The Church is to be like a mother, tender and compassionate, always there for its people, Pope Francis said Monday evening as he opened the ecclesial convention of the Diocese of Rome.
The Church exists to nurture, he affirmed, and must never “close its door” to its people.
Being like a mother is the Church's role, he stressed to the some 11,000 people gathered in Paul VI Hall. It cannot be, the Pontiff added, a “well-organized NGO with a bunch of pastoral plans,” nor can it be an "institution," akin to having the identity of a "football team," where parishioners became nothing more than “fans” of being Catholic.
He lamented that many, especially young people, feel "orphaned." Some because they are unemployed, others because their fathers are too busy to spend time with them.
"You are not an orphan," the Pontiff declared. "Jesus Christ has revealed to us that God is our Father and wants to help you, because he loves you."
The Pope emphasized that Jesus made it clear he would not allow them to continue feeling orphaned, and this is why He has given us our mother the Church.
Hearing the people
The Pope's vicar for Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, opened the evening with an address. That was followed by parishioners’ testimonies.
The cardinal thanked Pope Francis, saying this event is "an important step for the Diocese of Rome" and reflects the people's "spirit and passion for Jesus."
He also pointed out the challenges facing the diocese today, including secularism, and expressed the need to realize that certain pastoral actions are not getting the results they did in the past. He said this is because the identity of the Church’s people has changed. Its people, especially this generation, do not have the same interest in the Church, he said.
The Holy Father welcomed testimonies from parishioners of Rome, who discussed their personal difficulties. The first gave historical background on how the Church has been changing and the problems facing parishes today. He called for Church members to be “active protagonists” as well as "collaborators with God." The parishioner stressed the need for the Church itself to “go out” and “seek dialogue,” and noted how Pope Benedict XVI, through actions and in writings, advanced these causes.
The second parishioner testified that although Rome's parishioners are "enthusiastic," they, at the same time, are "realistic,” as "there are challenges" they face. Giving an example, she said, “There are limitations with preparing children for their first Communion, especially when their parents are not believers." She pointed out that parishioners "are aware that their serving the young does not go away" just because there is not enough family support, and noted parishes are far from where they ought to be.
Family and community
Pope Francis then addressed the difficulties of parishes and parishioners, acknowledging they sometimes have little hope, especially now facing unemployment. He went on to stress, however, that there is a way to restore hope: going to church.
The role of the Church, the Holy Father stressed, is to be a "Mama's House," with tenderness and compassion. It is to constantly welcome, and never to “close doors.”
"The Church must keep its door open," he said. He said to never exclude anyone, but be open to all, as this is the call of the “maternal” Church. He stressed that the Church must "welcome" and accept all.
"We need to investigate how we can recover the memory of the family, communities," he said.
Turning to the Church’s mission, the Pope reminded parishioners of its two essential roles: “to have children and to evangelize.”
He made a recommendation to parishioners: “Be patient with your priests. It's not easy to be a priest.” The Bishop of Rome elicited a laugh from those gathered when he poked fun at bishops. He said, "Priests, at times, may be a bit tired with all they need to do.... I understand." He added, "It's easier to be a bishop than a priest, having a parish is not easy."
Continuing to compare the Church to a mother, he said that through a mother's heart and eyes, which have “the sweetness of those of Jesus,” the Church can rediscover its identity, as its maternal tenderness and compassion have this power.
He next commented that “thanks to its parishes,” the Church in Italy "is strong," exemplified by the fact that there have not been reported instances in which parishioners, before passing away, were not able to receive their final sacraments from a diocesan priest.
Closing, the Pope made a request: "Pray for me, because this work is not easy."