During his one day his visit to Italian town Cassano all'Jonio, Pope Francis met with the priests of the diocese, speaking of the joy of the priesthood, but also of the dangers of an individualistic culture.
“I would first of all like to share with you the joy of being priests. The ever new surprise of having been called by the Lord Jesus. Called to follow him, to be with him, to go to others bringing him, his word, his forgiveness,” the Pope stated in his June 21 address to the priests.
“There is nothing more beautiful for a man that this, right?”
Cassano all’Jonio is a small town in the province of Cosenza of Calabria, located in the south of Italy. The Vatican confirmed the pontiff’s visit there in April, following a statement made by the town’s Bishop Nuncio Galantino, secretary-general of the Italian Episcopal Conference, who had said that the pontiff had voiced his intention to visit the nuncio's diocese.
Opening his speech to the priests, the Bishop of Rome thanked them for their welcome, revealing that he has “greatly desired this encounter with you who bear the burden of daily parish work.”
Drawing their attention to the “joy of being priests,” Pope Francis explained that there is no greater happiness than being called by God and to bring his word and mercy to others.
“When we priests are in front of the tabernacle, and we stop there for a moment, in silence, then we feel the gaze of Jesus upon us once again, and this gaze renews us, revives us” he said, observing that making this pause is not always easy.
“It's not easy because we have taken on so many things, so many people” he noted, “but sometimes it's not easy because we feel a certain discomfort, Jesus' gaze troubles us a bit, also puts us in crisis...but this does us good!”
Being in prayerful silence allows Jesus to show us whether “we are working as good laborers, or (if) perhaps we have become a like ‘employees,’” the Roman Pontiff explained.
He reveals to us “If we are open ‘channels’ through which his abundant love flows, or if we put ourselves at the center,” the Pope observed, stating that if this happens “instead of being ‘channels,’ we become ‘screens’ that don't help to encounter the Lord, or the light and strength of the Gospel.”
Moving to a second point, Pope Francis called the attention of those gathered to “the beauty of brotherhood: of being priests together.”
It is the beauty “of following the Lord not on our own, one-on-one, but together, despite the wide variety of gifts and personalities” he said, explaining that this variety “only enriches priests, this providential variety, of age, of talents...and all lived in communion, in fellowship.”
Going on, the Roman Pontiff pointed out that doing this is also not easy or immediate, “because we priests are also immersed in the subjective culture of today, this culture that exults the self until the point of idolization.”
There is also the problem of “a certain pastoral individualism that unfortunately is widespread within our dioceses” the Pope noted, encouraging the priests to “react to this with the choice of brotherhood.”
“I intentionally say ‘choice.’ It can't be a thing left to chance, or favorable circumstances...No, it's a choice that corresponds to the reality which constitutes us, to the gift that we have received but that should always be welcomed and cultivated: communion in Christ in the presbytery, around the bishop.”
Describing how this fraternity ought to be put into practice through concrete means that adapt to the times and the needs of their region, the pontiff explained that it must also always be done “in an apostolic perspective, with a missionary style, with brotherhood and simplicity of life.”
Pope Francis concluded by drawing the priests’ attention to one final aspect of their current ministry, which he stated is the importance of “your work with families and for the family.”
“It's a work that the Lord asks us to do in a particular way in this time, which is a difficult time for both the family as an institution, and for families, because of the crisis” he said.
However “just when the time is difficult, God makes his closeness felt, his grace, the prophetic power of his Word” the pontiff observed, “and we are called to be witnesses, mediators of this closeness to families and of this prophetic strength for the family.”
“May we go forward, animated by our common love for the Lord and for the Holy Mother Church” he prayed, and “may the Virgin Mary protect and accompany you. May we remain united in prayer.”