He continued: “We need to become immersed in the real lives of people and ask ourselves: what are their spiritual needs and expectations? What do they expect from the Church? It seems important to me to try to respond to these questions.”
He offered three words to help guide Catholics: freedom, creativity, and dialogue.
He noted that many people were afraid of freedom, saying: “We would rather get along by doing what others -- perhaps the masses, or public opinion, or the things that the media sell us -- decide for us. This should not be. And today so many times we do the things that the media decide for us.”
He recalled the biblical episode in which the Israelites asked if they were better off living in servitude in Egypt, with a guarantee of onions, than wandering exhausted in the desert.
He also referred to the story of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s masterpiece “The Brothers Karamazov,” who rebuked Jesus for giving humans freedom, insisting that what they needed was bread.
He said: “Sometimes in the Church too this idea can take hold. Better to have everything readily defined, laws to be obeyed, security and uniformity, rather than to be responsible Christians and adults who think, consult their conscience and allow themselves to be challenged. That’s the beginning of casuistry, all regulated…”
“In the spiritual and ecclesial life, we can be tempted to seek an ersatz peace that consoles us, rather than the fire of the Gospel that disturbs and transforms us. The safe onions of Egypt prove more comfortable than the uncertainties of the desert.”
“Yet a Church that has no room for the adventure of freedom, even in the spiritual life, risks becoming rigid and self-enclosed. Some people may be used to this. But many others -- especially the younger generations -- are not attracted by a faith that leaves them no interior freedom, by a Church in which all are supposed to think alike and blindly obey.”
He continued: “Dear friends, do not be afraid to train people for a mature and free relationship with God. This relationship is important.”
“Perhaps this will give us the impression that we are diminishing our control, power, and authority, yet the Church of Christ does not seek to dominate consciences and occupy spaces, but rather to be a ‘wellspring’ of hope in people’s lives.”
The pope urged bishops and priests to be attentive to their flock’s need for freedom as the country undergoes rapid changes.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
“For this reason, I encourage you to help set them free from a rigid religiosity,” he said. “Get out of this, and let them grow free.”
“No one should feel overwhelmed. Everyone should discover the freedom of the Gospel by gradually entering into a relationship with God, confident that they can bring their history and personal hurts into his presence without fear or pretense, without feeling the need to protect their own image.”
“To be able to say: ‘I am a sinner,’ but to say it sincerely, not beat our chests and then continue to believe we are righteous. Freedom.”
“May the proclamation of the Gospel be liberating, never oppressive. And may the Church be a sign of freedom and welcome.”
Pope Francis recalled receiving a letter from a bishop complaining about the pope’s representative in his country.
The letter said: “We were 400 years under the Turks and we suffered. Then 50 under communism and we suffered. But the seven years with this nuncio were worse than the other two.”