By Seàn-Patrick Lovett
The Venerable English College in Rome was founded in 1579 as a seminary to train priests for England and Wales. This year marks what Pope Francis himself called “a series of significant anniversaries in the life of the Church in England and Wales”. These include the 900th anniversary of the birth of St Thomas Becket, the founding of the first English Seminary in Douai in 1568, and the restoration of the English College itself 200 years ago.
Love of God
Reminding the seminarians that a deep “relationship with the Lord” must be their first priority, Pope Francis admitted that it is “harder for you than it was for me”. This, he explained, is because of today’s “culture of the temporary”. And this is precisely why it is so important “to nurture your interior life”, he continued, “learning to close the door of your inner cell from within”. In this way, he said, “your service to God and the Church will be strengthened”.
Love of Neighbour
We serve others, said Pope Francis, “not out of mere sentiment, but in obedience to the Lord”, and always in cooperation with others. Confirming that loving our neighbor is not always easy, the Pope suggested we need to be “firmly grounded in God who loves and sustains us”. This “inner strength”, he said, is what characterized the lives of the 16th century English College martyrs. All forty-four of them.
Pope Francis identified “fear” as one of the major obstacles we face in life, including fear of oneself. “But we can overcome it with love, prayer, and a good sense of humour”, he added, referencing his most recent Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate. Holding up the example of the College Patron, St Thomas of Canterbury, the Pope affirmed that, when we succeed in overcoming our own fears, we are able to help others overcome their fears as well.
The Pope’s “words of encouragement”, spoken, as he said, “like a father, directly from the heart”, concluded with an invitation to the seminarians to nurture “good and wholesome relationships that will sustain you in your future ministry”. Friends are not just those people who agree with us, he said: they are gifts “to help us on the journey to what is true, noble and good”.