Pope Francis applauds holy, faithful service of priests

Pope Francis praises holy priests who faithfully serve their flocks and highlights three keys for forming Christ-like clerics, in his address to participants in the Dicastery for the Clergy-sponsored International Conference for the Ongoing Formation of Priests.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

“May all discover, through the witness of our lives, the beauty of the saving love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, Who died and rose from the dead,” Pope Francis said to participants in the International Conference for the Ongoing Formation of Priests on Thursday. The conference, taking place from 6-10 February, was organized by the Dicastery for the Clergy, in cooperation with the Dicasteries for Evangelization and for the Eastern Churches.

In his address, the Holy Father expressed his gratitude for all that priests do to serve their dioceses and countries, and stressed the importance of being merciful, especially in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He encouraged them to always show Jesus’ immense love and the Blessed Mother’s tenderness when hearing confessions.

Applauding the fruits of the Conference, the Pope called on priests to listen to one another and to let themselves be inspired by the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to Timothy that provided the theme for your Conference: “Fan into flame the gift of God that you possess” (2 Tim 1:6).

“Revive that gift, rediscover that anointing, rekindle that flame, so that your zeal for the apostolic ministry will not fade,” he said, before asking, “How can we fan into flame the gift that we have received?”

Pope Francis gave three recommendations in response: cultivating the joy of the Gospel, which he said, is at the basis of our life; fostering a sense of being part of God’s people, who watch over us and sustain us; and living “generative service, which makes us true fathers and pastors.”

Pope Francis addresses participants in international conference on priestly formation
Pope Francis addresses participants in international conference on priestly formation

Joy of the Gospel

The joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis insisted, is at the heart of the Christian life, since the gift of friendship with the Lord sets us free from the dreariness of individualism and the risk of a life without meaning, love, and hope.

“The joy of the Gospel, the Good News that accompanies us,” the Pope said, “is precisely this: God loves us with a tender and merciful love.” Therefore, he said, this God-given joy must be exemplified by our lives.

“Let us keep in mind the words of Saint Paul VI: we need to be witnesses before being teachers, witnesses to the love of God, the only thing that truly matters.” Indeed, being disciples of the Lord, he stressed, is not about “exterior religiosity” but about “a style of life, and this calls for the cultivation of our human qualities.”

The Pope urged them to devote resources to human formation.

“We need priests who are fully human, capable of healthy relationships, and mature in confronting the challenges of ministry,” he said, “so that the consolation of the Gospel may reach the people of God through their humanity transformed by the Spirit of Jesus. Let us never forget the humanizing power of the Gospel!”

Being part of God’s people

Inviting the participants to cultivate a sense of being part of God’s people, the Pope said, “We can only be missionary disciples all together.”

“Realizing that we are part of a people – never feeling separated from the journey of the holy faithful people of God – preserves us, sustains us in our efforts,” he said. Moreover, he emphasized, it “accompanies us in our pastoral concerns and keeps us safe from the risk of growing detached from reality and feeling all-powerful.”  The Pope cautioned against this last trait in particular, saying, “It is also the root of every form of abuse.”

Priestly formation, Pope Francis said, ought to draw upon the contribution of the people of God, and on the reciprocity and constant interplay between the various states of life, vocations, ministries, and charisms.

He called for humble wisdom that fosters walking together: together with the people to whom he belongs, but also with his Bishop and his brother priests.  “Let us not neglect priestly fraternity!” he said.

‘Generative’ service

Speaking of “generative” service, the Pope said service is “the identity card” of Christ’s ministers. He recalled that the Lord witnessed this by His entire life, and particularly at the Last Supper, when He washed the feet of His disciples.

“Seen in this light,” the Pope said, “formation as service is not simply the transmission of a body of teachings, but also the art of concentrating on others, bringing out all their beauty and all the good that they carry within, shedding light on their gifts but also on their shadows, their wounds and their desires.”

A priest formed in this way, he said, will put himself at the service of the people of God, be close to people, and, like Jesus on the Cross, “willingly shoulder responsibility for all.”

“Brothers and sisters, let us gaze upon the Cross,” Pope Francis said, adding, “From there, by loving us to the end, the Lord begot a new people.”

Putting ourselves at the service of others, becoming fathers and mothers for those entrusted to our care, the Pope explained, is “the secret” of a “generative” pastoral activity.  “It is not centred on us,” he said, “but generates daughters and sons to new life in Christ.”

Pope Francis concluded by saying that being merciful is essential to offering the Lord’s love and closeness to His faithful, and telling them to “always forgive.”

Pope Francis greets participants in Vatican-organized International Conference on priestly formation
Pope Francis greets participants in Vatican-organized International Conference on priestly formation