“No to Google and Wikipedia Priests”
The Pope in Genoa meets with bishops, clergy and religious man and women: drive away the seminarians who gossip, otherwise, you will be “raising crows that will eat your eyes”; No to the “know-it-all” priests and those who act as “entrepreneurs”. Francis quotes Cardinal Canestri: “The Church is like a river, the important thing is to be in that river”
DOMENICO AGASSO JR
CORRESPONDENT FROM GENOA
Heads of seminars, “drive out the seminarians who gossip otherwise you’ll be “raising crows that will eat your eyes.” Be wary of the priests “who know everything” and that children might call “Google and Wikipedia priests” because they are harmful, as well as those “entrepreneurs” who are not open to God’s surprises. Pope Francis said this morning, May 27 2017, in the cathedral of San Lorenzo, where he met with the Bishops of Liguria, clergy, seminarians and religious of the region, lay curial collaborators and representatives of other religious confessions in the second stage of his visit to Genoa. The Pontiff quoted Cardinal Giovanni Canestri: “The Church is like a river, the important thing is to be in that river.”
After Cardinal Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco’s greeting, the Bishop of Rome asked “to pray together for our Egyptian Coptic brothers and sisters who were killed because they did not want to deny their faith,” referring to the attack that had occurred in Egypt yesterday. He Invited “to pray together in silence, and then to recite a Hail Mary”. And “Let’s not forget that today, Christian martyrs are more than in the early days of the Church.”
The Pope than answered some questions.
“Holy Father, we ask you what criteria to follow in order to live a full spiritual life in our ministry that, in the complexity of modern life and with the administrative tasks, tends to break and scatter us apart”
“The more we imitate the style of Jesus, the better we will do our pastoral work. This is the fundamental criterion, Jesus’ style. Jesus was always in the streets, among people, the crowd as the Gospel says. The Gospel distinguishes well between disciples, crowds and doctors of the law. We can see that Jesus spent most of his time on the road, close to people and their problems, he did not hide. He hid in the evening to pray. This could be useful to us, as we are always in a hurry, looking at the clock because there is never enough time; but this is not a pastoral behavior, Jesus never behaved this way. Jesus has never stood still, and as everyone who is walking, he exposed himself to tensions.
What we should fear the most is to live a static life. That of a priest who has everything sorted out, everything in order, well structured and at its place. I am afraid of the static priest, the ones who are static even during prayer... only from this time to that time. But wouldn’t you like to spend an extra hour with our Lord? Such a structured life is not a Christian life. Maybe that pastor is a good businessman, but is he a Christian? Or does he live as a Christian? He is celebrating Mass, but how? As a Christian or as a businessman? Jesus has always been a man on the road, walking, open to the surprises of God, instead a priest who has all planned, everything structured and sorted out, is generally closed to the surprises of God, and the joyful surprise of the encounter is lost. The Lord will surprise you when you least expect him but you must be open. Do not be afraid of the tension we are bound to live, we are on the road, in the street, and this is how the world is. An educator, a parent, a priest is exposed to this tension; a loving heart is always exposed to this kind of tension.
If we look at Jesus in the Gospels, we see two strong fundamental moments: the encounter with the Father and the encounter with the people, all of them, even the most disadvantaged and inconvenient people like the lepers.
Then there is Prayer. You can pray like a parrot, but you know it is not the right way. you should instead, meet the Lord, be silent, and let him look at you; tell something to the Lord... meet Him. This should also happen with people. We priests know how much people suffer when they come asking for advice and we rush them out: “I do not have time now.” That’s being in a hurry and not on the way. We know that staying with people can be tiring and boring, but they are the people of God! Think about Jesus! You have to let people tire you. Do not try to defend your own tranquility.
Further, a priest should not speak too much of himself, he should not feel the need to mirror himself. The tiredness must be that of holiness, not of self-referentialism. One has to wonder, “Am I a man of the street? Am I a good listener? Or do I let people wear me off? This is how Jesus was, there are no other formulas.
It will be good for all priests to remember that only Jesus is the Savior, there are no other saviors. Remember that Jesus never associate himself to the structures, but always tied himself to relationships. If a priest sees he is tied to the structures then there is something wrong.
Once I heard a man of God – a potential blessed – who said that in the Church we must live the structures to the least and life to the maximum, and not the other way around. Without a relationship with God and your neighbor, there is no sense in a priest’s life: you will make a career, you will go to the parish you like, but your heart will remain empty because your heart is linked to the structures and not to the fundamental relationships with the Father, His Son, Jesus and with the people”.
We would like to better experience the priestly fraternity so recommended by our Cardinal Archbishop and promoted by diocesan meetings, pilgrimages, retreats and spiritual exercises. Can you give us some indication?
“How old you? (81, e.d.) We are peers. I must confess, hearing you talk like that made me think you were at least 20 years younger (general laughter, e.d.). Fraternity is a good word, but it is not part of the stock of values, it is a word. Fraternity among us is so difficult. It entails a daily work towards priestly brotherhood. There is a danger, and that is of having created the image of a priest who knows everything, and does not need any advice. Kids may say, “But he is like a Google and Wikipedia priest!” And this is so bad for our priestly life ... Why waste time in meetings? How many times during meetings, we orbit, we do not listen to my brother priest speaking? But If the bishop talks about a rise of next year’s Eight per Thousand (a compulsory percentage Italians can devolve from their annual income tax return to a religious institution), then the orbit (attention, e.d) will advance! (General laughter, e.d). Ask yourself, “why am I not listening to my brother during the meetings? Why am I not interested? Why do I not care about what my brother priest is saying?” We ought to listen, pray together, eat together, and celebrate together, young priests should play a soccer match together; this does good! Be brothers, a very human brotherhood. “Brothers” are a wealth for each other.
Priests and bishops,we are not the Lord, we are the disciples of the Lord, we must help each other, even quarrel, as the disciples would quarrel over who was the greatest among them. But let’s not speak ill and talk behind the back of another, “Did you hear what that idiot said?” No to murmurings and competitions. I think three times, if I can say it, I do not know if I have to say it, but I can say it (laughter, e.d). To name a bishop, information are asked to priests, faithful and consecrated people. There is sometimes some slandering or opinions that, without being serious, devalue the priest, however one realizes immediately that there is jealousy behind. When there is no priestly brotherhood, there is the betrayal of the brother. To go further up, you skin you brother. The great enemy against priestly brotherhood is envy and jealousy. It sometimes happens that ideology becomes more important than brotherhood, even than doctrine. But where have we arrived? It can help knowing that none of us is everything; we are all part of a body, the Church of Christ. Claiming to always be right leads to make mistakes, but this is learned in the seminar.
A good archbishop, Cardinal Canestri, said that “the Church is like a river, the important thing is to be in that river”, whether it is on the right or left side of the river, it is a legitimate option. What’s important is to be in that river. So many times we have wished for the river to become small and to run only on our side, as we condemn the others, but this is not brotherhood. Everyone inside the river! This is learned in the seminary, and I wish to counsel the trainers: “if you see a good, intelligent seminarian, but who is a gossiper, kick him out: he will be a mortgage on the brotherhood. There is a saying: raise crows and they will eat your eyes; if you raise crows in the seminary, they will destroy all brotherhoods in the presbytery.
Then there is the parish priest and the deputy parish, who sometimes agree, and sometimes are on the two different sides of the river. Make an effort to understand and talk to each other, the important thing is to be in the river and not to gossip. Seek unity. We must take each other’s gifts, charisms and lights. Once some monks went to Abba Pafnuzio; they were worried about the sins of one of them, so they asked him for some help, “Yes, I saw a man on the side of the river stuck in the mud to his knees. Some brothers wanted to give him a hand, but instead they dragged him down until mud was up to his neck; there are some aids that actually try to destroy, they are just disguised as aids. One thing that will help us greatly when we are in front of the sins and the bad things of our brothers trying to break the brotherhood, is to wonder: how many times have I been forgiven?”
You have lived a long consecrated life in different situations and with different roles of responsibility. What can you tell us on how to live our consecration with growing intensity, faithful to our charism, to our apostolate, and to the diocese? (Question by mother Rosangela Sala, president of Usmi Liguria, e.d)
“Mother Rosangela... I’ve know her for years, she is good, but she drives at 140 mph (laughter, ndr).
The diocese is that portion of the people of God who has the face. It made, makes and will make history. We are all included in the diocese. It helps us so that our faith is not theoretical. You consecrated man and women are a gift to the Church, every charism is a gift to the universal Church, but it is always interesting to see how all the charisms are born in a concrete place and are united to the life of a concrete diocese, they were not born in the air. A concrete place that grows and acquires a universal nature, its origins always bare concreteness. It’s nice to remember how there is no charism without a concrete foundation, without concrete roots. Let’s think of the Franciscans: the place that comes to mind is immediately Assisi, immediately, “but we are universal”, yes, it is true, but the concrete origin prevails. The charism is to be incarnate, it was born in a concrete place and then it grows. But we must always look for where it was born. This teaches us to love people in concrete places. Concretely. The concreteness of the Church gives the diocesan nature. This does not mean killing the charism, no, this helps the charism become more real, visible and near. When the universality of an institution forgets to enter concrete places, in concrete dioceses, then this order eventually forgets where it was born. To universalize, but without that concreteness of the diocese. Flying religious institutes do not exist, and if someone claims that, they will end badly. Thinking of universality without concreteness will lead to self-referentiality.
Then I’d like to emphasize availability. Availability to go where there is more risk and need; it is necessary to gift the charism, to enter where it is needed the most, in all the peripheries. These peripheries are the reflection of the places where the primal charism was born. And when I say availability I also speak of reviewing the works. Sometimes it is done because there is no personnel; But even when there is personnel it is good to ask yourself: is our charisma necessary here? It is necessary to be available, with prudence of government, but without fearing risk.”
How to live and deal the general decline of vocations to priestly and consecrated life?
“There is a demographic problem, in Italy we are under zero. If there are no boys there are no vocations, it was easier at times when families were numerous. It is easier to live with a cat or a dog rather than with a son, because this is how I can guarantee myself a planned love, I feel accompanied by the cat or the dog. During each era we must see the things that happen as a passage of the Lord: today the Lord passes by us and we must ask ourselves what is going on. There is also the marriage crisis, young people do not marry, they prefer to live together. It is a crosscutting crisis. It is time to ask the Lord: what shall we do? Change? Facing problems is necessary; learning from problems is a must. One must seek a response to this, which is not reductive, not a conquest. I remember as if it was now: “The novices’ trade,” titled the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera I think a few years ago. It was a scandal. A congregation would take the bus, go to poor villages, and convince the girls to come to Buenos Aires and become novices, and things did not go well. This happened fifteen years ago, but it also happened in Rome, congregations that went to non-EU, poor countries: there they would find people who did not have vocations, but did not want to stay there in those disadvantaged places, so they came here, they did not consecrate , maybe some found a job, but others ended up on the sidewalk. Vocational work is difficult, it is a challenge, but we must be creative.
When congregations are faithful to the vocational charism and with that same love are able to show the beauty and contemporaneity of the charism, they attract. The Testimony: If we want (new) consecrated and priests, we must bear witness that we are happy, and that we end our life happy of the choice that Jesus has made for us. A witness of joy in the way we live our life. There are bishops living as pagans, and the young people see them and say, “That is not what I want” This is important to understand for the pastoral and missionary conversion. Young people today seek missionary, apostolic zeal, people who do not live for themselves, but for others who offer their lives. Once, just as I became auxiliary bishop, I learned that the local nuns (somewhere in the Buenos Aires area) were restoring their house. They were right, as it was a bit run-down… they did it well, with private bathrooms ... but in the end they made a luxury palace for themselves, and in each of the nuns’ rooms there was a tv: resulting that from 2 pm to 4 pm you could not find one nun in the building, as they were all in their room watching a soap opera. Spiritual worldliness. Young people ask for authenticity, harmony with the charism. We must understand that with these behaviors it is we who are causing certain vocational crises, it has been us. We need a pastoral, missionary conversion, a testimony that attracts vocations.
There are vocations: God gives them, but you, priest or nun, are always too busy and have no time to listen to the young people who come (”who sometimes are boring”). Young people are on the move: to attract them we need to have missionary proposals. By doing works of good with them the Lord speaks to them. Testimony comes also without words. I’ll conclude with anecdote: in the area where I was auxiliary bishop, in a hospital near the vicariate there were 3 sick elderly nuns of a congregation who had nobody else to send; the general mother wisely called them back. A priest then called the general mother of a congregation in Korea asking for help. Three Korean Sisters arrived, and after a few days, the sick were happy: “What good Sisters!” But, what do they say, how can you understand them if they don’t speak a word of Spanish? “The smile”, the language of gestures, and the testimony of love. Even without words, we can attract people. Testimony is the key to vocations.”