Earlier this month, Pope Francis received in audience in the Vatican members of the Argentine Colegio Sacerdotal [Priestly College] of Rome, on the occasion of the pastoral visit of the Bishops of the Episcopal Commission of Ministries of the Episcopal Conference (CEMIN).
The meeting lasted over an hour, in an informal, warm and profound dialogue between the Bishop of Rome and the Argentine bishops and priests.
In this interview with ZENIT, the Rector of the Colegio Sacerdotal, Father Angel Hernandez, pointed out that the meeting unfolded in an atmosphere of sincerity. The Holy Father began by saying that the Jubilee of Mercy was an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He invited them to be “truly Fathers,” when they hear confessions and he also exhorted them to “be Pastors” wherever they are. He also alerted them to the risks of Pelagianism and Gnosticism.
In regard to the reform of the Curia currently underway, he said that despite what certain elements of the media say, in today’s Church and in the Curia there are many saints. He added that he always felt “at peace,” a peace that has been with him since the day of his election, and which has not abandoned him in the midst of difficulties.
Here is a translation of the interview.
ZENIT: What was the atmosphere of your meeting with the Holy Father?
Father Hernandez: Without speeches or formal words, after the greeting and photographs, it went directly to a rich conversation on different subjects. The atmosphere was one of sincerity, simple and intimate, where humor, questions of a more personal nature and a spirit of joy and communion weren’t lacking.
ZENIT: What was the first subject the Pope addressed?
Father Hernandez: The first was the Jubilee of Mercy, recently begun worldwide. Francis stressed that the genesis of this extraordinary event was what he believed was a true inspiration of the Spirit, born during his personal prayer and confirmed in his conversation with some of his advisers.
At the same time he highlighted that it was a deepening of the path already indicated by Paul VI and accentuated by John Paul II with his encyclical Dives in Misericordia, the canonization of Faustina Kowalska, the institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy on the second Sunday of Easter and other options of his.
ZENIT: And what did he say concretely about the Jubilee of Mercy?
Father Hernandez: As usual with Francis, his universal look descended to very concrete pastoral questions, particularly his concern for the ministry of Reconciliation. He emphasized the need for confessors to have a profound awareness of being instruments of mercy, to be humanly sound and willing to receive a penitent at all times, who must always feel in his heart that he is welcome, even in cases that for different reasons, he cannot receive absolution. In a word, the Pope affirmed that the confessor is called to be a true Father in the sacramental encounter.
ZENIT: He was asked different questions, no?
Father Hernandez: The questions of the members of the Colegio had to do with the life of the priests and the mission that awaits them on their return to their dioceses, when they finish their studies in the Eternal City. The Pope pointed out that what was important was that they “be Pastors” where they are and in the task they must carry out, be it in academic activity, the Seminaries or tribunals where they exercise their ministry. He recalled the nucleus of the apostolic ministry of Acts, valid also for priests: “prayer and the proclamation of the Word.”
ZENIT: What challenges and risks did he point out?
Father Hernandez: Speaking of the present challenges for the Church, Francis said that today there are two risks represented by old heresies that are still active: Pelagianism and Gnosticism. The former is perceived in particular when one is impelled to restore a situation that no longer exists, but which in reality denotes an internal fragility in the way of living the faith. This restoration usually hides spiritual worldliness, a real danger for the believer. It is necessary, the Pope reminded the priests of the Colegio, to distinguish between the world and a worldly spirit, in order not to hide from the reality, but also not to lose what makes us Christians, in keeping with the Lord’s prayer to the Father: “I do not pray that Thou should take them out of the world, but that Thou should keep them from the Evil One” (John 17:15).
ZENIT: They told the Pope that the people love him very much?
Father Hernandez: The priests expressed to him the affection and prayer of the people of their respective dioceses and of all those who wanted them to greet the Pope on their behalf. Francis thanked them for the gesture and, as he usually does, expressed how much he needed everyone’s prayer and how much good daily contact with the people does him, today especially in the Masses he celebrates almost daily at Saint Martha’s. He said: “it does me good to be with the people.”
ZENIT: Did he say anything about the Causes of Beatification now underway?
Father Hernandez: Yes, he mentioned two Argentines in the process of Beatification and Canonization, Mother Antula and Father Brochero; the miracles attributed to them have just been approved by the Medical Commission of the Congregation of Saints.
ZENIT: Did he say anything about Vatileaks and the reform of the Curia?
Father Hernandez: Referring to some events that have made a particular media impact, he concluded by saying that despite these cases, today “there are many saints in the Church and here (in the Curia) there are saints.” It is the opposite of what the media highlights.
ZENIT: And about his daily life?
Father Hernandez: Talking about the numerous responsibilities and challenges he must face daily, he said he was always “at peace,” a peace that has been with him since the day of his election, and it has never abandoned him in the midst of the daily difficulties, achievements, sorrows and joys in the exercise of his apostolic service. “I am in God’s hands,” was one of his last phrases before concluding a truly familiar and friendly meeting.[Translation by ZENIT]