Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave Saturday to participants in an international congress for formators of consecrated men and women. The congress was held in Rome last week on the theme “To Live in Christ According to the Way of Life of the Gospel.”
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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning.
But he [the Cardinal Prefect] said your number, how many of you there are, and I said: “But with the scarcity of vocations, there are more formators than those being formed!” This is a problem! We must ask the Lord to do everything possible so that there are more vocations!
I thank Cardinal Braz de Aviz for the words he addressed to me on behalf of all those present. I also thank the Secretary and the other collaborators that prepared the Congress, the first of this level held in the Church, in fact, in the Year dedicated to Consecrated Life, with men and women formators of many Institutes of so many parts of the world.
I wished to have this meeting with you, because of what you are and represent as educators and formators, and because behind each one of you I perceive your and our young people, protagonists of a present lived with passion, and promoters of a future animated by hope; young people that, driven by love of God, seek in the Church the paths to assume it in their own life. I feel them present here and address an affectionate thought to them.
Seeing you so numerous one wouldn’t say that there is a vocational crisis! However, in reality there is an undoubted quantitative diminution, and this renders the task of formation even more urgent, a formation that truly molds the heart of young people to the heart of Jesus, until we have his same sentiments (Cf. Philippians 2:5; Consecrated Life, 65). I am also convinced that there isn’t a vocational crisis where there are consecrated persons capable of transmitting, with their own witness, the beauty of consecration. And the testimony is fruitful. If there is no witness, if there is no coherence, there will be no vocations. And you are called to this witness. This is your ministry, your mission. You are not just “teachers”; you are above all witnesses of the following of Christ in your own charism. And this can be done if every day one rediscovers with joy that one is a disciple of Jesus. From here also stems the need to always take care of your own personal formation, beginning with a strong friendship with the only Teacher. In these days of the Resurrection, the word that resounded often for me in prayer was “Galilee,” “where everything began,” Peter says in his first discourse — the things that happened at Jerusalem but which began in Galilee. Our life also began in a “Galilee”: every one of us has had an experience of Galilee, of the encounter with the Lord, that encounter that one doesn’t forget, but that so many times becomes covered with things, with work, anxieties and also sins and worldliness. To give witness it is necessary to go often on pilgrimage to Galilee itself, to take up the memory of that encounter, that astonishment, and to start again from there. However, if one does not follow this path of the memory there is the danger of remaining there where one is, and there is also the danger of not knowing why one finds oneself there. This is a discipline of these men and women who wish to give witness: to go back to Galilee itself, where I encountered the Lord; and to that first astonishment.
Consecrated life is beautiful, it is one of the most precious treasures of the Church, rooted in the baptismal vocation. And, therefore it’s good to be formators, because it is a privilege to participate in the work of the Father who forms the heart of the Son in those whom the Spirit has called. Sometimes this service can be felt as a weight, as if it took us away from something more important. However, this is a deceit, it is a temptation. The mission is important, but to form to the mission is just as important, to form to the passion of the proclamation, to form to that passion of going everywhere, to every periphery, to tell everyone of the love of Jesus Christ, especially those far away, to tell it to the little ones and to the poor, and to let oneself also to be evangelized by them. All this requires solid basis, a Christian structure of the personality that today families themselves rarely know how to give. And this increases your responsibility.
One of the qualities of the formator is that of having a great heart for young people, to form big hearts in them, capable of receiving all, hearts rich in mercy, full of tenderness. You are not only friends and companions of the consecrated life of those who are entrusted to you, but true fathers, true mothers, capable of asking and of giving them the most: to generate a life, to give birth to a religious life. And this is possible only through love, the love of fathers and mothers. And it’s not true that young people of today are mediocre and not generous; however, they are in need of experiencing that “it is more blessed to give than to receive!” (Acts 20:35), that there is great freedom in an obedient life, great fruitfulness in a virgin heart, great richness in not possessing anything. Hence the need to be lovingly attentive to the path of every one and evangelically demanding in every phase of the formative path, to begin with vocational discernment, so that the eventual crisis of quantity won’t determine a much greater crisis of quality. And this is the danger. Vocational discernment is important: all men and all women who know the human personality — be they psychologists, spiritual Fathers, spiritual Mothers — tell us that young people who unconsciously feel they have something unbalanced or some problem of balance or deviation, seek unconsciously strong structures to protect them, to be protected. And discernment is there: to be able to say no. But not to throw them out: no, no. I will accompany you, go, go, go …. And as the entrance is accompanied, so also the going out, so that he or she finds the way in life, with the necessary help. Not with that defense that is bread for today and hunger for tomorrow.
The crisis of quality … I don’t know it it’s written, but it now comes to me to say: look at the qualities of many, many consecrated persons. Yesterday at lunch there was a little group of priests that was celebrating the 60thanniversary of Priestly Ordination: that wisdom of the elderly … Some are a bit … but the majority of elderly have wisdom! The Sisters who every day get up to work, the Sisters of hospitals, who are “doctors in humanity”: how much we must learn from this consecration of years and years! … And then they die. And the missionary Sisters, the consecrated missionaries, that go there and die there … Look at the elderly! And don’t just look at them: go out to find them, because the fourth Commandments counts also in religious life, with those elderly of ours. For a religious institution they are also a “Galilee,” because we find the Lord in them who speaks to us today. And how much good it does young people, to send them to them, to approach these elderly wise consecrated men and women: how much good it does! Because young people have the instinct to discover authenticity: this does good.
The initial formation, this discernment, is the first step of a process destined to last the whole of life, and the youth is formed to humble and intelligent freedom to allow himself to be educated by God the Father every day of his life, in every age, in the mission as in fraternity, in action as in contemplation.
Thank you, dear men and women formators, for your humble and discreet service, for the time given to listening — the apostolate “of the ear,” to listen – for the time dedicated to the accompaniment and the care of each one of your youths. God has a virtue — if one can speak of God’s virtue — a quality, of which there is not much talk: it is patience. He has patience. God knows how to wait. You must also learn this, this attitude of patience, which so often is somewhat of a martyrdom: to wait … And when a temptation of impatience comes to you, stop; or of curiosity … I think of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus, when a novice began to tell a story and she was happy to know how it ended, and then the novice went somewhere else; Saint Therese said nothing, she waited. Patience is one of the virtues of formators. To accompany: in this mission neither time nor energy must be spared. And it’s not necessary to get discouraged when the results don’t correspond to the expectations. It is painful when a boy, or a girl comes after three or four years and says: “Oh, I don’t hear it; I have found another love that is not against God, but I can’t, I’m going.” This is hard, but it’s also your martyrdom. And the unsuccessful, these unsuccessful ones from the point of view of the formator can favor the path of continuous formation of the formator. And if at times you might have the sensation that your work is not sufficiently appreciated, know that Jesus follows you with love, and the whole Church is grateful to you. And always in this beauty of consecrated life: some say that consecrated life is paradise on earth. No. If anything, it’s Purgatory! However, go ahead with joy, go ahead with joy.
I wish you to live with joy in gratitude for this ministry, with the certainty that there is nothing more beautiful in life than to belong forever and with all one’s heart to God, and to give one’s life for the service of brothers.
I ask you, please, to pray for me, so that God will give me a bit of that virtue that He has: patience.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]