By Robin Gomes
St. John Vianney priest was born on May 8, 1786, in Dardilly, France and died on August 4, 1856, in Ars where he served as parish priest. His feast is observed on August 4 in the Church’s liturgical calendar.
Holding out the saint as a model for priests, the Pope, in his August 4 Letter, expresses encouragement and closeness to his "brother priests, who without making noise" leave everything to engage in the daily life of communities, confronting an endless variety of situations in their effort “to care for and accompany God’s people.”
The Pope based his Letter on four themes: pain, gratitude, courage and praise
Despite the pain of the sex abuse scandal in the Church, the Pope urges priests to overcome their troubles by being grateful to the Lord’s love, generosity and solidarity and trust. He thanks them for their ardour in being close to their people amidst their suffering, leaving behind every comfort.
One of the priests who has reacted positively to the Pope’s Letter is Father Dominic Ngo Quang Tuyen of Vietnam. He says he is moved by the Pope who expresses himself as a friend, teacher and father. He feels the Pope is addressing him directly.
The 71-year-old-priest of Ho Chi Minh City who had been imprisoned for 13 years, has undergone 6 heart surgeries and faced other trials, is a parish priest serving several missions.
While asking the Pope to pray for him, Fr. Quang Tuyen, who is the Secretary-General of the Commission for Evangelization of the Vietnamese Bishops’ Conference, expresses his love for the Holy Father.
A tangible proof of this he says is that he keeps himself updated on the Pope through news, documents and apostolic journeys. Fr. Quang Tuyen has also overseen the translation of the Pope’s important teachings and documents into Vietnamese for the benefit of the people.
Father Santosh Kumar Digal of the eastern Indian Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar has also welcomed the Pope’s Letter as a great source of faith and fraternal love, full of hope and encouragement.
In his 19 years as a priest, Fr. Digal says, he agrees with the pope who has seen priests leaving everything behind to engage themselves in the daily life of their communities. Without making noise, these priests endure everything with patience, commitment and courage.
The priest from Odisha state shares the Pope’s sentiments saying good priests suffer for the mistakes of other priests. Sometimes Church superiors and authorities and fellow priests misunderstand them. Despite all this, they generously persevere in their mission.
Amidst the socio-political and economic challenges to today, Fr. Digal says, the Holy Father encourages his brother priests to continue their pastoral life for the love of Jesus with warmth and a strong mind.
Guatemalan priest Fr. Juan Mardoqueo Aj Luis of the Diocese Suchitepèquez-Retalhuleu, feels consoled that Pope Francis, in his Letter, assures that God does great things with priests, despite their weaknesses and limitations. God supports and is by the side of these “earthen vessels”, working great things for humanity.
Even though the sexual abuse some priests have caused great pain to the Church, Fr. Mardoqueo says, the Pope proposes that conversion, transparency and sincerity will bring forth great fruits of holiness in priests throughout the world. The Pope, he says, opens priests up to hope, to look at our history with the eyes of God.
The Pope particularly urges priests to reveal the face of communion and fraternity especially in Latin America, where their sheep experience poverty, discrimination and exclusion in the physical and existential peripheries of life.
Italian priest, Father Tiziano Cantisani, the parish priest of Maratea, feels the Letter reveals the paternal concern of the Holy Father who shares the same condition of the those he is addressing his Letter. Fr. Cantisani says he was also struck by some of the Pope's "typical" themes such as joy, the place of the pastor in the midst of the people, the dangers inherent in the mission, alongside some element novelty.
Speaking about pain, he says, the Pope exhorts that we should not close in on desolation but open up to the power of the Holy Spirit. Such moments, the Pope says, much be faced as an opportunity that can become a point of encounter with the grace of the Lord.
Another Italian priest, Fr. Andrea Simone, the parish priest of the Cathedral of Fabriano, says he is moved by the loving kindness, encouragement, understanding that the Pope has for priests. He emphasizes the importance the Pope gives to being supported in everyday life in order not to let the primordial solitude of man take the upper hand.
Fr. Simone says he often experiences great helplessness while dealing with young people, who heap upon him all their woes and disappointments, wishing he will remain by their side to weep and laugh with them. Fr. Simone recalls the encouragement of Pope Francis in his Letter of never giving up.