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Pope’s Address at Opening of Rome’s Ecclesial Congress

Evangelical realisms soils its hands because it knows that ‘wheat and weeds’ grow together, and the best wheat — in this life — will always be mixed with a bit of weed”

At 7:00 pm today, Pope Francis opened the Ecclesial Congress of the Diocese of Rome. The theme this year is: “’The Delight of Love’: The Path of Families to Rome in the Light of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

After the greeting of the Cardinal Vicar Agostino Vallini and the opening prayer, Pope Francis addressed the families, catechists, priests and pastoral workers present.

Here is a ZENIT translation of the prepared text of his address.

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The theme of your Diocesan Congress is “The Delight of Love: The Path of Families to Rome.” I will not begin by speaking of the Exhortation, given that you will examine it in different working groups. I would like to recover, together with you, some key ideas/tensions that emerged during the Synodal course, which can help us to understand better the spirit that is reflected in the Exhortation — a Document that can orient your reflections and your dialogues and thus “bring courage, stimulation and help to families in their commitment and in their difficulties” (AL 4).

I would like to do so with three biblical images, which enable us to have contact with the passage of the Spirit in the discernment of the Synodal Fathers.

1.“Put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). This was God’s invitation to Moses before the burning bush. The terrain to cover, the topics to address in the Synod were in need of a specific attitude. It was not about analyzing any argument; we were not facing any situation. We had before us the concrete faces of so many families. I learnt that, in some groups, before beginning the works, the Synodal Fathers shared their own family reality. This giving of a face to topics exacted (and exacts) — so to speak — an atmosphere of respect capable of helping us to listen to what God is saying to us within our situations. Not a diplomatic or politically correct respect, but a respect charged with honest concerns and questions that looked to the care of the lives we are called to feed. How much it helps to give a face to topics! It frees us from being in a hurry to obtain well-formulated conclusions but often lacking of life. It frees us from speaking in the abstract, to be able to approach and commit ourselves to concrete individuals. It protects us from ideologizing the faith through well-architected systems but which ignore grace. And this can only be done in an atmosphere of faith. It is faith that pushes us tirelessly to seek God’s presence in the changes of history.

Every one of us has had a family experience. In some cases thanksgiving gushes with greater facility than in others, but we have all lived this experience. God came to meet us in that context, His Word came to us not as a sequence of abstract texts, but as a fellow traveler that has sustained us in the midst of sorrow, has animated us in celebration and has always indicated to us the end of the journey (AL, 22). This reminds us that our families, the families in our parishes with their faces, their stories, with all their complications “are not a problem but an opportunity” — an opportunity that challenges us to arouse a missionary creativity capable of embracing all the concrete situations, in our case, of Roman families. Not only those that come to or are in the parishes, but to be able to reach the families of our districts. This meeting challenges us not to hold anything or anyone as lost, but to seek to renew the hope of knowing that God continues to act within our families. It challenges us not to abandon anyone because he is not up to the measure of what is asked of him. And this imposes on us to come out of statements of principle to enter the beating heart of Roman neighborhoods and, as artisans, to mold in this reality God’s dream, something that only persons of faith can do, those that do not close the passage to the Spirit’s action. To reflect on the life of our families, as they are and as they find themselves, calls us to take off our shoes to discover God’s presence.

2.Now the second biblical image, that of the Pharisee, when he prayed saying to the Lord: “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). One of the temptations (cf. AL , 229) to which we are continually exposed is to have a separatist logic. We think we gain in identity and security every time we differentiate ourselves and isolate ourselves from others, especially from those that are living in a different situation.

I consider it necessary to take an important step: we cannot analyze, reflect and even less so pray about the reality as if we were on different banks or paths, as if we were outside of history. We are all in need of conversion; we are all in need of putting ourselves before the Lord and of renewing every time our covenant with Him and of saying, together with the tax collector: My God, have mercy on me who am a sinner! With this point of departure, we remain included in the same “part” and we put ourselves before the Lord in an attitude of humility and of listening.

In fact, to look at our families with the delicacy with which God looks at them helps us to put our consciences in His same direction. The accent put on mercy puts us before the reality in a realistic way, not, however, with just any realism but with God’s realism. Our analyses are important and necessary and they will help us to have a healthy realism. But nothing is comparable to the evangelical realism, which does not halt at the description of situations, of problems, — even less of sin — but always goes beyond and succeeds, seeing behind every face, every story, every situation an opportunity, a possibility. Evangelical realisms is committed to the other, to others and does not make ideals and of “having to be” an obstacle to encounter others in the situations in which they find themselves. It is not about not proposing the evangelical ideal; on the contrary, it invites us to live it within history, with all that it entails. This does not mean not to be clear in Doctrine, but to avoid falling into judgments and attitudes that do not take in the complexity of life. Evangelical realisms soils its hands because it knows that “wheat and weeds” grow together, and the best wheat — in this life — will always be mixed with a bit of weeds. “I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the good- ness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”. The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faith- ful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or undu- ly harsh or hasty judgements. The Gospel itself tells us not to judge or condemn (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37)” (AL, 308).

3.“Old men shall dream dreams” (cf. Joel <2:28>). Such was one of Joel’s prophecies for the time of the Spirit. Old men shall dream dreams and young men shall see visions. With this third image, I would like to underscore the importance that the Synodal Fathers gave to the value of testimony as the place in which God’s dream can be found and the life of men. In this prophecy we contemplate an unbreakable reality: in the dreams of our old men resides many times the possibility that our young men have new visions, have a future again, a tomorrow, a hope. They are two realities that go together and that are in need of one another and are connected. It is lovely to find spouses, couples that as elderly people continue to seek one another, to look at one another; they continue to love one another and to choose each other. It is so lovely to find “grandparents” that show on their faces, wrinkled by time, the joy that is born of having made a choice of love and for love.

As a society, we have deprived our elderly of their voice; we have deprived them of their space; we have deprived them of the opportunity to tell us about their life, their stories and their experiences. We have set them aside and thus we have lost the richness of their wisdom. By discarding them, we discarded the possibility of having contact with the secret that enabled them to go forward. We are deprived of the testimony of spouses that not only persevered in time, but that keep in their heart gratitude for all that they have lived (cf. AL , 38).

This lack of models, of testimonies, this lack of grandparents, of parents able to tell dreams does not enable the young generations to “have visions.” It does not enable them to make plans, given that the future generates insecurity, mistrust and fear. Only the testimony of our parents, to see that it was possible to struggle for something that was worthwhile, will help them to raise their eyes. How can we pretend that young people live the challenge of the family, of marriage as a gift, if they continually hear from us that it is a burden? If we want “visions,” let us allow our grandparents to tell us, to share with us their dreams, so that we can have prophecies of the morrow.

Three images:

  1. The life of every person, the life of every family must be treated with much respect and much care, especially when we reflect on these things.
  2. Let us beware of putting in the field a pastoral plan of ghettoes and for ghettoes.
  3. Let us give space to the elderly so that they can dream again.

Three images that remind us how “the faith does not take us out of the world but inserts us more profoundly in it” (AL , 181). Not like those perfect and immaculate ones that think they know it all, but as persons that have known the love that God has for us (cf. 1 John 4:16). And in this confidence, with this certainty, with much humility and respect, let us approach all of our brothers to live the joy of love in the family. With this trust we give up “niches” “which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and instead to enter into the reality of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness” (AL, 308). This imposes on us the development of a family pastoral ministry capable of receiving, accompanying, discerning and integrating. A pastoral ministry that permits and renders possible the appropriate scaffolding so that the life entrusted to us finds the support of which it is in need to develop according to God’s dream.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]

Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQ5h2efV0a4

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