard the laments of priests . . . I have said this so many times – perhaps you heard it –: I called the Bishop; he wasn’t there, and the secretary told me he wasn’t there; I asked for an appointment: it’s full for three months . . . And that priest remains detached from the Bishop. But if you, Bishop, know that in the list of calls that your secretary leaves you a priest has called and you have a full agenda, that same day, in the evening or the following day – not more – call him on the telephone and tell him how things are, evaluate it together, if it’s urgent, not urgent . . . But what is important is that that priest feels he has a father, a close father. Closeness, closeness to priests. A diocese cannot be governed without closeness; a priest cannot grow and be sanctified without the paternal closeness of the Bishop.

I always rejoice when I meet young priests, because in them I see the youth of the Church. Therefore, thinking of the new Ratio, which speaks of the priest as a missionary disciple in permanent formation (cf Ratio Fundamentalis, 3), I wish to stress, above all for young priests, some important attitudes: pray without growing tired, walk always and share with the heart.

Pray without growing tired, because we can only be fishers of men if we first realize that we have been caught by the Lord’s tenderness. Our vocation began when, having abandoned the land of our individualism and our personal projects, we were journeying on the holy journey, giving ourselves over to that Love that sought us in the night, toward that Voice that made our heart vibrate. Thus, like the fishermen of Galilee, we have left our nets to grab hold of those that the Master has given us. If we do not remain closely bound to Him, our fishing will not be successful. I recommend: pray always!

During the years of formation, the schedules of our days were scanned so as to leave the necessary time for prayer; afterwards, one cannot have everything so systematized – life is something else – everything organized, from the moment that one is immersed in the rhythms, sometimes pressing of the pastoral commitments. However, precisely what we acquired in the time of the Seminary – living the harmony between prayer, work and rest – is a precious resource to address the apostolic labours. Every day we need to pause, to listen to the Word of God and to stay before the Tabernacle. But I try, but . . . I fall asleep before the Tabernacle.  Fall asleep also, which the Lord likes, but stay there, before Him. And take care also to listen to your body, which is a good doctor, and which lets you know when exhaustion has surpassed its limits. Prayer, the relationship with God, caring for the spiritual life: all these give soul to the ministry, and the ministry - so to speak - gives body to the spiritual life: because the priest sanctifies himself and others in the concrete exercise of the ministry, especially preaching and celebrating the Sacraments.

Second: walk always, because a priest has never arrived. He always remains a disciple, a pilgrim on the roads of the Gospel and of life, overlooking the threshold of the mystery of God and of the sacred land of the people entrusted to him. He will never be able to feel satisfied or extinguish the healthy restlessness that makes him extend his hands to the Lord to let himself be formed and filled. Therefore, update yourself always and remain open to God’s surprises! In this openness to the new, young priests can be creative in evangelization, frequenting with discernment the new places of communication, where to find faces, stories and questions of persons, developing the capacity for socialization, for relationship and for proclamation of the faith. In the same way, they can be in the network with other presbyters and impede the woodworm of self-reference from braking the regenerating experience of priestly communion. In fact, in every realm of priestly life it is important to progress in faith, in love and in pastoral charity, without becoming rigid in one’s acquisitions or being fixed in one’s schemes.

Finally, share with the heart, because presbyterial life is not a bureaucratic office or an ensemble of religious or liturgical practices to attend. We have spoken so much of the bureaucrat priest, who is a cleric of the State and not a Pastor of the people. To be priests is to give one’s life for the Lord and for brothers, bearing in one’s own flesh the joys and anguishes of the People, spending time and listening in order to cure the wounds of others and offering all the tenderness of the Father. From the memory of their personal experience – when they were in the Oratory, cultivating dreams and friendships animated by youthful love for the Lord –, new priests have the great opportunity to live this sharing with young men and boys. It is about being in their midst, — also closeness here! — not only as a friend among others, but as one who is able to share their life with his heart, to listen to their questions and to participate concretely in the different vicissitudes of their life. Young people do not need a professional of the sacred or a hero that, from above and from the outside, responds to their questions; they are attracted, rather, by one who is able to be sincerely involved in their life, helping them with respect and listening to them with love. It is about having a heart full of passion and compassion, especially towards young people.

Pray without tiring, walk always and share with the heart means to live the priestly life looking up and thinking big. It is not an easy task, but one can put full trust in the Lord, because He always precedes us on the way. May Mary Most Holy, who prayed without tiring, walked behind her Son and shared her life to the end under the cross, guide us and intercede for us. And, please, pray for me!
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