At 7 p.m. the evening of May 5, 2019, the Holy Father Francis went to the Papal Basilica of Saint John Lateran for a meeting with the Diocese of Rome.
The Cardinal Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, Angelo De Donatis, welcomed the Pope on his arrival. Present, among others, were Auxiliary Bishops, priests, men and women religious, hundreds of lay people from the parishes and other ecclesial realities of the diocese of Rome, as well as chaplaincies and Catholic schools of the city.
This meeting concluded the course of reflection on “remembering” and on “reconciliation” carried out by the parishes and by various ecclesial groups, in the course of the pastoral year, at the request of the Cardinal Vicar.
Then, after a moment of prayer, and a few brief testimonies, the Holy Father gave his address.
Here is a translation of the Holy Father’s address to those present at the Meeting.
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The Holy Father’s Address
Thank you for your intervention and your listening.
The first temptation that can come, after hearing so many difficulties, so many problems, so many things that are lacking, is: “No, no, we must re-order the city, re-order the diocese, put everything in its place, put order.” This would be to look at ourselves, to turn within to look at ourselves. Yes, things would be re-ordered and we would have put in place a “museum” — the city’s ecclesiastical museum — everything in order . . . This means to domesticate things, to domesticate young people, to domesticate people’s heart, to domesticate families, to engage in calligraphy, everything perfect. However, this would be the greatest sin of worldliness and of an anti-evangelical worldly spirit. It’s not about re-ordering. We heard [in the preceding interventions] about the imbalances of the city, the imbalance of young people, of the elderly, of the families . . . The imbalance of relations with children . . . Today we have been called to bear the imbalance. We can’t do anything good, evangelical if we are afraid of imbalance. We must take up the imbalance concretely: this is what the Lord says to us, because the Gospel — I think you’ll understand me — is an “imbalanced” doctrine. Take the Beatitudes: they deserve the Noble Prize for imbalance! The Gospel is like that.
The Apostles got nervous when sundown came and the crowd — 5,000 the men alone — continued to listen to Jesus. And they looked at their clock and said: “This is too much, we must pray Vespers, Compline . . . and then eat . . . “And they sought a way to “reorder” things: they approached the Lord and said: “Lord, take leave of them, because the place is deserted: let them go to buy something to eat for themselves,” in the desert plain. This is the illusion of balance of the people “of the Church,” in quotation marks. And I believe — I can’t remember where I said it — that clericalism began there. Take leave of the people, let them go, and we’ll eat what we have.” Perhaps the beginning of clericalism is there, which is a good “balance,” to order things.
I took note of the things I was hearing and that touched my heart . . . And then, on this path of “ordering things” we will have a good functionalized diocese — clericalism and functionalism. I’m thinking — and I say this with charity, but I must say it — of a diocese — there are several, but I’m thinking of one — which has everything functionalized: the Department of this, the Department of that, and each one of the Departments has four, five, six specialists that study things . . . That diocese has more dependents than the Vatican! And today that diocese — I don’t want to name it out of charity — that diocese distances itself every day more from Jesus Christ, because it worships “harmony,” not the harmony of beauty, but of functionalist worldliness. And, in such cases, we have fallen into the dictatorship of functionalism. It’s a new ideological colonization that seeks to convince that the Gospel is wisdom, is a doctrine, but its not a proclamation, its not a kerygma. And so many leave the kerygma, inventing synods and counter-synods, . . . that in reality aren’t synods; they are a “reordering.” Why? Because to be a synod — and this is also true for you [as diocesan assembly] the Holy Spirit is needed; and the Holy Spirit kicks the table, He throws it out and starts again. Let us ask the Lord for the grace not to fall into a functionalist diocese. However, I believe that, according to what I heard, things are well oriented. And <so> we go forward.
Then, this evening, I would like to understand better the cry of the people of the diocese: it will help us to understand better what the people ask the Lord. That cry is a cry that we also don’t listen to or that we easily forget. And this happens because we have stopped living with the heart. We live with ideas, with pastoral plans, with curiosity, with pre-established solutions, but it’s necessary to live with the heart. I was struck by what Father Ben [Director of Caritas] tried to do for that boy [that he saw take a piece of bread from a dumpster]: he was ashamed of himself, he was not capable of going to ask him: “What are you thinking, how is your heart, what are you looking for?” If the Church doesn’t take these steps, she will remain closed, because she will be unable to listen with the heart. <She will be> a Church deaf to the cry of the people, deaf to listening to the city.
I would like to share some reflections that I have here — which they have prepared for me and which I have “doctored” a bit –, reflection that illuminate the way for next year. We can begin from an evangelical passage; then I will recall some passages of the address I gave to the Italian Church at Florence [November 10, 2015], which is, in fact, the style of our Church. “What a beautiful address that was! Ah, the Pope spoke well; he indicated the path well, and bring on the incense . . . But today, if I were to ask: “Tell me something of the Florence address” — “Ah, yes, I don’t remember . . . “<it> disappeared. It entered in the alembic of intellectual distillations and ended without force, as a memory. Let us take up again the Florence address that, with Evangelii Gaudium, is the plan for the Church in Italy, and is the plan for this Church of Rome.
We can begin with a passage of the Gospel.[Reading of Matthew 18:1-14]
Keep well in mind and in the heart that, when the Lord wishes to convert His Church, namely, to make her closer to Himself, more Christian, He always does this: He takes the littlest one and puts him at the center, inviting all to become little and to “humble themselves” — the evangelical text says literally — to become little as He, Jesus, did. The reform of the Church begins with humility, and humility is born and grows with humiliations. Thus it neutralizes our pretentions of greatness. The Lord doesn’t take a child because it is more innocent or simpler, but because children under 12 years had no social relevance at that time. Only one who follows Jesus on the way of humility and makes himself small can truly contribute to the mission that the Lord entrusts to us. One who seeks his own glory won’t be able to listen to others or to listen to God, so how will he be able to collaborate in the mission? Perhaps one of you, I can’t remember who, said to me that he didn’t want to incense: but among us there are so many mistaken “liturgists” who haven’t learned to incense well: instead of incensing the Lord they incense themselves and live like this. How can one who seeks his own glory be able to recognize and receive Jesus in the little ones that cry to God? All his interior space is occupied with himself or with the group to which he belongs — persons like us, so often — who have no eyes or ears for others. Therefore, the first sentiment to have in the heart to be able to listen, is humility, and being careful not to show contempt for little ones, no matter who they are, young people affected by orphanhood or ending in the tunnel of drugs, families tried by the everyday or shattered in <their>relations, sinners, the poor, strangers, persons that have lost the faith, persons who never had the faith, elderly, disabled, young people that look for bread in filth, as we heard . . . Woe to those that look down on others, that show contempt for little ones, also when their styles of life, their ways of reasoning are very far from the Gospel; nothing justifies our contempt. One who is without humility and shows contempt will ever be good evangelizer, because he will never see beyond the appearances. He will think that the others are only enemies, those “without God,” and he will lose the occasion to listen to the cry they have within, that cry that is often the pain and dream of a “somewhere else,” in which the need of salvation is manifested. If pride and presumed moral superiority don’t dull our hearing, we will realize that under the cry of so many people there is nothing other than a genuine groan of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Spirit that drives us once again not to be content, to seek to set out on the way again; it’s the Spirit that will save us from such diocesan “reordering,” which, among other things, is window dressing: to want to change everything so that <in fact> nothing changes.
The second necessary trait — the first is humility: to listen, you must abase yourself –; the second necessary trait to listen to the cry is unselfishness. It’s expressed in the evangelical passage of the parable of the shepherd that goes in search of the lost sheep. This good shepherd has no personal interest to defend: his only concern is that no one be lost. Do we, who are here this evening, have personal interests? Each one should think: what is the hidden, personal interest that I have in my ecclesial activity? Vanity? I don’t know . . . each one has his own. Are we worried about our parish structures, about the future of our Institute, about social consent, about what people will say if we occupy ourselves with the poor, the migrants, the Rom? Or are we attached to that little bit of power that we still exercise over persons of our community or of our neighbourhood? We have also seen parishes that made serious choices, under the inspiration of the Spirit, and <then> so many faithful that went there moved away because “oh, this parish priest is too exacting, <he is> also somewhat Communist,” and people go away when the complaints don’t reach the Bishop . . . And if the Bishop isn’t courageous, if he isn’t a man who has humility, a selfless man, he calls the priest and says to him: don’t overdo, you know, <have> a bit of balance . . . “But the Holy Spirit doesn’t understand balance; He doesn’t understand it. He understands the [. . .] Indifference to oneself is the necessary condition to be able to be full of interest in God and in others, to truly be able to listen to them. <Then> there is the “sin of the mirror,” which suffocates us. The Lord listened to the cry of men that He met and made Himself their neighbour, because he had nothing to defend and nothing to lose, He didn’t have “a mirror”: He had His conscience in prayer, in contemplation with the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit. This was His secret, and that’s why He went forward. He left the ninety-nine safe and began to look for the lost one. We, instead, as I have said at other times, are often obsessed with the few sheep that have remained in the enclosure; and many stop being shepherds of sheep to become “hairdressers” of the exquisite sheep. And they spend their whole time combing them. Many? No. Ten. . . a small thing . . . it’s awful. We never find the courage to look for the others, those that are lost, that go on paths we have never trodden. Please, let us convince ourselves that everything merits being left behind and sacrificed for the good of the mission.
Leave pride behind, be humble; leave wellbeing behind, interest in oneself. In face of the mission, Moses was afraid, he made a thousand resistances and objections; he tried to convince God to turn to someone else, but in the end, he came down with God in the midst of his people and began to listen. May the Lord fill our heart with the daring and freedom of one who is not bound by interests and wants to get involved with empathy and sympathy in the midst of others’ lives.
The last trait of the heart, which is necessary to listen to the cry and to evangelize is to have experienced the Beatitudes. Today I was speaking with a Rabbi, a very good friend, who came from Buenos Aires, and he said to me: “I find in the Law that our point of departure for the Judeo-Christian dialogue is the law of love: Thou shalt love thy God with all your strength and thy neighbour as yourself. And in the Gospel, in the Christian Books, what do you think is a text that can help us a lot? “I said to him immediately: “The Beatitudes.” The Beatitudes are a Christian message, but also a human <message>. It’s the message that makes you live, the novel message . . . It has always helped me to think that the Beatitudes also reach pagan and agnostic people. In his time, Gandhi himself confessed that it was his favourite text. The Beatitudes: it means having learned from the Lord and from life where true joy is, that which the Lord gives us, and to be able to discern where to find it and have others find it, without mistaking the way. One who mistakes the way or who stumbles, perhaps with the presumption of walking on the way of God, risks making others make a mistake or stumble. We see it in some Pelagian Movements or in some esoteric or gnostic movements, which are among us today: all stumble, all, they are incapable of going towards a horizon; they go slightly forward <but then> return to themselves; they are egocentric proposals. Instead, the Beatitudes are theocentric, which look at life, which lead you forward, which despoil you but render you lighter to follow Jesus. And Jesus talks about not scandalizing little ones. Why? Because scandal is a stumbling block; you haven’t understood the spirit of the Beatitudes. We think of the world of Doctors of the Law. It was a constant stumbling block. The people knew they didn’t have authority: [the Doctors] scandalized. And on this path, we end up becoming blind guides: we stumble and we make those we pretend to help, stumble. To fragile persons, wounded by life or sin, to little ones that cry to God we can and must offer the life of the Beatitudes that we have also experienced, namely, the joy of the encounter with God’s mercy, the beauty of a communal family life where one is listened to for what one is, of truly human relations full of meekness. I’ll pause a bit on this. In these days I’m a bit obsessed with meekness. It’s a word that risks <disappearing> from the dictionary, as the verb “caress” has almost <disappeared> . . .. Meekness, tenderness, Jesus’ gestures of tenderness . . . Meekness accepts each one as he is. The richness of very poor means, without special effects . . . Today, in the meeting with the Rom, I met Sister Genevieve, who has been living among them for 50 years, also with the circus people of Luna Park, in a caravan. <It’s> simple: she prays, smiles, caresses, does good with the Beatitudes. The very poor means of listening, of face-to-face dialogue, the enthusiasm of working together courageously for justice and peace, mutual help in the moment of toil or persecution, the daily splendour of contemplating God’s face in the liturgy with a pure heart, of listening to the Word, in prayer, in the poor . . . does all this seem little to you? This is the way. It’s true that the Beatitudes given by God aren’t our “main dish”: we must still learn; we must try, on this way, to offer our fellow citizens the main dish that will make them grow. And when we find it, see how the faith flowers, puts down roots, is grafted on the vine that is the Church, of which it receives the lymph of the life of the Spirit. Do we think we have to offer something else to the world, if not the Gospel believed in and lived? I beg you, let’s not scandalize the little ones offering the spectacle of a presumptuous community . . . I invite you to visit the Apostolic Almonry: there, Cardinal Krajewski, who is somewhat of a “little devil,” has put a photograph by a young artistic photographer of Rome: it <pictures> the exit of a Restaurant, in winter, with a lady of a certain age, somewhat elderly, coming out, with a fur, a hat, gloves, a most elegant lady; just by looking <at her> you smell the scent of French perfume, everything perfect . . . , and by the door, on the pavement, is another woman, dressed in tatters, who stretches out her hand, <but> the elegant lady looks away. That photograph is called indifference. Go see it. Let us not scandalize the little ones. Let us not fall into indifference. If we offer the spectacle of a presumptuous community — as this photograph –, selfish, sad, who lives competition, conflict, exclusion, we deserve Jesus’ words: “I don’t need you, you’re not useful to Me for anything. Rather, why do you risk doing much damage — Jesus would say — it would be better if you disappeared, <if you> threw yourself to the bottom of the sea,” so as not to scandalize. Rome is a bit far from the sea, but <one could say>: “Go, throw yourself into the Tiber.”
At Florence I then asked all the participants in the Congress to take up Evangelii Gaudium. This is the second point of departure of post-Conciliar evangelization. Why do I say “second point of departure”? Because the first point of departure is the greatest document that came out after the Council: Evangelii Nuntiandi [of Paul VI, December 8, 1975]. Evangelii Gaudium is an update, an imitation of Evangelii Nuntiandi for today, but the first is the <real> force. Take up Evangelii Gaudium, return to the path of missionary transformation of the Christian communities proposed in the pages of the Exhortation. I ask the same of you this evening, directing you in particular to a part of the second chapter of Evangelii Gaudium, that of the challenges to evangelization, the challenges of the urban culture — the numbers that go from 61 to 75. I stress two things, that, in view of next year’s path, also represent two asks, which I entrust to you.
To cast a contemplative, look on the life of persons that live in the city; to look. And to do this, we will try in every parish to understand how people live, how they think, what those feel who live in our neighbourhood, the adults and the young people; we will try to gather life stories. Stories of exemplary life, signifying what the majority of the people live. We can gather these life stories by questioning, with friendship, the parents of children and youngsters, or by going to meet the elderly; please, don’t forget them. Now they are better cared for, as work is lacking and an elderly <person>has his pension, he is cared for better; the elderly man . . . But make old <people> talk: not to become antiquated, no, but to have the smell of the roots and to be able to go forward rooted. We, with the technology of the virtual, risk losing our rooting, the roots, becoming uprooted, liquid as a philosopher said — or, rather, as I like to say, gaseous, without consistency, because we aren’t rooted and we have lost the juice of the roots to grow, to flower, to bear fruits. Let us make the elderly talk, don’t forget this – a listening of the people that is increasingly the cry of the little ones. However, above all, have a contemplative look, to get close with this look . . . And to get close by touching the reality. The touch, the five senses, it’s the fullest, the most complete.
2) Second task: to cast a contemplative look on the new cultures that are generated in the city. We know it; the city of Rome is an organism that beats: let us be aware that there, where people live and meet, something new is always produced that goes beyond the individual stories of its inhabitants. In Evangelii Gaudium I stressed that it is in fact the urban contexts which are the places where a new culture is produced: new stories, new symbols, new paradigms, new languages, new messages (Cf. n. 73), because there are people that do not have access to the same possibilities of life as others, and who are rejected: segregation, violence, corruption, criminality, drug trafficking and human trafficking, abuse of minors and abandonment of the elderly. Thus, unbearable tensions are generated. As you recalled, in districts of Rome there are wars among the poor, discriminations, xenophobia and also racism. Today I met 500 Rom in the Vatican and I heard painful things, xenophobia. Be careful, because the global cultural phenomenon — let’s say at least European — of populisms is growing, sowing fear. However, there is also much good in the city, because there are positive places, fecund places: there, where citizens meet together and dialogue in a solidary and constructive way, see how a “connective fabric is woven where persons and groups share different ways of dreaming about life, similar imaginations, and new human sectors are constituted, invisible cultural areas” (Ibid.).
May the Lord bless our listening to the city, and <now>, we give ourselves an appointment at Pentecost. It will be for us the encounter with the Lord’s face in the burning bush. We will take off our sandals, we will veil our face and say to God our “yes”: We follow You as You come down in the mist of the people, to listen to the cry of the poor.
Thank you![Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]