Pope Francis encouraged Catholics on Wednesday to love the Church, recognizing the “goodness and holiness” within it as well as the “inconsistencies” and sins.

At his general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Feb. 16, the pope said that only love enabled people to “speak the truth fully.”

“We live in a time in which it is common to criticize the Church, to point out its inconsistencies — there are many — its sins, which in reality are our inconsistencies, our sins, because the Church has always been a people of sinners who encounter God’s mercy,” he said.

“Let us ask ourselves if, in our hearts, we love the Church. The people of God on a journey, with many limitations but with a great desire to serve and love God. In fact, only love makes us capable of speaking the truth fully, in a non-partisan way; of saying what is wrong, but also of recognizing all the goodness and holiness that are present in her, starting precisely with Jesus and Mary.”

“Loving the Church, safeguarding the Church and walking with the Church. But the Church is not that little group that is close to the priest and commands everyone, no. The Church is everyone, everyone. On the journey. Safeguarding one another, looking out for each other.”

The pope dedicated his live-streamed general audience to “St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church.” He explained that it would be the final installment in his cycle of catechesis on Jesus’ foster father, which he launched in November 2021.

He said that the catecheses were intended to complement his apostolic letter Patris corde, which marked the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the Catholic Church by Blessed Pius IX.

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Pope Francis said that the title was rooted in the Gospels.

“In fact, at the end of every story in which Joseph is the protagonist, the Gospel notes that he takes the Child and His mother with him and does what God has ordered him to do,” he said.

“Thus, the fact that Joseph’s task is to protect Jesus and Mary stands out. He is their principal guardian: ‘Indeed, Jesus and Mary His Mother are the most precious treasure of our faith,’ and this treasure is guarded by St. Joseph,” he added, citing Patris corde.

The pope described the Holy Family — Jesus, Mary, and Joseph — as “the primordial nucleus of the Church.”

“And we too ‘must always ask ourselves whether we are protecting Jesus and Mary with all our strength, who are mysteriously entrusted to our responsibility, our care, our custody,’” he said, again quoting his apostolic letter.

“And here there is a very beautiful mark of the Christian vocation: to guard. To guard life, to guard human development, to guard the human mind, to guard the human heart, to guard human work. The Christian is — we can say — like St. Joseph: he must guard. To be a Christian is not only to receive the faith, to confess the faith, but to guard life, one’s own life, the life of others, the life of the Church.”

The pope noted that Jesus came into the world as a vulnerable child.

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“This Child is the One who will say: ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40). Therefore, every person who is hungry and thirsty, every stranger, every person without clothes, every sick person, every prisoner is the ‘Child’ whom Joseph looks after,” he said.

“And we are invited to guard these people, these brothers and sisters of ours, as Joseph did. That is why he is invoked as protector of all the needy, the exiled, the afflicted, and even the dying — we spoke about this last Wednesday.”

“And we too must learn from Joseph to ‘safeguard’ these goods: to love the Child and His mother; to love the sacraments and the people of God; to love the poor and our parish. Each of these realities is always the Child and His mother. We are to guard, for by this we guard Jesus, as Joseph did.”

Concluding his final catechesis on St. Joseph, Pope Francis urged Catholics to turn to the saint at the most difficult times for them and their communities.

“Where our mistakes become a scandal, let us ask St. Joseph to give us the courage to speak the truth, ask for forgiveness, and humbly begin again,” he said.

“Where persecution prevents the Gospel from being proclaimed, let us ask St. Joseph for the strength and patience to endure abuse and suffering for the sake of the Gospel.”

“Where material and human resources are scarce and make us experience poverty, especially when we are called to serve the last, the defenseless, the orphans, the sick, the rejected of society, let us pray to St. Joseph to be Providence for us.”

A summary of the pope’s catechesis was read out in seven languages and he greeted members of each language group.

In his address to English-speaking Catholics, he said: “I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s audience, especially those from Nigeria and the United States of America. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy and peace. God bless you!”

Speaking to Italian pilgrims, he referred to the Order of Clerics Regular Minor. He recalled that a young member of the order, Father Richard Masivi Kasereka, was killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Feb. 2 after offering Mass on the World Day of Consecrated Life.

He said: “The death of Father Richard, victim of unjustifiable and deplorable violence, should not discourage his family, his religious family and the entire Christian community of that nation from being heralds and witnesses of goodness and fraternity, despite the difficulties, imitating the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.”

Pope Francis concluded his catechesis by reading the prayer to St. Joseph at the end of his apostolic letter:

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.

Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.