VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has expressed his gratitude to priests and encouraged them “in these difficult times.”
In a letter to mark the 160th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars and patron saint of parish priests, Francis said he was writing to let them know they were appreciated.
“I want to say a word to each of you,” writes the pope, “who, often without fanfare and at personal cost, amid weariness, infirmity, and sorrow, carry out your mission of service to God and to your people. Despite the hardships of the journey, you are writing the finest pages of the priestly life.”
In the letter published on Aug. 4, the pope expressed himself, with a firm but affectionate tone, “as an older brother and a father.”
After his Letter to the People of God, published on Aug. 20, 2018, the pope this time addressed his remarks specifically to priests. As the Church lives through “these present times of ecclesial purification,” struck by the scandal of sexual abuse committed within her, he insisted on encouraging and thanking the priests of the world.
It seems as if the pope almost wanted to comfort the priests who in many regions, feel ridiculed for crimes they have not committed, reiterating at the same time his determination to fight the scourge of abuse.
“Many have shared with me their outrage at what happened and their frustration that ‘for all their hard work, they have to face the damage that was done, the suspicion and uncertainty to which it has given rise, and the doubts, fears, and disheartenment felt by more than a few,'” the pope wrote.
“I have received many letters from priests expressing those feelings. At the same time, I am comforted by my meetings with pastors who recognize and share the pain and suffering of the victims and of the people of God, and have tried to find words and actions capable of inspiring hope,” he said.
I am comforted by my meetings with pastors who recognize and share the pain and suffering of the victims.
‘I greet and appreciate you’
Francis was unambiguous in his support for the courage shown by priests.
“Countless priests make of their lives a work of mercy in areas or situations that are often hostile, isolated or ignored, even at the risk of their lives. I acknowledge and appreciate your courageous and steadfast example; in these times of turbulence, shame and pain, you demonstrate that you have joyfully put your lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel,” he said.
In a rather unusual way, the pope who was ordained in December 1969 expressed his gratitude to the priests through a series of “thanks.”
The pope thanked them in particular for their fidelity.
“It is a sign that, in a society and culture that glorifies the ephemeral, there are still people unafraid to make lifelong promises. In effect, we show that we continue to believe in God, who has never broken his covenant, despite our having broken it countless times.
“In this way, we celebrate the fidelity of God, who continues to trust us, to believe in us, and to count on us, for all our sins and failings, and who invites us to be faithful in turn,” he said.
We celebrate the fidelity of God, who continues to trust us.
‘Be brave, find your brother’
As well as showing his gratitude, Pope Francis urged them to remain brave. “The mission to which we are called does not exempt us from suffering, pain, and even misunderstanding,” he said. “Rather, it requires us to face them squarely and to accept them, so that the Lord can transform them and conform us more closely to himself.”
Speaking as a pastor, he warned against apathy, a kind of spiritual weariness, and gave some concrete advice. First, he said, priests needed to remember that “we are never alone.”
In that respect, he implored them not to neglect spiritual accompaniment and to “look for a brother with whom you can speak, reflect, discuss, and discern, sharing with complete trust and openness your journey. A wise brother with whom to share the experience of discipleship. Find him, meet with him, and enjoy his guidance, accompaniment, and counsel.”
Finally, he urged them to foster that relationship and expand it. “Do not withdraw from your people, your presbyterates, and your communities, much less seek refuge in closed and elitist groups.”
Do not withdraw from your people.
The pope ends his letter saying: “May we allow our gratitude to awaken praise and renewed enthusiasm for our ministry of anointing our brothers and sisters with hope. May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.
“May the Lord Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin watch over you. And please, I ask you not to forget to pray for me.”
For the full text of the letter, click here.
— Arnaud Bevilacqua