Pope to secular missionary priests: Be in the world, for the world

Pope Francis meets with members of an Institute of secular priests, stressing that secularity means “serving and bearing witness to the Kingdom of God in this world.”

By Joseph Tulloch
“The Church, and every baptized person, is in the world, is for the world, but is not of the world.”

Those were Pope Francis’ words on Thursday morning as he met with members of the Secular Institute of the Missionary Priests of the Kingship of Christ.

Members of the Institute are diocesan, or secular – rather than religious – priests, who live in various parts of the world under the jurisdiction of local bishops.

Their encounter with the Pope took place as part of the Institute’s 70th anniversary celebrations, and members presented Pope Francis with the floor plan of a new training centre under construction in Burundi.

Secularity vs secularism

Pope Francis began his address – which he did not read aloud, but instead handed over to be read later – by underlining “the value of secularity in the life and ministry of priests.”

“Secularity (secolarità),” he stressed, “is not synonymous with secularism (laicità).”

Secularity, he said, is rather “a dimension of the Church”, having to do with its mission to “serve and bear witness to the Kingdom of God in this world.”

If, the Pope said, secularity is a dimension of the Church, then it follows that priests, as well as lay people, are called to live it out.

Inspiration from St Francis

Pope Francis went on to praise the Institute’s way of living out their secular vocation.

Members of the Institute, he said, live “according to the Franciscan charism”, and are thus formed for “humble, available, and fraternal service.”

They also live, he said, “according to the model of the kingship of Christ, which consists in serving, in giving oneself generously, in solidarity with the poor and the excluded.”

Pope Francis brought his speech to a close by quoting a line from the Institute’s prayer to the Sacred Heart, which members recite every day.

“May we be in solidarity with, and friends of, the people, apostles of kindness and truth, so that the Gospel might become the heart of the world.”

The Secular Institute

The Secular Institute of the Missionary Priests of the Kingship of Christ was established in October 1953 in the Church of San Damiano in Assisi.

During their audience with the Pope, members provided the Pope with the floor plan for their new Spiritual Formation and Interreligious Dialogue Center, which the Institute is constructing in Burundi.

The Center will be dedicated to Monsignor Michael Courtney, an Apostolic Nuncio to Burundi who played a significant role in national reconciliation in the country, and was shot dead in 2003.

Among its aims is the goal of teaching the local population rainwater harvesting and wastewater filtration techniques.