Below is a working ZENIT translation of Pope Francis’ pronounced address to the participants in the Congress promoted by the National Office for the Pastoral of Vocations of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), on the theme “Arise, Go Forth and Fear Not. Vocations and Sanctity: I Am on a Mission” (Rome, January 3-5, 2017). The prepared text was distributed to them in the Vatican this morning, before the Pope gave these off-the-cuff remarks:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning! I have prepared this address [he shows the written one], which has five pages. It’s too soon to fall asleep again! So I will give it to the Secretary General and try to tell you what comes to mind, what comes to me to say … You [he turns to Monsignor Galantino} will then make it known …
When Monsignor Galantino began to speak [in his greeting to the Holy Father] and said the motto of the meeting, “Get up! … there came to mind <the time> when this word was said to Peter, in prison, it was said by the Angel: “get up!” (Acts 12:7). He didn’t understand anything. “Wrap your mantle around you …” And he didn’t know if he was dreaming or not dreaming. “Follow me.” And the gate opened and Peter found himself on the street. There he realized it was reality, that it wasn’t a dream: it was the Angel of God who freed him. “Get up!” he had said to him. And he got up in a hurry and went with him. And where should I go? I should go where surely the Christian community is. And he truly went to a house of Christians, where everyone was praying for him. Prayer … He knocked on the door, the maid come out, looked at him and, instead of opening the door, she went back. And Peter was frightened because the guard was there who went around the city. And she <said>: “Well, I never ….it’s Peter!” – “No, Peter is in prison!” – “No, it’s Peter’s ghost” – “No, Peter is there, it’s Peter!” And Peter knocked <and> knocked. That “get up” was stopped by fear, by the foolishness – but, we don’t know – of a person. I believe he was called … [Rode]. It is complicated, the complicated situation of those, who out of fear, because of lack of security, prefer to close the doors. I wonder how many young people, boys and girls, hear in their heart today that “get up!” – and how many priests, consecrated <persons>, Sisters – close the doors. And they end up frustrated. They heard the “get up!” and knocked on the door … Yes, yes , we are praying” – “it’s not possible now, we are praying.” Between parenthesis, when one of you learned that I was coming to you to talk about vocations, he said: “Tell them to pray for vocations instead of holding so many congresses!” I don’t know if it’s true, but we do want to pray, but to pray with the door open! – with the door open. Because to content oneself only by holding a congress, without ensuring that the doors are open, serves no purpose. And doors open with prayer, good will, risk; take risks with young people. Jesus told us that the first method to have vocations is prayer, and not all are convinced of this. “I pray … yes, I pray every day an Our Father for vocations, namely, to do what is required. No, it must be prayer that comes from the heart! The prayer that makes the Lord say more times that “get up!” : Get up! Be free, be free! Get up, I want you with me. Follow me. Come to my <place> and see where I dwell. Get up! ”But with the doors closed, no one can enter the Lord’s <house>. And we have the keys to the doors – not just Peter, no, no, all <of us>.
Open the doors so that they can enter the churches. I have learned that in some dioceses of the world, which were blessed with vocations, speaking with the Bishops, [I asked]: “What did you do?” First of all, a letter from the Bishop, every month, to the persons who wished to pray for vocations: little old ladies, the sick, spouses … A letter every month, with a spiritual thought, with an aid to accompany the prayer. Bishops must accompany the prayer — the prayer of the community. It is necessary to find a way … This is the way in which those Bishops – three or four I heard – found the way. But so often Bishops are committed, there are so many things … Yes, yes but we must not forget that the first task of Bishops is prayer! The second task is the proclamation of the Gospel. And theologians don’t say this; it was said by the Apostles, when they had that small revolution in which many Christians complained […] .We, in this Church of Rome had a good deacon, we had Lawrence, who gave his life, he took care of these things … And at the end of the proclamation, when he announces to the Christian community, Peter says: “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word (cf. Acts 6:4) But someone could say to me: “Father, are you speaking to the daughter-in-law so that the mother-in-law will hear?” Yes, it’s true. The first thing is to pray, it’s what Jesus said to us: “Pray for vocations.” I could make the greatest pastoral plan, the most perfect organization, but without the leaven of prayer it will be unleavened bread. It will have no strength. To pray is the first thing. And that night, when Peter was knocking on the door, the Christian community was praying. The text says: “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (cf. Acts 12:5). They were praying. And when there is prayer, the Lord listens always, always! But to pray not like parrots but to pray with the heart, with life, with everything, with the desire that this, which I am requesting, be done — to pray for vocations.
Think if you could do something of this nature, as these Bishops did, who were humble people: “You take on this commitment, every day do a prayer”; and nourish this commitment always. Today with a booklet, next month with a letter, then a holy card …, so that they feel connected in prayer, because the prayer of all has so much strength. The Lord Himself says so — then the open door. It’s enough to cry when one goes to a parish, to some parishes … And, between parenthesis, I would like to say that the Italian parish priests are very good! I’m speaking in general, but this is a testimony that I wish to give: I have never seen in other dioceses, in my homeland, in other dioceses such strong organizations, made by parish priests, as here. Think of volunteer work: in Italy volunteer work is something that is not seen elsewhere. It’s a great thing! And who did it? — the parish priests. The country parish priests, who serve one, two, three regions, they come and go, know everyone’s name even the dogs’ … the parish priests. Then the Oratory in Italian parishes: it’s a strong institution! And who did this? The parish priests! The parish priests are good. But sometimes — and I speak of the whole world – one goes to a parish and finds a writing on the door: “The parish priest receives on Monday, Thursday and Friday from 3:00 to 4:00 pm; or “There are confessions from this to that hour.” These open doors … How many times – and I am speaking of my previous diocese – how many times there are secretaries, consecrated women, who receive people, who frighten people! The door is open but the secretary makes them see her teeth, and the people run away. Hospitality is needed. Hospitality is necessary to have vocations. It is the house in which one receives.
And, speaking of young people, welcome young people. This is a third, somewhat difficult thing. Young people are tiring, because they always have an idea, they make noise, they do this, they do that …. And then they come: “But I would like to speak with you …” – “Yes, come.” And <always> the same questions, the same problems: “I told you …” They are tiring. If we want vocations: open doors, pray and be nailed to the chair to listen to young people. “But they are imaginative! … Blessed be the Lord! It is up to you to make them “land.” Listen to them: the apostolate of the ear. “They want to go to confession, but they always confess the same things” – You did also, when you were young, have you forgotten? Patience, listen so that they may feel at home, welcomed, that they feel well loved. And more than once they do childish things: thank God, because they aren’t old. It’s important to “spend time” with young people. Sometimes they annoy, because – as I said – they always come with the same things; however, the time is for them. More than speaking to them, it’s necessary to listen to them, and to say only a “little drop,” a word here, and so on, and they can go. And this will be a seed that will work from within. But you might say: “Yes, I was with the parish priest, with the priest, with the Sisters, with the President of Catholic Action and he listened to me as if he had nothing to do.” Young people understand this well.
Then, another thing about young people: we must be attentive to what they seek, because young people change with the times. In my time, there was the ‘fashion’ of meetings. “Today we’ll speak about love,” and each one prepared the subject of love, there was conversation … we were satisfied. Then, we left there and went to the Stadium to see a match – there wasn’t television yet – we were calm. Works of charity were carried out, visits to hospitals … everything systematized. But we were rather “motionless” in the figurative sense. Today young people must be in motion, young people must walk; to work for vocations it is necessary to make young people walk, and this is done accompanying them. Do a marathon? No! Invent, invent pastoral actions that involve young people, something that will make them do something: during the holidays we go for a week to carry out a mission in the region, or to make another engage in social aid, or every week we go to hospitals, this one, that one … or to feed the homeless in the big cities … they are there … Young people need this, and they feel themselves as a part of the Church when they do this. Even young people who don’t go to Confession, perhaps, or don’t receive Communion, but put them all on the way. And while walking, the Lord speaks, the Lord calls. And an idea emerges: we must do this …; I would like to do ….; and they get involved in others’ problems — young people on the way, not motionless. Motionless young people who have everything secure are retired young people! And there are so many today! Young people who have everything taken care of: they are retirees of life. They study, they will have a profession, but their heart is already closed. And they are retired. Therefore, walk, walk with them, make them walk, make them go. And they find questions on the way, questions which are difficult to answer! I confess to you, when I visited some countries or even here in Italy, in some cities, I usually have a meeting or a lunch with a group of young people. The questions they ask in those moments make one tremble, because you don’t know how to answer … Because they are restless [in the positive sense: they are seeking], and this restlessness is a grace of God, it’s a grace of God. You can’t stop restlessness. They might say silly things sometimes, but they are restless, and this is what counts. And it’s necessary to make this restlessness walk.
“Get up!” Open doors. Pray — closeness to them, listening to them. But they are boring! …Listen to them, make them walk, make them go, with proposals to “do.” They understand better the language of the hands than that of the head or the heart; they understand doing: they understand it well! They think this and that, but they understand, they do well if you give them something to do. They understand well: they have an acute capacity to judge; we must systematize the head a bit, but this comes, it comes with time.
And finally, the last thing that comes to mind for the vocational pastoral is testimony. It’s true that a boy, a girl, hears the Lord’s call, but the call is always concrete, at least in the majority of times, most of the time it is: “I would like to become like her or like him.” It is our testimonies that attract young people — testimonies of good priests, of good Sisters. Once a Sister went to speak at a college — she was a Superior, I believe a Mother General, in another country, not here – she gathered – this is historical – the educational community of that college of Sisters , and instead of speaking of the challenge of education, of the young people that are being educated, of all these things, this Mother General began to say: “We must pray for the canonization of our Founding Mother” and she spent more than half an hour talking about the Founding Mother, that such a thing must be done, to ask for a miracle … But the educational community, the men and women professors [were thinking]: “But why does she say these things to us, when we are in need of something else … Yes, this is good, that she be beatified and canonized, but we are in need of another message.” In the end, one of the women professors – good, this one was good, I knew her, said: “Mother, may I say something?” – “yes” – “Your Mother will never be canonized” – “But why?” “Well, because she is surely in Purgatory” – “But don’t say such things! Why do you say that?” “Because she founded you. Because if you who are the General are so — let’s say – silly, to say no more, your Mother General was unable to form you.” Isn’t it so? It is the testimony: that they see in you living what you preach. What led you to become priests, Sisters, also laymen that work with strength in the Lord’s House. And not people that seek security, that close the doors, that frighten others, that speak of things that don’t interest, that annoy young people, that don’t have time … “Yes, yes, but they are somewhat in a hurry …” No. There must be a great testimony!
I don’t know, this and that that burst from my heart beginning with the ‘get up!’ that I heard Monsignor Galantino say, of the motto of your meeting. And I have spoken of that which I feel. And I thank you for what you do; I thank you for this Congress; I thank you for the prayer … And forward! We must go forward so that the world does not end with us …
Now, before the blessing, let us pray to Our Lady: Hail Mary …”[Original text: Italian] [Working Translation of Pope’s off-the-cuff remarks by ZENIT]