Marking his last Friday of Mercy this Holy Year, Pope Francis met this afternoon with a group of men who have left the priesthood.
According to a Vatican statement, the Pope left his residence of Casa Santa Marta at 3:30 p.m. and traveled to Ponte di Nona, a neighborhood on the eastern peripheries of Rome to meet with the families formed by the group of former priests, which included five Italians, one Spaniard, and a Latin American.
The Vatican statement said that, despite opposition in many cases from their fellow priests or their families after serving for several years in parishes, these young men–after facing loneliness, misunderstanding, and fatigue from their many tasks–made the difficult decision to leave the priesthood.
The men, the statement also explained, spent months, and sometimes years, wrestling with uncertainty and doubts, before coming to the decision that they were not meant to be priests, and deciding to form a family.
When the Pope arrived there was great enthusiasm, the statement said, noting, “Children gathered around the Pope to embrace him, while their parents did not restrain emotion.”
“The Holy Father’s visit was highly appreciated by all those present who did not hear the Pope make a judgment on their choice, but felt his closeness and affection.”
Even though the encounter did not last long, Francis listened to their stories and has been closely following the considerations that were made about the canonical proceedings of individual cases.
“His paternal word has reassured everyone on his friendship and the certainty of his personal interest,” the statement concluded, reiterating, “In this way, again, Pope Francis wanted to give a sign of mercy to those who live a situation of spiritual and material distress, highlighting the need for private and no one will feel the love of the Shepherd’s solidarity.”
The visit ended at about 5:20 p.m. Then the Holy Father returned to the Vatican.
The Pope has been making these Friday afternoon visits during the Jubilee year. Among those he’s visited are a care home for the elderly and the sick; a community for drug addicts at Castel Gandolfo; the “Chicco” community for individuals with serious mental disabilities at Ciampino; and elderly and suffering priests.