Meeting in the Vatican with a group of parishioners from the Italian city of Rho, in the Archdiocese of Milan, Pope Francis highlights the role of the parish as a community walking together at the service of all and animated by the same love of Christ.
By Lisa Zengarini
“The world doesn’t end with ourselves, and we only really discover it by walking together, day by day.” Pope Francis stressed this on Saturday when meeting in the Vatican with some 2,000 pilgrims from two parishes of the northern Italian city of Rho, in the Archdiocese of Milan. The group was accompanied by the parish priest, Fr. Michele Di Tolve, whom the Pope has known personally since his days as a cardinal.
Walking together as brothers and sisters
Noting that their parishes bring together “different and complementary generations, backgrounds, services and gifts,” Pope Francis reminded the Italian parishioners that the “richness of this variety and communion” is the essence of the Church and “the most powerful means” by which the Gospel can be proclaimed, “even before uttering any word.”
“The Church is a body made up of many members, all at the service of one another and all animated by the same love: that of Christ. And when the Church is not like that, it falls into worldliness, it falls into clericalism, which is a very bad thing.”
He emphasized the importance of walking together as brothers and sisters, “because fraternity makes people freer and happier.”
The parish is blessed place where we go to feel loved
This is why, said the Pope, the parish community is so important, ”because it is the place where, in following Jesus, we meet, get to know each other, enrich one another, it’s people of different generations and from different cultural and social backgrounds, all with something unique to give and to receive.”
It is “blessed place where we go to feel loved”, where we can share our burdens, but also positive things.
When we forget this, Pope Francis remarked, “the horizon shrinks and we all feel more alone”, as we can see in our cities.
Welcoming and respecting differences
“Loving”, the Pope further explained, “means ‘widening the circle’, building unity in trust and acceptance, working together and always seeking common points and opportunities to form community, rather than reasons for division.”
Parishes should always “respect differences” and be welcoming, he insisted.
“People never tire of asking and calling, and we must never get tired of opening our doors and windows,” he reminded priests. “You are a priest for this reason, you are in the parish circle for this reason: to open doors, to open windows, to always welcome with a smile. (…) This is what the pastoral care of a parish is all about.”
The Pope went on to renew his warnings against gossip, which he said is a “great enemy” in parishes, as everywhere else. “Gossip kills,” he said. “It is plague that ruins parishes, families and many things.”
Dialogue between generations
Wrapping up his address, Pope Francis thanked the community of Rho for keeping alive the spiritual legacy of St. Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan who played a vital role in the 16th century plague outbreak and in the Counter-Reformation in Italy.
He encouraged the elders to continue passing on the tradition they received from past generations, enriched by their commitment and testimony, and young people to talk with their elders, so they can “receive strength” from them while looking ahead to new horizons.