Pope Francis to the Superiors General

 On 29th November 2013, Pope Francis met 120 Superiors General of the men congregations. Here is an excerpt from the conversation of the Pope reported by Fr. Antonio Spadaro Sj.

pope -superiosThe New Hall of the Synod in the Vatican When Pope Francis speaks “off the cuff” and dialogs, his speech has a certain rhythm that “undulates” progressively; one would do well to follow it with care because it is fed by the living relations he experiences with his interlocutors. Those who notice should pay careful attention not only to the contents of what he says but also to the dynamic of the relationship that is created. This is what happened during the onversation that the Holy Father held with the Union of Superiors General of religious men at the end of their 82nd General Assembly……

 Pope Francis then listens to a few questions about formation. He answers immediately, indicating his priorities: “The formation of candidates is fundamental. There are four pillars of formation: spiritual, intellectual, communitarian and apostolic. The ghost to fight against is the image of religious life understood as an escape or hiding place in face of an “external,” difficult and complex world. The four pillars should be integrated right from the first dayof entrance into the noviceship, and should not be arranged sequentially. They must be interactive.”

 The Pope is aware of the fact that the problem of formation today is not easy to deal with: “Daily culture is much richer and conflictual than that which we experienced in our day, years ago. Our culture was simpler and more ordered. Inculturation today calls for a different attitude. For example: problems are not solved simply by forbidding doing this or that. Dialog as well as confrontationare needed. To avoid problems, in some houses of formation, young people grit their teeth, try not to make mistakes, follow the rules smiling a lot, just waiting for the day when they are told: ‘Good. You have finished formation.’ This is hypocrisy that is the result of clericalism, which is one of the worst evils. I said as much to the bishops of the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) this summer in Rio de Janeiro: we need to conquer this propensity toward clericalism in houses of formation and seminaries too. I summarize by some advice that I once received as a young man: ‘If you want to advance, think clearly and speak obscurely.’ That was a clear invitation to hypocrisy. We need to avoid that at all costs.” As a matter of fact in Rio the Pope identified clericalism as one of the causes of the “lack of maturity and Christian freedom” in the People of God.

 It follows that: “If the seminary is too large, it ought to be divided into smaller communities with formators who are equipped really to accompany those in their charge. Dialog must be serious, without fear, sincere. It is important to recall that the language of young people in formation today is different from that in the past: we are living through an epochal change. Formation is a work of art, not a police action. We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the People of God. This really gives me goose bumps.”

 The Pope then insisted on the fact that formation should not be oriented only toward personal growth but also in view of its final goal: the People of God. It is important to think about the people to whom these persons will be sentwhile forming them: “We must always think of the faithful, of the faithful People of God. Persons must be formed who are witness of the resurrection of Jesus. The formator should keep in mind that the person in formation will be called to care for the People of God. We always must think of the People of God in all of this. Just think of religious who have hearts that are as sour as vinegar: they are not made for the people. In the end we must not form administrators, managers, but fathers, brothers, traveling companions.”

 Finally, Pope Francis wanted to highlight a further risk: “accepting a young man in a seminary who has been asked to leave a religious institute because of problems with formation and for serious reasons is a huge problem. I am not speaking about people who recognize that they are sinners: we are all sinners, but we are not all corrupt. Sinners are accepted, but not people who are corrupt.” Here the Pope recalled Benedict XVI’s important decision in dealing with cases of abuse: “this should be a lesson to us to have the courage to approach personal formation as a serious challenge, always keeping in mind the People of God.”

 From the Report Antonio Spadaro sj, in Civilta Cattolica

Translation by Ronald Maldari sj