Pope meeting in the Vatican with seminarians and bishops from Calabria, Italy Pope meeting in the Vatican with seminarians and bishops from Calabria, Italy  (VATICAN MEDIA Divisione Foto)

Pope : Priests are pastors, not functionaries

Pope Francis meets with seminarians and bishops from the Italian region of Calabria, and encourages them to adapt priestly formation to the signs of the times and to walk together in unity and fraternity.

By Lisa Zengarini

Pope Francis has urged Italian seminarians, formators  and bishops from the southern Italian region of Calabria, to address the new pastoral challenges in their Dioceses by renewing priestly formation and joining forces.

The Pope met with the students and staff of the seminaries who are accompanying their bishops on their ad limina visit to Rome, in the Vatican's Consistory Hall, on Monday morning.

Pope Francis addressed the group by first thanking the rectors and the formators for their “sometimes hidden and painful work” they do for the seminarians “which requires the daily effort of accompaniment and discernment.”

Noting that, despite often making headlines for crime-related incidents, Calabria has a precious cultural and spiritual heritage “that unites the East and the West,” the Pope remarked that without “a renewed commitment to promote evangelization and priestly formation,” that heritage dating back to Greek times, risks “remaining only a beautiful past to be admired.”

Clerical careerism is a plague

The Pope then reflected on a passage from the Gospel of John: 'They stayed with him' (Jn 1:39), which refers the first disciples who followed Jesus. Those words remind priests the foundation of their ministry: 'This is your vocation, to lead the way with the Lord, the love of the Lord” said the Pope. “And be careful not to fall into careerism which is a plague.'”

“Careerism is one of the ugliest forms of worldliness that we clerics can have.”

Pastors, not functionaries

Taking his cue from the initial question that Jesus addresses to the two disciples when He realizes that they are following Him -  "What are you looking for?,” Pope Francis invited the seminarians to ask themleves what they are looking for in the priesthood: that is whether they aspire to be “clerical priests who don't  know how to knead the clay of our suffering humanity, or, instead, to be like Jesus, a sign of the Father's tenderness.”

“It is very sad," he said, "when you find priests who are functionaries, who have forgotten they are pastors of the people and have turned into state clerics, like those of the French courts, le Monsieur l'Abbé." 

Joining forces to address new pastoral challenges

The Pope then turned the question to the bishops present, inviting them to reflect on what kind Church they dream of, and, therefore, what kind of priest they imagine for their flock.

Pope Francis remarked that this discernment is all the more necessary today at a time when the  influence of Christianity has progressively waned, and “a new ecclesial season is opening before us." This situation,  he said “requires a reflection also on the ministries of priests”, whom we cannot think of anymore as  "solitary shepherds" closed in their parishes.

“It is necessary to join forces and pool ideas, to address some pastoral challenges that are now transversal to all the diocesan churches of a region. I am thinking of the evangelization of young people; of Christian initiation courses; of popular piety, which needs unitary choices inspired by the Gospel; but I am also thinking of the needs of charity and the promotion of the culture of legality.”

Adapting priestly formation to the signs of the times

In light of the current changing scenario, the Pope invited the Bihops of Calabria “to make a clear choice about priestly formation”, by focusing their energies on fewer seminaries, rather than “dispersing forces” by multiplying them.

Although this requires a complex process of discernment,  these are necessary decisions which bishops, supported by their local churches and inspired by the Holy Spirit, need to make , stressed the Pope, urging tthem not to let themselves “be paralyzed by nostalgia, and  not to remain prisoners of provincialisms that cause so much harm.”

“Let us remember that attachment to our history and to the significant places of our tradition must not prevent the novelty of the Spirit from tracing paths to follow, especially when the path of the Church requires it. We need open eyes and an attentive heart to grasp the signs of the times and look ahead!”

In this regard, Pope Francis also invited the bishops emeritus to offer their support to this effort “with prayer and silence”, without interfering in the process.

Charity, unity, and  fraternity

Wrapping up his address, the Pope  urged the seminarians, and bishops to be “courageous” in introducing the necessary changes, and to always act and walk toghether “in charity, unity, and  fraternity”, recalling the words of St. Francis di Paola, Calabria’s Patron Saint, whose birth is commemorated on 27 March.


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27 March 2023, 14:14