In an interview with ZENIT’s Senior Vatican Correspondent and with another vaticanista of Italian news agency ANSA, Cardinal Pietro Parolin has shared with ZENIT moving episodes from his trip to Lebanon.
Following his ordination of 29 new priests of Opus Dei at the Basilica of San Eugenio in Rome, the Vatican Secretary of State reflected on vocations, and admitted that while papal trips due to COVID are temporarily not feasible, he knows the Holy Father is eager to embark once able.
Pope Francis called for yesterday, Friday Sept. 4, 2020, to be a special day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon, and to commemorate it, he sent Cardinal Parolin to Beirut to show his closeness to the Lebanese people.
The morning after the Cardinal’s two full days in the Middle Eastern nation, the Secretary of State was ready to preside over these priestly ordinations, and to encourage these young men from various nations, to be “good shepherds” and to thank them for their service to the Church and Her faithful.
In this interview, the Cardinal reflects, as a longtime priest, on priestly identity, and what he would say to someone considering a vocation. He also discusses his recent whirlwind trip, along with a related appeal, as well as papal trips in general.
Here is the full text of the interview:
ZENIT: Some note there are, generally speaking, not many priests and less vocations, aside from some exceptions, such as Asia and Africa. However, you were here at the Opus Dei ordination of 29 priests, a considerable number. You, Your Eminence, who have been a priest for a considerable time, what would you say to a young person, a young man, who is considering such a vocation, but has some doubts? What would you, as a priest, tell him?
Cardinal Parolin: I believe that perhaps many words are not needed, because words can be believed or not believed. I believe that to answer the doubts of a young person – because it is true that many young people have many doubts since today there is a certain shortage of vocations – the only way to respond to a young man who poses the problem of his vocation and asks himself what to do with his vocation and his life, and feels the call of the Lord, the only way is to give a witness: that is, to be priests with all our limitations, our weaknesses, our miseries, but being priests who are truly in love with the Lord and spend their lives for the people entrusted to them. If a young person really sees a priest fulfilled, a priest who feels joy because he knows that this is his path, he feels that he is responding to a call from the Lord and that it makes sense to give his life for others, then all the doubts disappear, or at least they dissolve, little by little.
ZENIT: Your Eminence, the Holy Father sent you to Lebanon to express his closeness to the Lebanese people. You returned only last evening. There you heard many testimonies and met many people. Which one left the strongest impression and touched you the most?
Cardinal Parolin: As for the visit, it was really very, very emotional. It really moved me. There are two aspects that I would like to emphasize. The first thing is destruction! Someone has defined the destruction as apocalyptic. I think the adjective suits the situation very well. There was a bomb, a bomb I don’t know if [it were] atomic or not, whose strength, they tell me, was even muffled by the presence of the sea; the explosion was somewhat muffled by the sea, but where it arrived, it caused a lot of destruction.
And then I would like to underline the sense of pain, the sense of suffering that I saw in my encounters with the families of the victims. There was a woman who lost three relatives, her husband, brother and brother-in-law, who were part of that group of firefighters sent [there] after the first explosion.
The second thing I want to say is the great willingness that I saw to restart again, to start over as soon as possible. Thus, I felt the sense of pain, of bewilderment, because this misfortune adds to the many problems that Lebanon already had previously, but I understood that there is a great desire to start over. Seeing the closeness of the Church, made me very happy. The Church is really close to the people.
ZENIT: What about a visit of Pope Francis to Lebanon? Some reliable sources, in 2019, envisioned a papal trip there this month, this September of 2020, before the world changed. Thinking of a potential papal trip, if the situation with the pandemic were greatly improved, perhaps even with vaccines, do you believe, that such a travel to Lebanon could be possible? The circumstances, aside from COVID, in your opinion, would permit it?
Cardinal Parolin: Many have asked that the Pope go to Lebanon, I imagine that if they have asked, it means that there are conditions, including security, that would allow the Pope to go. Now the problem is that of COVID. Until this situation is overcome, travel will not be possible.
Reflecting on other Apostolic Trips of Pope Francis in the future, are you saying it seems unlikely we will see trips in the near future?
Cardinal Parolin: Not for the moment, we need to see the evolution of the pandemic, see how it evolves. For this year, travel is certainly suspended. I think that the Pope has the desire, as soon as possible, to resume traveling. But much depends on the evolution of the pandemic, of course, in order not to put people’s health at risk, because when there are large gatherings, it is logical that there is the greatest danger.
But is there an appeal from the Vatican to clarify what happened in Lebanon and what caused the Beirut tragedy?
Cardinal Parolin: I have not touched on this point in my various speeches, but an assurance has been given by the authorities nonetheless. I mean, I touched on the subject of the investigation with the authorities, the need to give answers, they told me that they are doing everything possible. And someone pointed out that this time, unlike other times, the investigations are also reaching the highest levels of the political hierarchy, and therefore no stone will be left unturned. We really hope that we can know the origin and causes of this disaster which are very obscure, because currently there are so many hypotheses, one after the other, but no one knows yet what caused the explosion. So even if not in public, this issue was touched upon in the meetings with the authorities.
Grazie, Your Eminence…
NOTE: Zenit has obtained Cardinal Parolin’s full homily (currently in Italian) to the new priests. Here is a ZENIT working translation.
— ZenitEnglish (@zenitenglish) September 7, 2020
Homily Given at the Ordination of
Opus Dei Presbyters
Rome, September 5, 2020
Dear Prelate of the Opus Dei,
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I greet each of you with warmly and affectionately, grateful for your invitation to this Ordination of 29 priests of the Opus Dei’s Personal Prelature.
We have just heard Jesus proclaim Himself Good Shepherd: in fact, I would like to share some thoughts with you on this.
The idea has rather taken root that the shepherd designates almost exclusively the leading of the flock: the shepherd is certainly he who leads, who, preceding the sheep, points out to them the way, sets the pace, traces the course of what we in fact call “pastoral.” However, a wider perspective emerges in the Gospel. Jesus evidences the difference between the shepherd and the mercenary. As opposed to the latter who interpret their work as a job, the shepherd does not play a role but assumes a style of life. In fact, in those times especially, he was not understood as someone who had a task to be performed, but as one who shared everything with his flock. The shepherd didn’t live as he liked, but as was better for the flock, he was not where he wished to be, but where the flock was. He moved with the sheep and spent every hour of the day and of the night in their company. More than leading the flock, he lived immersed in it.
Therefore, the image of the shepherd seems to refer first of all not to government, but to life. It’s no accident that Jesus characterizes the shepherd as he who gives “his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). The ministry you are about to assume, dear brothers, is a question of life: assimilated to the Good Shepherd, immersed in His flock, you won’t be called, in the first place, to “do something” — perhaps not even that to which you feel more inclined to — but to give and to share your life. Thus you will be able to realize fully the call to act “in persona Christi”: not only in the administration of the Sacraments, but by embodying Jesus’ style, because, as Saint Josemaria Escriva wrote, “the priest — whoever he is — is always another Christ”, (The Way, 66).
Christ the Good Shepherd came to seek us where we were lost, in the dark valleys of sin and of death: He took our sin upon Himself; He suffered our evil; He shared our death, dying on the cross. He redeemed us this way, gathering us with mercy and placing us with love on His shoulders, as Christian art portrayed immediately, in an eminent way, in this city. The life of the priest is called to witness the joy of the encounter between God and us, the joy that God feels in showing us mercy. Saint John of the Cross wrote: ”It is truly a marvel to see the pleasure and joy that the loving Shepherd and Spouse of the soul feels in seeing it rediscovered and placed on His shoulders and Held with His hands in this desired union” (Spiritual Canticle, Manuscript B, Strophe 22,1). To be pastors today means to become witnesses of mercy. “Today is the time of mercy!” — the Holy Father proclaimed in the imminence of the opening of the last Jubilee (Homily, October 25, 2015). So, the grace of the ecclesial today and your existences meet on this day, in the sign of the merciful shepherd that gives his life for the flock.
I’ll try to draw a couple of more practical consequences from this first aspect, inherent to the life of the shepherd, referring to the words and to the forgiveness of the presbyter. The words with which you preach cannot but be words of life. The First Reading has reminded us that preaching always has the kerygma at the center, the perennial and healing novelty of the Death and Resurrection of Christ for us (cf. Acts 10:39-40). It is the foundation of the proclamation: proclaimed always, before exhorting, is the beauty of salvation. In regard to forgiveness, in the Second Reading Saint Paul has reminded us of its absolute prerequisite. Therefore, be ambassadors of mercy, bearers of forgiveness that revives existence, priests that love to dispose brothers and sisters to allow themselves be reconciled with God (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20). I know how much attention and care you give to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to Confession: I can do no other than exhort you to continue to do so, to be dispensers of that grace and of that forgiveness of the Lord of which today’s world is in extreme need!
I propose a second word to you, always inherent to the figure of the pastor: simplicity. We think of the shepherds present at Jesus’ birth: they certainly did not represent the cultural apex of the people and they were not the expression carried out of ritual purity, yet they were the first called to receive the Messiah who appeared on earth. We think of the young David that, in as much as shepherd, was not even counted by the father among the ideal sons to be consecrated. But the Lord, who looks at the heart, loves the little ones and seeks the simple.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, the Saint whose Liturgical Memorial is observed today, can come to our aid. Perhaps you know the “Simple Way” she delineated, tracing in a few words the essential trajectory of the believer: “The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace,” — simple words to connect each one with the poles of existence: God and others. The first and decisive step suggested by the Saint is to find time every day for silence and to enter in prayer. This constitutive dimension of the believer — “foundation of the spiritual edifice” was defined by Saint Josemaria, not failing to recall that it is “always fruitful” (The Way, 83.101) — it will represent for you also a true and proper opus to exercise faithfully for the whole People of God. Mother Teresa, when approached by a priest dedicated to works of charity, who was in a hurry to speak to her of his commitment and activities, often interrupted him brusquely to ask him: “How many hours do you pray every day?” (A. Comastri, Mother Teresa: A Drop of Clean Water, 2016, 35).
The simplicity, which stems from the transparency of prayer, implies also concrete choices to go to the essential of the ministry. In fact, to be truly such pastors one must have first of all a well-ordered life and this also means not to let oneself be engulfed by a thousand things, with the risk of losing the simplicity of a heart fully dedicated to the Lord. Saint Escriva expressed himself thus: “The Lord knows that giving is proper to those in love, and He Himself indicates to us what He desires from us. He doesn’t care about riches, fruits or the animals of the earth, of the sea or of the air, because everything is His; He wants something intimate that we must offer Him with freedom: My son, give Me your heart. You see, He is not content with sharing; He wants all. He doesn’t seek our things, He seek us, ourselves” (Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 6, 1956).
Life, simplicity and, finally, mission. It’s the third word that I would like to share in connection with the good pastor. He goes in search of the lost sheep: he leaves the fold, and is not content with seeing the crowd of the ninety-nine, but wishes to reach the only one lost (cf. Luke 15:4-7). This heartfelt desire of the Lord also emerges in today’s text: “I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So, there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).
You, dear brothers from various latitudes and from different contexts, are being ordained presbyters during a Pontificate that is transmitting to you, in addition to the priority of mercy lived and to the call to evangelical simplicity, the exigency, which can no longer be postponed, of the mission, as the main vocation of the Church. To be a Church going forth means no longer to conceive oneself as an end, but as a means; to take not ourselves but the Lord to the world. It means to be not introverted but extroverted, not anxious to obtain prominence, but to make Jesus known to those, as happens especially in the most secularized contexts, who think that the question of God belongs to the past.
We are called to make the voice of the Good Shepherd heard, that voice that the sheep recognize because they feel themselves recognized by it, that is, loved, as the biblical meaning indicates of the verb to know. This requires to combine pastoral charity and healthy evangelizing creativity, fidelity and flexibility, well-rooted faith and an available heart; it requires to go and encounter, more than
to wait, to accept not reject, the most disquieting and complex questions of today, particularly those of the young generations, often far and sometimes riotous.
It’s difficult to carry on one’s shoulders disordered lives, apparently empty, but it is these sheep that, today, in particular, the Lord desires us to approach.
Concluding, it seems beautiful to me to let ourselves be challenged again by Mother Teresa, or better, from the beginning by the writing that appears on the wall of the Children’s House at Calcutta; “Man is unreasonable, illogical, egocentric. It doesn’t matter, love him.” On that wall appears the overcoming of the logic of walls. There is the invitation to amplify, without fear and without pretexts, the gift of grace that the Lord gives us freely. In fact, to be ministers means to be servants. Dear brothers, if every day you let the voice of the Good Shepherd, who has served you by giving you Himself, vibrate in your heart, sometimes hurting it and challenging it, then, drawn by Him, you will express words and gestures of life, you will become prophets of evangelical simplicity, you will spread renewed mission ardour.
I confide to you that I was truly moved when I heard your answer: ad sum! The Church encourages you, She accompanies you and She thanks you for your yes. May the Good Shepherd, who wills to conform you to Himself, bring to fulfilment what He has begun in you.[Working translation by ZENIT’s Virginia Forrester]