(The English transcription of the dialogue of Pope Francis with participants in the International Congress for Consecrated Young People on 17th September, 2015.)
I thank you. The Cardinal Prefect told me that you are 5,000 consecrated young people. I will begin with the questions that you prepared and that you had the courtesy to send me.
However, first of all, I know that among you there are consecrated from Iraq and from Syria. I would like to begin with a thought for our martyrs of Iraq and of Syria; they are our martyrs of today. Perhaps you know many or a few … Some days ago, in the Square, an Iraqi priest approached me and gave me a small cross: it was the cross that the priest who was beheaded had in his hand for not denying Jesus Christ. I carry this cross here …
In the light of this witness of our martyrs of today — who are more that the martyrs of the first centuries — and also of the martyrs of your Iraqi and Syrian land, I would like to begin our conversation thanking the Lord: may His Church complete in His Body, again today, what is lacking in Christ’s Passion, and ask for the grace of the very little daily martyrdoms, of the martyrdom of every day, in the service of Jesus and of our consecrated life.
And now, ask me your questions and then we shall see …
FIRST QUESTION: Holy Father, the Gospel, which all of us consecrated men and women have embraced as our way of life, tells us that the Lord Jesus answered two disciples who were following him and asked him: “Where do you live?” “Come and see.” In these days we have recalled our calling and the many other callings that the Lord has addressed to us since we answered the first time his invitation to follow him more closely and in a prophetic way. Holy Father, you have also heard the call to the consecrated life and have followed Jesus; you also will recall that “tenth hour” of the call. Is it too bold to ask you to share with us how your first call was, in that Spring of 1953 …What fascinated you about Jesus and the Gospel? Why did you become a Religious; why did you become a priest?
POPE: Where are you from? (applause)
A: I am from Aleppo, Syria … (applause)
SECOND QUESTION (in English)
Dear Holy Father, in Evangelii gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, you remind us that all the baptized, regardless of their position in the Church or their level of education in the faith, are agents of evangelization and that this evangelization, a missionary task, must be carried forward with spirit: an evangelization that burns in one’s heart and that is very different from a series of tasks lived as a burdensome obligation that one simply tolerates or endures as something that contradicts one’s personal inclinations and desires. Dear Holy Father, what is the mission of consecrated young people in the Church today? Where should we go? To whom should we turn for help and how? Where is the Church sending us?
POPE: What is your name? Where are you from and from what Institute?
A: (in English): Holy Father, my name is Sister Mary Giacinta; I come from India and I belong to the Sisters of Charity of the Child Mary.
THIRD QUESTION (in Spanish):
Holy Father, this question was written by a cloistered Sister, who was unable to be with us here today … Because I think that it can refer to all the consecrated. We, consecrated young people of today, belong to a generation that some have described as “liquid and unstable,” with few roots, which has difficulty in committing itself totally. At times our families are not structured; we belong to a generation that often prefers comfort and relativism — all that is immediate, light, to be used and thrown away … After having concluded the first stage of formation to consecrated life and having made solemn vows, we also often feel a certain instability in our itinerary in following Christ. How can we avoid falling into mediocrity?
POPE FRANCIS’ ANSWERS
I thank you. I thank Sarah, Mary Giacinta and Pierre. I thank all three.
We begin with Sarah, because you touched upon a very serious problem, which is comfort in consecrated life: “we must do this …, We are tranquil …, I observe all the commandments, I must carry out here the rules …, I am observant …” But that is what Saint Teresa of Jesus said about rigid and structured observance, which takes away freedom. And she was a liberal woman, so free that she had to go to the Inquisition. There is a freedom that comes from the Spirit and there is a freedom that comes from worldliness. The Lord calls you – and he calls us all – to that which Pierre called a “prophetic way” of freedom, namely, the freedom that is united to witness and fidelity. A mother that educates her children in rigidity – “it must be done, it must, it must …”and who does not let the children dream, to have dreams and who doesn’t let the children grow, annuls the creative future of the children. The children will be sterile. Consecrated life can also be sterile, when it is not, in fact, prophetic; when one is not allowed to dream. But let us think of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus: shut-in in a convent, also with a Prioress that wasn’t very easy. Some thought that the Prioress did things to disturb her … However, that little Sister of 16, 17, 18, 20, 21 years, dreamt! She never lost the capacity to dream; she never lost the horizons! To the point that today she is the Patroness of the Missions; she is the Patroness of the horizons of the Church.
And that which Saint Teresa called “concerted souls” is a danger. It’s a great danger. She was a cloistered nun, but she went through the streets of the whole of Spain, establishing foundations, convents. And she never lost the capacity of contemplation. Prophecy, capacity to dream is the contrary of rigidity. The rigid can’t dream. We think of those great things that Jesus said to the rigid of his times, to the rigid consecrated of his times, in chapter 23 of Saint Matthew. Read it. Those are the rigid ones. And the observance must not be rigid. If the observance is rigid it isn’t observance, it’s personal egoism. It is to seek oneself and to feel more just than others. “I thank you, Lord, because I’m not like that Sister, like that Brother, like that one there … I thank you, Lord, because my Congregation is in fact Catholic, observant, and not like that Congregation that goes here and there and beyond…” This is the talk of the rigid. But you will find all these things in chapter 23 of Saint Matthew. Teresa calls them “concerted souls.”
And how can one not become this? With an open heart always take what the Lord says to us to the Superior, to the teacher, to the spiritual mistress, to the Church, to the Bishop. Openness, open heart, dialogue, and also communal dialogue. “But Father, we can’t converse because we always quarrel when we converse …” But all right! I will also say a word that is somewhat difficult. I speak to you sincerely: one of the sins that I often find in community life is the incapacity to forgive among Brothers, among Sisters. “Ah, she will pay for this! I will make her pay! …” And this is to sully the other! Gossip in a community impedes forgiveness and leads also to being more distant from one another, to distancing ourselves from one another. I like to say that gossip is not only a sin – because to gossip is a sin, and go to confession if you do this … It’s a sin! But gossip is also terrorism! Because one who gossips “throws a bomb on the reputation of the other and destroys the other, who can’t defend himself, because one always gossips in the dark, not in the light. And darkness is the kingdom of the devil. Light is the Kingdom of Jesus. If you have something against your brother, against your sister, go … First pray, calm your soul, and then go and say to him, to her: I don’t agree with this … you have done a bad thing …” However, never, never throw the bomb of gossip. Never, never! It’s the plague of community life! And so the man Religious, the woman Religious, who has consecrated his/her life to God, becomes a terrorist, because he/she throws a bomb in his/her community, which destroys.
You, Sarah, also spoke of the instability in our following [Christ]. Always, from the beginning of consecrated life to now, there are moments of instability: they are temptations. The first monks of the desert wrote about this and they teach us how to find interior stability, peace. But there will always be temptations, always, always … The struggle will go on until the end. And turning to Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, she said that one must pray for those who are about to die, because it is, in fact, the moment of greatest instability, in which temptations come forcefully. It’s true culturally. We live in a time that is very, very unstable, and also a time that seems to be “a piece of time”: we live the culture of the provisional. A Bishop said to me, a year or two ago, more or less, that a good youth went to him, a good youth, a professional, who wanted to be a priest, but only for 10 years: “then we’ll see …” But this happens, it does happen: our culture is of the provisional. Also in marriages: “Yes, yes, we are getting married!– while love lasts. When love goes, bye, bye: you go to your house and I go to mine.”
And this culture of the provisional has entered the Church; it has entered Religious Communities, it has entered in families, in marriages … The culture of the definitive: God sent His Son forever! Not provisionally, to a generation or to a country, but to all. To all and forever. And this is a criterion of spiritual discernment. Am I in the culture of the provisional? For instance, in order not to disintegrate, not to take on definitive commitments.
You, Mary Giacinta, spoke of evangelization. An evangelization, you mentioned, that burns in the heart: the desire to evangelize, where the heart burns, with a heart that burns. This is apostolic zeal. Evangelization is not the same as engaging in proselytism. We are not a soccer association seeking members, adherents ….To evangelize is not only to convince; it is to witness that Jesus Christ is alive.
And how does one give this witness? With one’s flesh, with one’s life. You can study, you can take courses of evangelization, and this is good, but the capacity to warm hearts doesn’t come from books; it comes from the heart! If your heart burns with love for Jesus Christ, you are a good evangelizer. But if your heart doesn’t burn and you look only at the things of organization, which are necessary, but secondary … And here I would like — forgive me if I am a bit feminist — to give thanks for the witness given by consecrated women – not all, however, there are a few who are somewhat hysterical! — you have this desire to always be in the first line. Why? Because you are mothers, you have this maternity of the Church that makes you be close. I remember that in Buenos Aires a hospital was left without Sisters, because they were few, elderly, and their Congregation was almost at the end … because the Religious Institutes are all provisional: the Lord chooses one for a time, then he lets it go and creates another; no one has the possibility to remain forever; it is a grace of God, and some are for a time; let this be clear — … these poor little Sisters were elderly … And they spoke to me of a Congregation of Korea: the Sisters of the Holy Family of Seoul. Through a Korean priest, in the end three Korean Sisters arrived in that hospital in Buenos Aires, where Spanish is spoken. And they knew Spanish in the same way I know Chinese: nothing. On the second day they went to the rooms, in the sections and with gestures, with a caress, with a smile … The sick said: “But what lovely Sisters! How they work! How good they are! “But, did they say something to you?” “No, nothing.” It was the witness of a burning heart. It is the maternity of Sisters. Don’t lose this, please! — because a Sister is an icon of Mother Church and of Mother Mary. You must truly have this function in the Church: to be an icon of the Church, an icon of Mary, an icon of the tenderness of the Church, of the love of the Church, of the maternity of the Church and of the maternity of Our Lady. Don’t forget this. Always in the first line, but like this. And, moreover, the Church is the Bride of Jesus Christ – I shall end with the Sisters – and the Sisters are Brides of Jesus Christ, and they get all their strength from there, before the Tabernacle, before the Lord, in prayer with their Spouse, to take His message.
I must hurry a bit because there is so much work today!
And you, Pierre, said key words: to follow Jesus more closely; close, closeness, in a prophetic way. I spoke of this, of the prophecy, when I answered Sarah. And another word that’s key in consecrated life is memory. [In other words,] prophecy, closeness, memory. I have spoken of prophecy. Have closeness, closeness among yourselves and with others, closeness with the People of God. A co-worker of my father – several co-workers entered Argentina after the Spanish Civil War and they were priest haters — once one of them got sick with an awful, an awful infection, with wounds, an awful sickness, and his wife also worked and there were three children. This came to the knowledge of a Congregation, Les Petites Soeurs de l’Assomption,the Sisters founded by Father Pernet. Their work … in those times, after their prayers, they went to homes where there were difficulties. They were all nurses and they took care of the sick, they took the children to school, did domestic chores, and then at four o’clock in the afternoon they went home. One of them went [to the home of the sick man], the Superior went, because it was a difficult case. She said: “I’ll go.” Imagine what that man said to this Sister: the most awful words. But she was calm, she did her work, dressed the wounds, took the children to school, prepared things to eat. And then, after more than one month, that man was cured. He was cured. He returned to work. A few days later he and three or four other priest haters left work. Two Sisters were passing by on the street and one of them said bad words to them, to the Sisters. And with a fist, [the man who was cured] threw him on the pavement and said: “About priests and about God say all the things you wish, but against Our Lady and against the Sisters don’t say anything!” Just think, an atheist, a priest hater, why? Because he saw the maternity of the Church, he saw Our Lady’s smile in that patient Sister who looked after him, did the domestic chores in the home and took the children to school and brought them back. Don’t forget this, Sisters: you are the icon of Holy Mother Church and of Holy Mother Mary. Don’t forget this, and the Church thanks you for this, it is a beautiful witness. And this is closeness, be close, close to problems, to real problems.
And the other key word is memory. I think that James and John never forgot that encounter with Jesus. The same was true for the other Apostles. Peter: “You are Peter”; Nicodemus; Nathaniel … their first meeting with Jesus — the memory, the memory of one’s vocation. In dark moments, in moments of temptation, in difficult moments of our consecrated life return to the sources, we must remember and recall the astonishment we felt when the Lord looked at us. The Lord looked at me … Memory.
And you asked me to share my memory, how that first call was on September 21 of ’53. But I don’t know how it was. I know that by chance I entered a church. I saw a Confessional and I came out different; I came out in another way. Life was changed there. And what fascinated me about Jesus and about the Gospel? I don’t know … his closeness to me: the Lord has never left me alone, also in bad and dark moments, even in moments of sin … Because we must also say this: we are all sinners. And we say it in theory but not in practice! I remember mine and I am ashamed. But not even in those moments did the Lord leave me alone. And not only me, but all [of us]. The Lord never leaves anyone.
And I felt this call to become a priest and Religious. The priest who heard my confession that day, whom I didn’t know, was there by chance, because he had leukemia. He was undergoing treatment and died a year later. And then I was guided by a Salesian, like you; a Salesian who had baptized me. I went to him and he led me to the Jesuits … Religious ecumenism! But in the worst moments, the memory of the first encounter helped me so much, because the Lord always encounters us definitively. The Lord does not enter in the culture of the provisional; He loves us forever, he accompanies us forever.
And then, closeness to the people, closeness among ourselves; prophesying with our witness, with a burning heart, with the apostolic zeal that warms the hearts of others, even without words, as those little Korean Sisters; and memory, always go back.
And I give you a counsel: take the Book of Deuteronomy, where Moses reminds the people, and you remember your life: “When I was a slave there, how the Lord freed me, and how …” It’s good. In the end, almost at the end of the Book, it teaches how one must go and give an offering to the Temple. It says: “My father was an errant Aramaean …” Learn to tell your life before the Lord: “I was a slave, the Lord freed me, and that is why I come to celebrate!” Celebrate: when you remember the wonders that the Lord has done in your life, you want to celebrate, you want to smile from one ear to the other, of those beautiful smiles, because the Lord is faithful! Prophecy, memory, closeness, burning heart, apostolic zeal, culture of the definitive, not use and throw away.
And I want to end with two words. One that is the symbol of the worst — I don’t know if it is the worst but it is one of the worst attitudes of a Religious — to reflect himself, narcissism. Beware of this. And we live in a narcissist culture, and we always have this tendency to mirror ourselves. Say no to narcissism, to looking at oneself. And yes to the contrary, to what strips all narcissism, yes to Adoration. And I think that this is one of the points on which we must go forward. We all pray, we give thanks to the Lord, we ask for favors, we praise the Lord …But I ask the question: Do we adore the Lord? Do you, men and women Religious, have the capacity to adore the Lord? The prayer of silent adoration: “You are the Lord,” is the contrary of that self-reflection of narcissism. Adoration. I want to finish with this word: be women and men of adoration. And pray for me. Thank you.