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Thursday, March 6, 2014


Vatican City, 6 March 2014 (VIS) – This morning, in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis met with the clergy of the diocese of Rome. The central theme of the meeting, inspired by the Gospel of St. Matthew, was mercy. The Holy Father recalled how Jesus walked through towns and villages, feeling compassion for those he encountered; people who were “tired and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd”. “We are not here to perform a spiritual exercise for the beginning of Lent, but rather to listen to the voice of the Spirit that speaks to everyone in the Church in this, our time, which is indeed the time of mercy”.

This “time of mercy” was Pope Francis' first point of reflection. “Today, we forget everything too easily, including the teaching of the Church! This is in part inevitable, but we must not forget the important content, the great intuitions and that which has been consigned to the People of God. And divine mercy is among these. … It is up to us, as ministers of the Church, to keep this message alive, above all in preaching and in our gestures, in signs and in pastoral choices, such as the decision to restore priority to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and at the same time to works of mercy”.

Secondly, the Pope asked, “What does it mean to be a priest?”. He explained that “priests are moved by their sheep, like Jesus when he saw the people, tired and exhausted, like sheep without a shepherd”. He commented that the priest, following the example of the Good Shepherd, is a man of mercy and compassion, close to his people and the servant of all. “In particular, the priest demonstrates the depths of his mercy in administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation; he shows this in all his attitude, in his way of welcoming, listening, advising and absolving. … But this derives from how he lives this Sacrament himself. … If a person lives this himself, in his own heart, he is also able to give it to others in his ministry”.

The Holy Father added that the heart of a priest must be susceptible to being moved, as “sterile priests do not help the Church. … We can think of today's Church as a kind of 'field hospital', where we need to tend to injuries. … There are many people who are wounded by material problems, by scandals, even in the Church. … People wounded by the illusions of the world. … We priests must be there, close to these people. Mercy means, above all, taking care of wounds. When a person is injured, this is the immediate help they need, not analyses; the special care can follow, but first we need to tend to the open wounds. Do you know what your parishioners' wounds are? Are you close to them?”.

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, mercy means “neither undue laxity nor excessive rigour”. “Often, as priests, we hear of the experience of the faithful who say they have encountered in Confession a very 'rigid' or a very 'flexible' priest, lax or rigorous. That there may be differences in style is normal, but these differences must not relate to the substance, that is the healthy moral doctrine and mercy. Neither the lax nor the rigorous bear witness to Jesus, because neither of them truly take on the people they meet. … True mercy truly takes the person on board … and acts like the Good Samaritan. … Neither laxity nor rigour make holiness flourish”.

“Instead, mercy accompanies the path of holiness, and helps growth. But how? Through pastoral suffering, which is a form of mercy. What does pastoral suffering mean? It means suffering with the people, like a father and a mother suffer for their children, and I would say also with anxiety”.

Pope Francis shared with the clergy some questions that helped him when a priest comes to him for advice. “Do you cry? How many of us cry when faced with the suffering of a child, the destruction of a family, before the many people who cannot find their path? The tears of a priest … Do you cry, or is this a clergy that has lost its tears? Do you cry for your people? Do you battle with the Lord for your people, like Abraham fought?”

The Bishop of Rome concluded by commenting that in the end, “we will be judged for how we have been able to be close to 'every flesh', to our neighbours, to the flesh of our brothers. … At the end of time, only those who have not been ashamed before the flesh of his injured and excluded brother will be admitted to the contemplation of Christ's glorified flesh”.


Vatican City, 6 March 2014 (VIS) – Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father presided over the traditional procession of penitence from the Church of St. Anselm on the the Aventine Hill to the Basilica of Santa Sabina, on the same Roman hill. Numerous cardinals, archbishops and bishops take part, along with the Benedictine monks of St. Anselm, the Dominican fathers of Santa Sabina, and the faithful.

After the procession, Pope Francis presided over the celebration of the Eucharist with the rite of blessing and the imposition of the ashes. The Pope received them from the hands of Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular of the basilica, and subsequently imposed them on the cardinals and various monks, religious and faithful. Following the proclamation of the Gospel, he gave a homily in which he emphasised that the conversion of the heart is the characteristic of Lent. “We are called upon to undertake a path in which, challenging our routine, we make efforts to open … our hearts, to go beyond simply tending our own gardens.

“We know that this increasingly artificial world makes us live in a culture of 'doing' of the 'useful', where without realising we exclude God from our horizons. But we exclude the horizon itself! Lent calls to us to 'shake ourselves up', to remember that we are creatures, simply that we are not God. When I watch, in my little daily environment, some battles to occupy space, I think: these people play at being God the Creator. They still have not understood that they are not God”.

But, towards others too, “we run the risk of closing ourselves up, of forgetting them. But only we are called to by the difficulties and suffering of our brothers, only then can we undertake our path of conversion towards Easter”. To walk this spiritual path, three elements are necessary: prayer, fasting and charity. All three involve “the importance of not allowing oneself to be dominated by appearances: what counts is not appearance, but what we have inside”.

Prayer is “the strength of of the Christian and of every believer. In the weakness and the fragility of our life, we may turn to God with the trust of His sons and enter into communion with Him. And Lent is a time for prayer, “a more intense and prolonged prayer … more able to take on the needs of our brothers; prayer of intercession, to intercede before God for many situations of poverty and suffering”.

Fasting “has meaning only if it truly attacks our security, and if it brings benefits to others, if it helps us to cultivate the approach of the good Samaritan, who turns to his brother and takes care of him. Fasting involves choosing a sober style of life; a life without waste, without discarding things. Fasting helps us to train our hearts in simplicity and sharing”.

Giving to charity “means giving freely, because in this way we gives to someone from whom we expect nothing in return. Giving freely should be one of the characteristics of the Christian who, aware of having received everything freely from God, that is, undeservingly, learns to give freely to others. … Giving to charity helps us to live the free nature of the gift, which is freedom from the obsession of possession, of the fear of losing what we have”.

“With its invitation to conversion”, concluded Pope Francis, “Lent providentially reawakens us, shakes us from our torpor, from our risk of living by inertia. … Why must we return to God? Because something is not quite right in us, and is not right in society or in the Church, and we need to change, to turn things around. This is what is meant by needing to convert! Once again, Lent makes its prophetic call to us, to remind us that it is possible to achieve something new within ourselves and around ourselves, simply because God is faithful … and continues to be rich in goodness and mercy, always ready to forgive and start again from the beginning”.


Vatican City, 6 March 2014 (VIS) – Today, the Holy Father received in audience Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.


Vatican City, 6 March 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father has:

- appointed Bishop Andre Marceau of Perpignan, France, as bishop of Nice (area 4,283, population 1,204,000, Catholics 774,000, priests 204, permanent deacons 38, religious 290), France.

- appointed Bishop Antonio Carlos Felix of Lux, Brazil, as bishop of Governador Valadares (area 14,373, population 551,000, Catholics 387,000, priests 77, permanent deacons 10, religious 49), Brazil. He succeeds Bishop Werner Franz Siebenbrock, S.V.D., whose resignation upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.
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