Pope Francis will participate this Wednesday in Rome, the opening of the 184th General Chapter of the Order of Saint Augustine, that begins in the Church of the same name, situated a few steps away from Piazza Navona.
The Fathers will continue the chapter till mid-September at the Patristic Institute “Agustinianum”. The mandate for the current Prior General, Fr. Robert Prevost, will end and a new one will be chosen during the chapter. The program for the next six years will also be prepared.
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ZENIT spoke with Fr. Angelo Di Placido, pastor of the Church of Saint Augustine in Rome, who spoke on how the Holy Father’s invitation came about.
ZENIT: How did this idea for the Holy Father’s visit came to be?
Fr. Angelo: It wasn’t by chance but through an event. I asked to celebrate [Mass] at Sanctae Marthae with the Holy Father on the occasion of my 70thbirthday and it was granted. Later, as is customary for the Pope, he spoke with everyone there and it was there that I expressed above all my gratefulness. Then I took the liberty to joke around, telling him that I was much older than him in the priesthood, even though we were ordained in the same year. He in March and I in December and the Pope laughed loudly.
Knowing that he lived in a clergy residence, near the Church of Saint Augustine, I said: “Surely you have been there many times since it is on the way towards the Vatican.” “Father,” Francis said, “perhaps Saint Monica got tired of my prayers, for the repeated times I entered in that Church to pray before her tomb, because there are so many families in crisis in today’s world that need it.”
I had asked my prior general, before leaving to Sanctae Marthae, if I could invite [the Pope]. And right there I spontaneously said: “If you came as a Cardinal, why don’t you come as Pontiff? There are two reasons, one because you are already family as you showed before; and because on the Feast day of Saint Augustine the General Chapter of the Augustinian Order will be opened. “
ZENIT: And what did he answer?
Father Angelo: He did not give me a definitive answer. Later, the prior general wrote a letter and began this adventure that we will live on Wednesday.
ZENIT: Has there ever been a General Chapter with the presence of a Pope?
Father Angelo: This would be the first time, probably in history, that a Pope opens a General Chapter of the Augustinian Order. In other chapters, after the new Prior General was elected, we would all go to Castel Gandolfo to greet the Pope, who would address us and the meeting would conclude with a photo. Now it will be a celebration and a moment of grace for the order. Moreover because this Pope, like all the Popes, is special and we needed him in this special moment.
ZENIT: Is there an Augustinian side to Francis?
Father Angelo: Now I’ll hypothesize for a bit: our charism is to live a communal life. In fact, our rule begins saying: “Before all else, dear brothers, love God and then your neighbor… (Ch.1; Rule of St. Augustine) As St. Augustine did, when he was a lay person he joined with his friends to study, to live and preach the Sacred Scripture.
Later he was obligated to be a priest and then a bishop, but he never abandoned the idea of living together the communion of goods and spirits. I see this in Pope Francis. The fact that he did not want to live alone in the papal apartments, because he wanted to speak, eat with others, is for me a bit of the Augustinian style, which is the apostolic rule of the Acts of the Apostles in the first verses.
ZENIT: Francis has quoted Saint Augustine various times, right?
Father Angelo: He also quotes him in the encyclical “Lumen Fidei” although we know he wrote it with Benedict XVI who quoted Saint Augustine many times.
How do you see Pope Francis’ preaching?
Father Angelo: Francis is very descriptive, he uses words and images, I cannot forget that homily in Sanctae Marthae. He began commenting on Saint Paul who spoke on the charisms and gifts of the Spirit and that we all should live those gifts. He said: “And what does the world invite us to do? To live other gifts; we cannot make a fruit salad, hearing a little bit of the Spirit and a little bit of the world; because Jesus said or you are with me or against me.” And that word, “fruit salad”, is there anything that can erase that from my memory?