Pope Francis met the evening of May 14, 2018, in the Vatican Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome with the bishops, priests, religious, and lay leaders of the Diocese of Rome.
The meeting concluded the course initiated by the parishes and prefectures during the Lenten Season, on “Spiritual Sicknesses.” The guiding principle of the work carried out up to now has been a set of pointers given by the Holy Father in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
Monsignor Angelo De Donatis, Vicar General of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome, welcomed the Pope on his arrival. Present among others were the Auxiliary Bishops, the priests, the men and women religious and lay representatives of the parishes, of the ecclesial realities, of the chaplaincies and of the city’s Catholic schools.
After the moment of the initial prayer, Father Paolo Asolan, Professor at the Redemptor Hominis Pontifical Pastoral Institute of the Pontifical Lateran University, presented to the Holy Father the synthesis of the works carried out by the parishes and edited by a Diocesan Commission.
Subsequently the Pope answered off-the-cuff four questions that were posed to him by H. E. Monsignor Angelo De Donatis, on behalf of those present and, immediately after, he pronounced his address.
Here is a ZENIT translation of the Holy Father’s question and answer session:
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The Holy Father’s Answers to the Questions Posed to Him by H.E. Monsignor De Donatis, on Behalf of Those Present
Thank you for your work. It’s the first time I feel the success of a diocesan <”gathering”>! Thank you, you worked well. Thank you.
H.E. Monsignor De Donatis (First question)
There are some questions. The first is this:
Dearest Pope Francis, you have heard from Father Paolo a synthesis of the work that our communities carried out this year on the spiritual diseases that afflict us. It hasn’t always been easy to recognize the deep root, namely, the spiritual: we see well the blocks that impede us from deciding and dedicating ourselves with more passion and with greater ease to evangelization. It was as if we had to recognize that, despite our efforts, even generous, something “was sick at the root,” undermining the ecclesial organism and rendering it sterile in a certain sense. As you can imagine, the temptation of frustration, of bitterness, can gain ground, and with it, a sense of impotence. It would be as if we were made to enter a mechanism that would make us go around in circles again, and we don’t want to go around in circles. We want to start again and start well, in such a way that these diseases set in motion a process of healing . . . How is this done? Is there a basic therapy that you could prescribe for all our diseases? How does the Lord wish to heal them? And how does He want us to grow through the our experience of them?
Some words have struck me: for instance, “root.” Speaking of sin, of defects, of diseases, there is always need to go to the root, because otherwise the diseases remain and return. Then, that attitude of frustration, of bitterness when – it’s a daily experience – when I go to Confession, I always say the same things. If, when you go to Confession, that it is the usual case, stop and ask what is happening, because otherwise there is that bitterness: this doesn’t change . . . No. There is need of help there. Bitterness, frustration is when you feel that you can’t change, that you can’t heal. Stop, think. Impotence. The Lord wants to make us grow with the experience of healing: it’s no accident that in the Gospels the Lord – without being a healer or a witch doctor, healed, healed, healed . . . It’s a sign of the redemption, a sign of what He came to do: to heal our roots. He healed us fully: grace heals in depth. It doesn’t anesthetize; it heals. And this experience of healing that we’ve seen in the Lord — in His life He healed in depth and with spiritual dialogue — we must do the same as diocesan Church.
However, how to do it? Each one must find the way. How to do it? You can’t on your own: no one can heal himself on his own, no one. It’s necessary that someone help me. The Lord is the first. . Having identified the disease, having identified the sin, having identified the defect, having identified the root – that bitter root of which the Letter to the Hebrews speaks –that bitter root having been identified, first talk with the Lord: “Behold what I have; I can’t stop, I always fall into the same thing . . .” And then, look for someone to help me, go to the “clinic,” namely, go to a good soul who has this charism of help. And it doesn’t have to be necessarily a priest: the charism of spiritual accompaniment is a lay charism that is given to us at Baptism – priests also have it, because they are baptized, thank God! –; a charism can be the community, it can be an elderly person, a young person, one’s spouse . . . In sum, to be helped by another and to talk: “Look at this . . .”
To talk with Jesus, to talk with another, to talk with the Church. And I believe this is the first step. Then, it will be helpful to read something on that argument. There are beautiful things; there are also methods to resolve some of these diseases. Two years ago I gave the Cardinals, for Christmas greetings, a very beautiful thing that was written by Father Acquaviva: “Devices to Cure Diseases of the Soul.” It was published by Monsignor Libanori and Father Forlai … This also helps to see how diseases are: “Ah, I have this one!” – and how to heal them. I can do all this: pray, talk with another, read . . . However, the only one that can heal is the Lord – the only One.
H.E. Monsignor De Donatis: (Second question)
There is a second <question>. We realize that the disease of individualism has also produced in our ecclesial body a certain crushing, made by as many isolations. The multiplicity and diversity of the experiences of faith and of community from which we come, although being very valid in themselves (they have generated us, they have enabled us to be here this evening!), were lived in an isolated, self-referential manner, namely, not well harmonized in the one Church, which is this diocesan Church. Because the international center of “everything” is in Rome (Movements, Associations, paths, Religious Institutes, University centers, etc.), it happens that each one takes what he likes most, or that which is most useful for his spiritual path and <journey> of faith, isolating himself or distancing himself from all the rest. With the same logic of the supermarket, which produces a faithful-consumer: except that here the product that is offered is “spiritual well-being,” detached from communion with others. Lost thus is belonging to the People of God; one no longer understands why the Church is necessary, why others are necessary: in particular this Church, which the diocese is. How can one recover this communion with the diocese? How can one rediscover the taste of being the holy people of God? How can we go beyond exclusive and reassuring memberships of our group?
This is a very important question here in Rome, where there are so many ways . . . in Rome one finds everything: here one learns the “I can know everything.” One can do everything; everything is in abundance here. This hurts the stomach and doesn’t let one digest the things of which one is in need.
This individualism, which causes crushing, the isolated self-referential conscience, is always a “gazing of one’s navel.” Those persons that look at themselves and look for – this is a great danger – a personal menu: not the one of which they are in need, the one the doctors points out to one, no, but the one that one likes. Or they look for novelty. Those that look for novelties, that are anxious for novelties – I’m speaking of good Christians, who want to give themselves something to do but feel this, that the other . . . novelties. One who seeks novelty needs a realistic voice that says: “But look, stop. Stop and go to the essential. Look for what can heal you, not novelties — one after the other.” I have two anecdotes that might help, both on the Spiritual Exercises. One is the fact that it became fashionable some years ago in Buenos Aires, to do the first week of the [Ignatian] Exercises, the one of self-knowledge, of sins, of repentance, with somewhat Oriental psychological techniques, strange . . . ; and there were people that went for that novelty, and they served for nothing, because <although> they <found> the novelty they didn’t change. They only sought novelties. And the other anecdote on the Exercises tells us that these novelties are “chosen” only with a good dose of realism, that with this anxiety it’s necessary that someone give me a slap to wake me up. They were Exercises for women religious and the priest who was giving the Exercises was a person who had a special doctrine of spirituality, also in consonance with the world, with the cosmos; in sum, things of that sort . . . And there was a Sister – about 60 – who was in hospital for 40 years, a Spaniard, of those good ones. It was the period she had for the Exercises and she registered there. However, this priest had a somewhat Oriental method of doing the Exercises; for instance, he advised the Sisters: “the first thing you must do in the morning is have a bath, a vital shower,” all rather strange things . . . He made the Sisters sit in a circle, some twenty Sisters, and he began to say: “relax, let yourselves go . . .” That Spanish Sister was sat down . . . However, after the second meditation she got up and said: “Father, I came to do the Exercises, not gymnastics. Thank you so much and goodbye,” and she left. Sometimes one wants people that give one a slap, when we are looking for novelties: wanting the cream without the cake.
We must seek that which renders us Church, the food that makes us grow as Church. And the danger in this case is one of the two pointed out in the Exhortation on Holiness: Gnosticism, which makes one seeks things but without incarnation, without entering in one’s incarnate life. And thus one becomes more individualistic, more isolated, with one’s Gnosticism. And when there are people like this, or when the majority is like this, or a good number that has influence is like this, the diocese falls into that description of a Gnostic Church: “A God without Christ, a Christ without the Church, a Church without people.” And when there is a Church without people, there are these perhaps very exquisite liturgical services but without force: the people of God are not there. A month ago a Bishop said to me, speaking more or less of the people of God, that the piety of the people of God, incarnated so, is the Church’s “immune system.” Speaking of diseases, the immune system is that popular piety that always acts in community. As Blessed Paul VI says in no. 48 of Evangelii Nuntiandi, it’s true that it has its defects, but it has so many virtues. The defects must heal, but the virtues must grow. Always value the holy people of God, which in its totality is infallible in credendo (Cf. Lumen Gentium, 12).
“How can we go beyond the exclusive and reassuring memberships of our group? It’s always necessary to examine this: “Do I go with the people of God? Improving, certainly, but do I always want a people with the Church, a Church with Jesus Christ incarnate, a Jesus Christ with God?” That is the inverse path; it’s the only way: the community that heals, communal spirituality heals us.
H.E. Monsignor De Donatis (Third question)
The third <question>: A certain tiredness is diffused among us, a loss of tension and passion that has seized all: priests, Religious, laity. The life of a post-Conciliar parish in Rome (in general large parishes in a large city) is very demanding. It seems that the time is never enough to do all that is given us to do, to reach all the objectives, that there is never enough <time>. The ordinary life of parishes “eats” all our time, so that not much is left to cultivate a spiritual life, to think, to plan, to undertake new things. We don’t hide from you, Pope Francis, that sometimes, when a new initiative is launched in the diocese, it’s received more with suspicion if not downright annoyance, than with enthusiasm. We feel the need for you to help us to identify some prospects on which to concentrate our strength in the coming years in Rome — not many: two or three. Our Magna Carta is Evangelii Gaudium, certainly, but we feel the need for you to help us to translate it into “Romanesque,” with an horizon and a clearer and shared direction, so that time acquires a different rhythm, less frantic, that makes us live participating in depth in the <life> we live.
This is true: it can happen sometimes that the apostolic work of a parish is thought as the sum of initiatives, of works . . . And it’s difficult, there, to carry forward something of the sort — this and that and the other . . . to add without harmonizing. The question, in this Novena of the Holy Spirit, is on harmony. How is parish harmony doing? How is diocesan harmony doing? How is family harmony doing? The Holy Spirit is harmony – says Saint Basil in his treatise on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the One that creates the confusion and brings about the harmony! Because He is in fact a champion in creating confusion; suffice it to read the Acts of the Apostles. All that confusion He made at the beginning of the Apostolic Church . . . but He also creates harmony. And it’s the same in your life: He creates confusion in parish life, which always goes together with harmony, when He does it. And when confusion, that is, the quantity of things that are done are of the Spirit, it always becomes harmonious, and this doesn’t tire, this doesn’t exhaust. Discernment goes in that direction: the harmony of the Spirit. The harmony of the Spirit is one of the things that we must always seek, but always with that variety. He is capable of uniting many different things, which He Himself has created. This is in fact the point to resolve this difficulty: how does the Holy Spirit create harmony in me, in my diocese? <It’s necessary to> question oneself on harmony, which is not the same as “order,” no. Order can be static; the harmony of the Spirit is something dynamic: it’s always on the way.
“But how can I do it?” I’ll mention three concrete points that can help to find this harmony: first, the Person of the Lord, Christ, the Gospel in hand. We must habituate ourselves to read a passage of the Gospel every day: every day a passage of the Gospel, to be able to know Christ better. Second: prayer, to engage in dialogue with Him, brief <dialogue> . . . And third, the works of mercy. With these three points I believe this sense of annoyance disappears and we move toward harmony, which is so great. However, it’s always necessary to ask for the grace of harmony in one’s life, in one’s community and in one’s diocese.
H.E. Monsignor De Donatis (Fourth question)
We haven’t forgotten the reflections we made last year on young people, on the occasion of the diocesan Congress, or the commitment made not to leave them alone — the youngsters and their families. Your words have made us understand that, as a Christian community, we must “wake up” from our sleep and our laziness and rediscover our maternal vocation to accompany youngsters in life and in the path of faith, paying attention to what they have experienced, to their world, putting ourselves in dialogue with them and taking up their life questions . . . In Rome, we are only at the beginning of a re-thinking of the youth pastoral: there are generous experiences going around, in the parishes and in the Associations, but there is still so much disorientation and uncertainty in the world of adults; hence the impression that exists, which has not yet been truly put into play. In order to re-launch our reflection on this point, we would like to ask you: what impressions did you receive from the pre-Synod with young people, held in March in the Vatican? If there is a cry that issued from the world of youth today, what is it? To what in particular should we pay attention?
I had a good impression of the pre-Synod, of the pre-Synodal assembly of young people. In the beginning, I spent a whole half day with them, the day of Saint Joseph, and then they continued to work. They were numbered 315 more or less, linked with 30,000. They were young people of the whole world, Christians, non-Christians, non-believers, well selected so that they would be courageous in speaking. And they worked seriously. The secretaries of the Synod told me — the Salesian and the Jesuit that worked with them, Father Sala and Father Costa — who were up until four at night working on the Document in the last days, taking the document seriously. The young people truly wanted to speak seriously. In the beginning they asked me questions – like these, but they were more educated! – but then among themselves they were encouraged to say what they felt and it went well. The Document they did is very beautiful, it’s strong . . . You can request it from the Synod’s Secretariat because it’s interesting. This is the impression I received.
What is the cry of young people? The cry of young people isn’t always conscious. I link it with one of the gravest problems, which is the problem of drugs. The cry is: “save us from drugs,” but not only from material drugs, but also from alienating drugs, from cultural alienation. They are in fact an easy prey for cultural alienation: the proposals made to young people are all alienating, all alienating — those that society makes to young people. Alienating of values, alienating from insertion in the society, alienating even from society: they propose a fantasy of life. It worries me that they communicate and live in the virtual world. They live like this, communicating so, they don’t have their feet on the ground . . . On Friday I went to the closing of a course of Scholas Occurrentes with young people: they were from Colombia, from Argentina, from Mozambique, from Brazil, from Paraguay and other countries; some fifty young people who had had a course here on bullying. They were all there waiting for me. When I arrived they made a din, as young people do. I approached them to greet them and few shook my hand. The majority were with their mobile phone taking photos, photos, photos . . . selfies. I saw that that was their reality, that’s the real world, not human contact. And this is grave. They are “virtualized” young people. The world of virtual communications is a good thing, but when it becomes alienating it makes one forget to shake hands. They greet with the mobile phone – almost all <do>! They were happy to see me, to tell me things . . . And they expressed their authenticity thus. They greeted one thus. We must make young people “land” in the real world, touch the reality, without destroying the good things that there can be in the virtual world, because they are useful. This is important: the reality, the concreteness. Therefore, I go back to something I said earlier on another question: the works of mercy help young people a lot. To do something for others, because this makes them concrete, makes them “land.” And they enter into a social relationship.
Then, what I said last year: they are “uprooted” young people, because if one lives in a virtual world, one loses one’s roots. They must rediscover their roots, through dialogue with old people, with the elderly, because their parents are of a generation whose roots were not very solid. However, one can go to dialogue with the old, with the elderly. Let’s not forget what the poet said: “All that the tree has flowering, comes from what is under the earth’: go to the roots. In my judgment, one of the more difficult problems of young people today is this: that they are uprooted. They must rediscover their roots, without going back: they must rediscover them to go forward.
[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]