On his last stop before heading to the next leg of his Apostolic Journey, Pope Francis met with clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians of Ecuador.
The meeting was held outside the National Shrine of Our Lady of Quinche, patroness of Ecuador. The Holy Father entered the shrine where scores of men and women religious were waiting for him. The Pope laid a bouquet of red and white roses in front of the statue of the Blessed Mother before being escorted to a separate room where he signed a guestbook.
“Virgin Mother of Quinche, safeguard the Ecuadorian people. Care for them, Mother,” the Holy Father wrote.
The Pope, as has become customary in meetings with members of the clergy and religious, decided to depart from his prepared statement, preferring to speak off-the-cuff with them. The Holy Father said that in his time in Ecuador, he noticed something “peculiar” about the people.
“Everywhere I go, the welcoming is always happy, joyful, cordial, religious, pious, everywhere!” he exclaimed.
“I prayed, I asked Jesus several times in prayer, ‘What do these people have different?’ And in my mind, I recalled the consecration to the Sacred Heart. I must say it like a message from Jesus: the riches that you have, the spiritual riches come from having the courage – because there were difficult moments- to consecrate the country to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
The Holy Father also encouraged the religious men and women to follow the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who did not take the role of a protagonist, but rather a disciple.
“She was aware that everything that came through Her was by God’s gratuitousness.”
The 78-year-old Pontiff invited them to imitate Mary and that every night, they pray to God saying “You have given me everything.” The Holy Father also warned against careerism, saying that religious men and women can fall prey to “spiritual Alzheimer’s”.
“Gratefulness is a grace that cannot coexist with promotion. When a member of the clergy, religious, monk [etc.] look for a career, they fall into spiritual Alzheimer’s and forget where they came from,” he said.
Service and Gratitude
Continuing his improvised address, Pope Francis called on those present to ask for the grace of memory and to renew that prayer daily.
Doing so, he said, can enable them to serve the faithful tirelessly.
“Service mixed with gratitude,” he said. “What you have received freely, give freely. Please do not charge for the grace, please! May our pastoral [ministry] be gratuitous; it is awful when one begins to lose this gratuity.”
The Holy Father also called on them to live this gratefulness and memory in happiness and joy. Their vocation, he stressed, is a gift from Christ that will help sustain those “two pillars of our priestly and religious life.”
Christ, he said, “made Himself nothing, He lowered Himself, He humbled Himself, He made Himself poor to enrich us in his poverty.”
“The sense of memory lets us remember the wonders that the Lord did in our life,” Pope Francis concluded. “May the Lord give you this grace; may he continue to bless the Ecuadorian people whom you are called to serve, may you continue to be blessed with that peculiarity that I noticed when I arrived here.”
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