Francis' Address to Pastoral Councils, Clergy in Assisi

“What a great gift it is to be the Church, to be part of the People of God!”

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Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave Friday during his trip to Assisi, to clergy and consecrated people.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters of the diocesan Community, good afternoon!

I thank you for your welcome, priests, men and women religious, laity working in the Pastoral Councils! How necessary the Pastoral Councils are! A Bishop cannot lead a diocese without the Pastoral Councils. A parish priest cannot lead a parish without the Pastoral Councils. This is fundamental! We are in the Cathedral! Kept here is the baptismal font where Saint Francis and Saint Clare were baptized, which at that time was in the church of Saint Mary. The memory of our Baptism is important! Baptism is our birth as children of Mother Church. I would like to ask you a question: which of you knows the date of his/her Baptism? Few! Few! … Now, a task for you at home! Mother, Dad, tell me: when was I baptized? But it is important, because it’s the day of your birth as a child of God. Only one Spirit, only one Baptism in the variety of charisms and ministries. What a great gift it is to be the Church, to be part of the People of God! We are all the People of God. In the harmony, in the communion of the diversities, which is the work of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is harmony and creates harmony: it is His gift and we must be open to receive it!

The Bishop is the custodian of this harmony. The Bishop is a custodian of this gift of harmony in diversity. Because of this, Pope Benedict wanted the pastoral activity in the Franciscan Papal Basilicas to be integrated with the diocesan activity. Because must create harmony: it’s his task, it’s his duty and his vocation. And he has a special gift to create it. I am happy that you are advancing well on this path, with benefit for all, collaborating together with serenity, and I encourage you to continue. The Pastoral Visit which has just concluded and the diocesan Synod that you are about to hold are intense moments of growth for this Church, which God has blessed in a particular way. The Church grows by attraction, the attraction of the witness that each one of us gives to the People of God.

I would now like to stress briefly some aspects of your Community life. I don’t want to tell you new things, but to confirm you in the most important, which characterize your diocesan journey.

The first thing is to listen to the Word of God. The Church is this: the community – the Bishop said it – the community that listens with faith and with love to the Lord who speaks. The pastoral plan you are living together insists, in fact, on this fundamental dimension. It is the Word of God that awakens faith, nourishes it, and regenerates it. It is the Word of God that touches hearts, converts them to God and to His logic, which is so different from ours; it is the Word of God that renews our communities continually.

I think we can all improve a bit in this aspect: to become greater listeners of the Word of God, to be less rich in our words and richer in His words. I think of the priest, who has the task of preaching. How can he preach if he has not first opened his heart, has not listened, in silence, to the Word of God? Away with these interminable, boring homilies, of which nothing is understood. This is for you! I think of a mother and father, who are the first educators: how can they educate if their conscience isn’t illumined by the Word of God, if their way of thinking and acting isn’t guided by the Word. What example can they give their children? This is important because then the mother and father lament “this child …” But you, what witness have you given him? About what have you talked to him, about the Word of God or about the word of the television news? Fathers and Mothers must now speak of the Word of God! And I think of catechists, of all educators: if their heart is not warmed by the Word, how can they warm the hearts of others, of children, of young people, of adults? It’s not enough to read the Sacred Scriptures; we must listen to Jesus who speaks in them: it is precisely Jesus who speaks in the Scriptures; it is Jesus who speaks in them. We must be like antenna that receive, attuned to the Word of God, we must be antenna that transmit! We receive and we transmit. It’s the Spirit of God that renders alive the Scriptures, makes them understood in depth, in their true and full meaning! Let us ask ourselves, as one of the questions to the Synod: what place does the Word of God have in my life, in my everyday life? Am I attuned to God or to the many words in fashion or to myself? It is a question that each one of us must ask him/herself.

The second aspect is that of walking. It’s one of the words I prefer when I think of a Christian and of the Church. But it has a particular meaning for you: you are beginning the diocesan Synod, and to hold a “synod” means to walk together. I think this is truly the most beautiful experience that we live: to be part of a people that is walking, walking in history, together with our Lord, who walks in our midst! We are not isolated, we do not walk alone, but we are part of the one flock of Christ that walks together.

Here I think also of you priests, and let me place myself also with you. What is more beautiful for us than to walk with our people? It’s beautiful! When I think of those parish priests who knew the name of the persons of the parish, who went to seek them, just as one of them said to me: “I know the name of the dog of every family,” they even knew the name of the dog! How lovely it was! What is there that is more beautiful? I repeat it often: walk with our people, sometimes in front, sometimes in the middle and sometimes behind: in front to lead the community; in the middle to encourage and support it; behind to keep it united so that no one is too far behind, to keep it united and also for another reason: because the people have the “scent”! They have the scent of finding new paths for walking, they have the “sensus fidei,” that the theologians say they have. What is there that is more beautiful? And in the Synod we must also know what the Holy Spirit says to the laity, to the People of God, to all.

But the most important thing is to walk together, collaborating, helping one another; to ask for pardon, to acknowledge one’s mistakes and to ask for pardon, but also to accept others’ pardons by pardoning them – how important this is! Sometimes I think of married couples that separate after many years. Alas … no, we don’t understand one another, we are estranged.” Perhaps they haven’t asked for pardon in time. Perhaps they were unable to forgive in time. And I always give newlyweds this advice: “Quarrel as much as you like. If plates fly, let them fly. But never end the day without making peace! Never! And if married couples learn to say ”Sorry, I was tired,” or just a little gesture: this is peace; and take up life again the next day. This is a great secret, and it avoids those painful separations. How important it is to walk united without fleeing beforehand, without nostalgias of the past. And while walking, talk, get to know one another, talk to one another, grow in being a family. Here we must ask ourselves: how do we walk? How does our diocesan reality walk? Does it walk together? And what do I do so that it will truly walk together? I don’t want to enter here in the argument of gossip, but you know that gossip always divides!

So to listen, to walk and the third aspect is missionary: to proclaim as far as the fringes. I have taken this also from you, from your pastoral plans. The Bishops spoke to me about it recently. But I want to stress it, also because it is an element that I lived a lot when I was at Buenos Aires: the importance of going out to meet the other, in the fringes, which are places, but above all they are persons in special situations of life. It’s the case of the diocese I had before, that of Buenos Air
es. A fringe that made me feel very badly was to find, in middle class families, children who could not make the sign of the cross. But this is a fringe! And I ask you: here, in this diocese, are there children who cannot make the sign of the cross? Think about it. These are real existential fringes, where God is not.

In a first sense, the fringes of this diocese, for instance, are the areas of the diocese that risk being marginalized, beyond the beams of the spotlights. But they are also persons, human realities that are in fact marginalized, scorned. They are persons who perhaps are physically close to the “center,” but spiritually far away.

Do not be afraid to go out to meet these persons, these situations. Don’t allow yourselves to be blocked by prejudices, habits, mental or pastoral rigidities, by the famous “it has always been done this way!” But you can only go to the fringes if you take the Word of God in your heart and if you walk with the Church, like Saint Francis. Otherwise we take ourselves, not the Word of God, and this isn’t good, it doesn’t help anyone. We are not the ones who save the world: it is the Lord who saves it!

See, dear friends, I haven’t given you any new recipes. I don’t have them and don’t believe anyone who says that he has them: there aren’t any. However, I have found in the journey of your Church beautiful and important aspects that are going to make you grow and I want to confirm you in them. Listen to the Word, walk together in fraternity, proclaim the Gospel in the fringes. May the Lord bless you, Our Lady protect you and Saint Francis help everyone to live the joy of being disciples of the Lord. Thank you.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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