Pope Francis receives members of the Congregation of St Joseph on the 150th anniversary of their foundation by St Leonardo Murialdo, and highlights three aspects of their apostolate: the primacy of God’s love, attentiveness to the changing world, and ‘the paternal gentleness of charity.’
By Christopher Wells
Despite being one of the centres of Freemasonry and other anti-clerical movements, the Italian city of Turin in the late nineteenth century produced many saints, including Saint Leonardo Murialdi, who one hundred and fifty years ago founded the Congregation of St Joseph, known as Josephites or Murialdines.
A heritage of love
In an audience marking the anniversary, Pope Francis recalled the harsh context of the order’s foundation, while highlighting that the past century and a half has seen the Josephites enriched with “people, works, different cultural experiences, and, above all, a great deal of love.”
The Holy Father encouraged the Josephites to continue reading the signs of the times, responding to them “with the creativity of the Holy Spirit” – a commitment that requires “discernment and faithfulness.”
The primacy of God’s love
In particular, Pope Francis emphasized three aspects of this invitation that are important for their lives and ministry: “the primacy of God’s love; attention to the changing world; and the paternal gentleness of charity.”
Recalling the words and example of their founder, the Pope invited the religious to allow themselves to be loved by God “in order to be credible witnesses of God’s love.” He also noted St Leonardo’s grasp of the value of the laity and the apostolate of the People of God in the modern world, anticipating the insights of the Second Vatican Council.
The paternal gentleness of charity
Finally, he called them to seek and live out “the paternal gentleness of charity,” following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was both strong in witness and gentle in love.” He quoted St Leonardo, who said that just as one cannot be pleasing to God without faith, one cannot be pleasing to one’s neighbour without gentleness.
Pope Francis concluded his remarks with an invitation to the religious to “make yourselves saints – and do so quickly!” before thanking them for “what you are and what you do in the Church, in the footsteps of St Leonard and inspired by St Joseph.”