Pope Francis continued his pastoral visit to Naples and met with priests, religious and consecrated men and women at the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, the famed church that houses the vial of blood of St. Januarius, the city’s patron saint.
The excitement was palpable, even light hearted at times. Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe began by introducing the cloistered nuns present who he granted special permission to attend. Upon hearing the introduction, the nuns broke protocol and surrounded the Holy Father and presented a gift, to the amusement of all.
Cardinal Sepe, who pleaded with the nuns to take their seats, heartfully resigned, saying: “What can I say? They are cloistered nuns!”
After a brief address by the Archdiocese’s vicar for clergy and listening to a few questions from those present, the Pope decided to depart from his prepared speech, which he said “was a bit boring” and said he preferred to speak directly.
The Holy Father praised the enthusiasm of the religious men and women, especially the elderly who he said, follow in “the footsteps of Christ.”
Stressing the need for them to give witness in their religious life, the Pope said that Christ must be at the center, while exhorting them to not be caught up in fights or disagreements against superiors or colleagues.
“To leave making a family, having children, conjugal life, which is all beautiful, only to end up fighting with a bishop, a priest or the faithful, with a bitter face, this isn’t right,” he said.
“Jesus must be at the center.”
The Holy Father also exhorted seminarians to do the same. “I tell you one thing,” he said. “If you do not have Jesus at the center, hold off your ordination. If you are not sure that Christ is at the center, wait a bit more time to be sure. If not, you will start a path that you won’t know how to finish.”
Being a Witness of Mercy
Continuing his address, Pope Francis said that in order to place Christ at the center, they must first go to His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. “A priest, a bishop, a religious who does not pray to Our Lady, who does not pray the Rosary […], the Mother will be unable to give Her Son,” he said.
“The center and essence of Our Lady is a mother, who gives Jesus to us.”
The Holy Father also spoke on the importance of the spirit of poverty, even for those who have not taken a vow of poverty. The Pope recalled the story of a religious woman charged with monetary affairs who although did good things for the Church, her attachment to money became all too noticeable.
“Her final humiliation was public,” he said. “She was 70 years old. One day, she was in the break room of the school and she suffered a stroke and fell unconscious. The people even tried tapping her face to wake her up. Then a professor there said: ‘Give her a $100 bill and see if she awakes.’ But she had already died. These were the last words said about her, moments before she died. This is sad.”
While saying that it is alright to have savings “in a reasonable way”, the Pope warned of going to far as well as calling on the clergy to examine their life of poverty, even in the little things.
The witness that they must give, he said, is mercy. The Pope invited them to see whether they practice both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, especially in helping to transmit the faith to others.
A threat to this, he stressed, is worldliness and placing one’s own wants above others. He recalled an old convent in a diocese he once served that was renovated “too well, even luxuriously.”
“They put a television in every room,” he recalled. “And at the hour of the soap opera, you wouldn’t be able to find one nun in that school. This is where the spirit of the world takes you.”
“Worldliness is a danger, to live [in a] worldly [way], to live with the spirit of the world that Jesus didn’t want.”
The 78 year old Pontiff went on to say that one can easily distinguish between consecrated men and women who pray and don’t pray. Noting the vicar’s observation of the lack of vocations, Pope Francis said that the only their witness of life can attract new vocations to the priesthood and religious life. “A comfortable life does not help,” he said.
The ‘Terrorism’ of Gossip
Rounding out his address, Pope Francis said that the devil tempts those in religious life against communion and brotherhood. One of the signs against brotherhood, he said, was “the terrorism of gossip.”
“He who gossips is a terrorist who throws a bomb and destroys others,” he said. When there are differences, one should speak face to face with the person who they disagree with or with someone who can mediate between them.
Concluding his address, Pope Francis reminded the clergy and religious men and women of three things necessary to become witnesses of joy.
“The Church is not an NGO, the Church is the spouse of Christ, which is the most precious gift. Your way of living is to bring Jesus through adoration, love of the Church and [Apostolic zeal].