Vatican City, 11 November 2014 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa, Italy, read the message sent by Pope Francis to the participants in the 67th General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference, of which Cardinal Bagnasco is president. The meeting, which will finish next Thursday, is being held at the Domus Pacis of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, and is dedicated to the life and formation of priests.
In his message, the Holy Father writes that convening in Assisi recalls “the great love and veneration that St. Francis nurtured for the hierarchical Holy Mother Church, and in particular for priests … through whom the maternity of the Church reaches the entire People of God. How many of them we have known!” he exclaims. “We have seen them spending their lives amongst the people of our parishes, educating the young, accompanying families, visiting the sick at home and in hospital, and taking care of the poor”, in the knowledge that the gravest error is to separate oneself from others.
“Holy priests are sinners who have been forgiven, and instruments of forgiveness. Their existence speaks the language of patience and perseverance; they are not tourists of the spirit, eternally undecided and unsatisfied, as they know that they are in the hands of He Who never fails in His promises, and whose Providence ensures that nothing can ever separate them from their belonging. … Yes, it is still the time for priests of this substance, 'bridges' enabling the encounter between God and the world”.
“Priests like this cannot be improvised: they are forged through the valuable formative work of the Seminary, and Ordination consecrates them forever as men of God and servants of His people”. However, “the identity of the presbyter, precisely as it comes from above, demands he follow a daily itinerary of reappropriation, starting from that which made of him a minister of Jesus Christ. … The formation of which we speak …. is without end, as priests never cease to be disciples of Jesus and to follow Him. Therefore, formation as discipleship accompanies the ordained minister throughout his life”, writes the Holy Father. “Initial and continuing formation are two parts of a single entity: the path of the presbyter disciple, enamoured of his Lord and constantly following him”.
“You are aware that there is no need for clerical priests whose behaviour risks distancing people from the Lord, or functionary priests who, while they fulfil their role, seek their consolation far from Him. Only those who keep a steady gaze on what is truly essential may renew their acceptance of the gift they have received. … Only those who allow themselves to conform to the Good Shepherd find unity, peace and strength in the obedience of service; only those who take their breath in presbyteral fraternity leave behind the falsehood of a conscience that claims to be the epicentre of everything, the sole measure of their feelings and actions”.
The Pontiff concluded by expressing his hope that the participants in the Assembly would experience “days of listening and comparison, leading to the definition of itineraries of permanent formation, able to link spiritual and cultural, communicative and pastoral dimensions: these are the pillars of life formed according to the Gospel, preserved in daily discipline, in prayer, in the guardianship of the senses, in care for oneself, in humble and prophetic witness; lives that restore to the Church the trust that she first placed in them”.