Below is a translation of Pope Francis’ address to the Ecclesial Congress for the Diocese of Rome last night in the Vatican:
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First of all, good evening to all!
I am happy to be among you.
I thank the Cardinal Vicar for the words of affection and trust that he addressed to me on behalf of you all. Thank you also to Father Gianpiero Palmieri and to the two catechists Ada and Pierpaolo, who illustrated the situation. I said to them: “You have said everything! I will give the blessing and go.” They are good.
I would like to say something, without a doubt. It pleased me so much that you, Father Gianpiero, mentioned Evangelii nuntiandi. Today also, it is the most important post-Conciliar pastoral document, which has not been surpassed. We must always go back to it. That Apostolic Exhortation is a source of inspiration. And it was done by the great Paul VI, in his own handwriting, because after that Synod, they were not in agreement if they should, or should not make an Exhortation. And in the end, the reporter – who was Saint John Paul II – took all the papers and gave them to the Pope, as if to say”You take care of it, brother!”. Paul VI read it all and, with that patience he had, he began to write. It is in fact, for me, the pastoral testament of the great Paul VI. And it has not been surpassed. It is a source of things for the pastoral. Thank you for having mentioned it, and may it always be a reference!
During this year, while visiting parishes, I have been able to meet so many persons, who often fleetingly but with great trust have expressed to me their hopes, their expectations, as well as their sorrows and their problems. Also in the many letters I receive every day, I read about men and women who feel disoriented, because life is often laborious, and they do not succeed in finding its meaning and value. It is too accelerated! I can imagine how convulsed the day must be of a father or a mother, who get up early, accompany their children to school, then go to work, often in places where there are tensions and conflicts, also in faraway places. Before coming here, I went to the kitchen to have a coffee. The cook was there and I said to him: “how long does it take you to get home?” “An hour and a half …” An hour and a half! And when he returns home , the children are there, his wife …,. And they must go across Rome in the traffic. So it often happens to all of us that we feel alone. That we feel we are carrying a burden that crushes us, and we wonder: but is this life? The question arises in our heart: what should we do so that our children, our kids, can give meaning to their life? Because they also see that sometimes our way of living is inhuman, and they don’t know what direction to take for life to be good, and to be happy when they get up in the morning.
When I confess young spouses and they talk to me about their children, I always ask a question: “And do you have time to play with your children?” And many times I hear from the father: “But Father, when I go to work in the morning, they are asleep, and when I return, in the evening, they are in bed, asleep. “ This isn’t life! It’s a difficult cross. It’s not human. When I was Archbishop in the other diocese, I was able to speak more often than I do today with kids and young people, and a realized that they suffered from “orphanage,” that is, from orphanhood. Our children, our kids suffer from orphanhood! I believe the same happens in Rome. Young people are orphans of a sure path to follow, of a teacher whom they can trust, of ideals that warm the heart, of hopes that sustain the effort of daily living. They are orphans, but they keep alive in their heart the desire for all those things! This is the society of orphans. Let us think of this, it’s important. Orphans, without the memory of family: because, for instance, the grandparents are away, in a house of rest, they don’t have that presence, that memory of the family; orphans, without affection today, or too hasty affection: father is tired, mother is tired, they go to sleep … And they remain orphans. Orphans of gratuitousness: what I said at first, that gratuitousness of the father and mother who are able to waste time to play with their children. We are in need of a sense of gratuitousness: in families, in parishes, in the whole society. And when we think that the Lord revealed himself to us in gratuitousness, namely, as grace, the matter is that much more important. That need of human gratuitousness, which is like opening the heart to the grace of God. Everything is free: He comes and gives us his grace. But if we don’t have the sense of gratuitousness in the family, in the school, in the parish, it will be very difficult to understand what the grace of God is, that grace which is not sold, which is not bought, which is a present, a gift of God: it is God himself. And they are orphans of this, of gratuitousness.
Jesus gave us a great promise: “I will not leave you orphans” (John 14:18), because He is the way to follow, the teacher to listen to, the hope that does not disappoint. How can we not feel our heart burn and say to all, in particular to young people: “you are not an orphan! Jesus Christ has revealed to us that God is Father and wants to help you, because He loves you.” See the profound meaning of Christian initiation: to generate to faith means to proclaim that we are not orphans. Because society also denies its children! For instance, to almost 40% of Italian young people it gives no work. What does it mean? “I don’t care about you! You are material to be discarded. I’m sorry, but life is like this.” The society also renders young people orphans. Think what it means that 75 million young people in this European civilization, young people 25 years old and younger, have no work. This civilization leaves them orphans. We are a people who want to have our children grow with the certainty of having a father, of having a family, of having a mother. Our technological society – Paul VI already said it – multiplies infinitely the occasions of pleasure, distraction, curiosity, but it’s not capable of leading man to true joy. So much comfort, so many beautiful things, but where is joy? To love life we need to fill it with things, which then become idols. We need Jesus to look at us. It is his look which says to us: it’s good that you live; your life is not useless, because I have entrusted a great task to you. This is true wisdom: a new look on life which is born from the encounter with Jesus.
Cardinal Vallini spoke about this missionary pastoral path of conversion. It is a path that is followed and which must be followed and we also have the grace to be able to follow it. Conversion is not easy, because it means to change life, to change our method, to change many things, also to change our soul. But this path of conversion will give us the identity of a people that is able to generate children, not a sterile people! If we as Church are unable to generate children, something isn’t working! The great challenge of the Church today is to become a Mother: Mother! Not a well-organized NGO, with many pastoral plans … We need them, of course …. But that isn’t the essential, it’s a help. To what? To the maternity of the Church. If the Church isn’t Mother, it’s awful to say that she becomes a spinster, but she becomes a spinster! She is like that: she is not fecund. Not only does the Church make children, her identity is to make children, namely, to evangelize, that is, to make children. I think of our mother Sarah, who grew old without children; I think of Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias, who grew old without children; I think of Noemi, another woman who grew old without offspring: the Lord is able to do it! However, for this to happen the Church has to do something; she must change, she must be converted to become Mother. She must be fecund! Fecundity is the grace that we must ask of the Holy Spirit today, so that we can go forward in our pastoral and missionary conversion. It’s not about … it’s not a question of going to seek proselytes, no, no! To go and ring the bell: “Do you want to come to this association that is called the Catholic Church? …” The card must be done, one more member … The Church, Benedict XVI said to us, does not grow by proselytism, she grows by attraction, by maternal attraction, by offering maternity; she grows by tenderness, by maternity, by the testimony that always generates more children. Our Mother Church has grown somewhat old … We must not speak of the “grandmother” Church, but she has grown somewhat old … We must rejuvenate her! We must rejuvenate her, but not taking her to the doctor for cosmetic, no! This isn’t the real rejuvenation of the Church, this is not on. The Church becomes younger when she is able to generate more children; she becomes younger the more she becomes Mother. This is our Mother, the Church, and our love of children. To be in the Church is to be at home, with mommy, in mommy’s house. This is the grandeur of revelation.
It’s a growing old that … I believe … I don’t know if it was Father Gianpiero or the Cardinal who spoke of the flight of community life; this is true: individualism leads to the flight of community life, and this makes the Church grow old. We go to visit an institution which is no longer mother, it gives us a certain identity, as a soccer team. “I’m of this team; I’m a fan of the Catholic!” And this happens when there is the flight of community life, the flight of the family. We must recover our memory, the memory of the Church which is people of God. Today we are lacking the sense of history. We are afraid of time: no time, no course, nothing, nothing! Everything now! We are in the reign of the present, of the situation — only this space, this space, this space, and no time. Also in communication: lights, the moment, the mobile phone, the message … More abbreviated language, more reduced. Everything is done in a hurry, because we are slaves of the situation. We must recover our memory with the patience of God, who was not in a hurry in his history of salvation, who has accompanied us in the course of history, who preferred a long history for us, of so many years, walking with us.
In the present – I’ll speak of it later, if I have time – I will say only one word: hospitality. See, hospitality. And there is anotherthat you said: tenderness. A mother is tender, she is able to caress. But when we see the poor people that go to the parish with this or that and don’t know how to move in this environment, because they don’t go often to the parish, and they meet a secretary who shouts, who shuts the door: “No, to do this you have to pay this, and this and this! And you must do this, and this … Take this letter and you must do …” These people don’t feel in mommy’s house! Perhaps they feel in the administration, but not in their mother’s house. And the secretaries are the new “ostiaries” of the Church! But parish secretary means to open the door of the mother’s house, not to close it! And the door can be closed in so many ways. A secretary was famous in Buenos Aires: everyone called her the “tarantula” … I won’t say anything more! To be able to open the door in the present: hospitality and tenderness.
The priests also, the parish priests and vice-parish priests have so much work, and I understand that sometimes they are somewhat tired, but a parish priest who is too impatient does no good! Sometimes I understand, I understand … Once I heard a lady, humble, very humble who left the Church when she was young; now she was the mother of a family, she returned to the Church and said: “Father, I left the Church because in the parish, when I was a girl – I don’t know if I was going to Confirmation, I’m not sure …” a woman came with a child and asked the parish priest to do the Baptism – this happened a long time ago and not here in Rome, but elsewhere –, and the parish priest said yes, but that she had to pay … “But I don’t have money!” .”Go home, get what you have, bring it to me and I will baptize your child.”’ And that woman was speaking to me in the presence of God! This happens … This isn’t hospitality, this is to close the door! In the present: tenderness and hospitality.
And for the future, hope and patience, we go forward, giving witness of hope. And the family? It’s patience. What Saint Paul says to us: bear with one another. To bear with ourselves. It’s so.
But we return to the text. The people who come know, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, that the Church protects the treasure of Jesus’ gaze. And we must offer it to all. When they arrive in the parish – perhaps I’m repeating myself, because I took a different way and moved away from the text –, what attitude should we have? We must always welcome everyone with a great heart, as in the family, asking the Lord to enable us to participate in the difficulties and problems that kids and young people often meet in their life.
We must have Jesus’ heart who, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Seeing the crowds, he felt compassion. I like to dream of a Church that lives the compassion of Jesus. Compassion is to “suffer with,” to feel what the others feel, to share in their sentiments. It is the Mother Church, as a mother that caresses her children with compassion. A Church that has a heart without boundaries; but not just the heart, also the look, the gentleness of the look of Jesus, which often is more eloquent than many words. People expect to find in us the look of Jesus, sometimes without even knowing it, that serene, happy look that enters the heart. However, as your representatives said, the whole parish must be a welcoming community, not just the priests and catechists. The whole parish! Must welcome …
We must rethink to what degree our parishes are welcoming, if the schedule of activities favors the participation of young people; if we are able to speak their language, to accept also in other environments (as, for instance, in sports, in the new technologies) the possibilities to proclaim the Gospel. We become audacious in exploring new ways for our communities to be houses where the door is always open. The door is open! But it is important that hospitality be followed by a clear proposal of faith, a proposal of faith often not explicit, but with the attitude, with the testimony: in this institution that is called Church, in this institution that is called parish an air of faith is breathed, because there is belief in the Lord Jesus.
I will ask you to study well the things that I have said: orphanhood, and to study how the memory of the family can be recovered; how to have affection in the parishes, gratuitousness. That the parish not be an institution linked only to the situations of the moment. No, that it be historical, that it be a path of pastoral conversion. That it be able in the present to welcome with tenderness and to send her children forward with hope and patience.
I love priests so much, because it’s not east to be a parish priest. It’s easier to be a Bishop than a parish priest! Because we Bishops always have the possibility to distance ourselves, or to hide behind “His Excellency,” and that protects us! But to be a parish priest, when they knock on the door: “Father, this, Father that and Father there ….” It’s not easy! When someone comes to tell you the problems of the family, or that dead person, or when the so-called “girls of Caritas” come to gossip against the so-called “girls of the catecheses” … It’s not easy to be a parish priest!
But I want to say something, I said it once before: the Italian Church is so strong thanks to the parish priests! These parish priests that – now they have another system – slept with the telephone on the night table and got up at any hour to go to a sick person … No one died without the Sacraments … Close, close parish priests! And then? They left this memory of evangelization …
We think of Mother Church and we say to our Mother Church what Elizabeth said to Mary when she became Mother, in expectation of her son: ”Happy are you, because you have believed!”
We want a Church of faith, which believes that the Lord is able to make her Mother, to give her many children, our Holy Mother Church. Thank you![Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]