By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis’s closed-door meeting with the clergy of the diocese of Rome in the first days of Lent took place, as always, in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran after the celebration of a penitential liturgy.
Flanked by the cardinal vicar Angelo De Donatis, Pope Francis began the annual encounter hearing confessions and listening to a Lenten meditation offered by Cardinal De Donatis himself.
He did not answer questions as in previous meetings, but he spoke at length interspersing a prepared discourse with many off-the-cuff remarks that highlighted the pain caused by the clerical sexual abuse scandal that is rocking the Church .
He revealed his own feelings of grief and said he shares with his brother priests “ the pain and unbearable punishment that the wave of scandals of which the newspapers of the whole world are now full, is causing in the whole ecclesial body “.
Pope Francis also had words of hope and encouragement for the clergy saying “Let us not be discouraged, the Lord is purifying his Bride”. He said He is converting us all to Himself, He is putting us to the test and making us understand that without Him we are dust. He is saving us from hypocrisy, from the spirituality of appearances. He is blowing his Spirit “to restore beauty to his Bride”.
The spirit of evil
The Pope said he believes that “the true meaning of what is happening is to be sought in the spirit of evil, in the enemy who acts with the pretense of being master of the world.”
He spoke of sin as of something that disfigures, and said that “with sorrow we live the humiliating experience when we ourselves or one of our brother priests or bishops falls into the bottomless abyss of vice, corruption, or even worse of the crime that destroys the lives of others.”
Put God back at the center
He expressed, however, confidence in the future, especially in this beginning of Lent which “is a time of grace, because we place God back at the center. “Without God we can do nothing. He is the center,” he said.
The Pope urged the priests to turn to Him “face to face”, because “God knows our shameful nudity”.
He told them God knows our shameful nudity, but He never tires of using us to offer people reconciliation. “We are very poor, sinners” he said, and yet God takes us to intercede for our brothers and sisters” from whom we have much to ask forgiveness for.
The Pope thus asked the priests, to maintain “a mature dialogue with the Lord” and to concern themselves with their own “people” avoiding personalisms such as that “tendency to say: my people. Yes, it’s your people but “vicariously”, the Pope explained. “The people are not our people, they belong to God”.
Jubilee of 2025
At the end of the meeting the Pope looked ahead to the Jubilee of 2025, marked by the reflections of the book of Exodus chosen “as a paradigm to move from non-people to people”.
He also praised an initiative of the local diocesan Caritas entitled “As in heaven, so in the street”, a week dedicated to charity for the poor and the homeless to be held from 31 March to 6 April.