Pope Francis Reminds Priests to Act "in persona Christi" which "...must be lived fully in every moment of life, mindful of the words of the apostle Paul: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me"

Clementina room
Thursday, June 9, 2022
Dear brothers!
I am happy to meet you. I remember with joy my trip to Piazza Armerina and Palermo: I have not forgotten it. I thank Monsignor Antonino Raspanti for the words he addressed to me on behalf of all of you. Bearing in mind the reality he presented, I would like to share some reflections. Another place that I have not forgotten about the trips is Agrigento, the first one I did, in front of the tragedy of Lampedusa.

The change of epoch in which we find ourselves living requires courageous choices, even if considered and, above all, enlightened with the discernment of the Holy Spirit. This change is putting a strain on social and emotional ties in particular, as the pandemic has highlighted even more clearly. The responsible attitude with which to live it, as in other historical phases, is to welcome it with awareness and with a "confident taking charge of reality, anchored in the wise living and living Tradition of the Church, which can afford to put out into the deep without fear" ( Speech at the Symposium “For a Fundamental Theology of the Priesthood”, February 17, 2022).
Sicily is not out of this change; indeed, as has happened in the past, it is at the center of historical paths that the continental peoples draw. It has often welcomed the steps of these peoples, now rulers now migrants, and by welcoming them it has integrated them into its fabric, developing its own culture. I remember when, about 40 years ago, they showed me a film about Sicily: “Kaos”, it was called. There were four stories by Pirandello, the great Sicilian. I was amazed by that beauty, by that culture, by that "continental insularity", let's put it this way ... But this does not mean that it is a happy island, because the condition of insularity deeply affects Sicilian society, ending up highlighting the contradictions that we carry within us. So that in Sicily we are witnessing behaviors and gestures marked by great virtues as well as cruel atrocities. Likewise, alongside masterpieces of extraordinary artistic beauty, one sees scenes of mortifying neglect. And equally, in the face of men and women of great culture, many children and young people escape school and remain cut off from a dignified human life. Sicilian everyday life takes on strong colors, such as the intense colors of the sky and flowers, of the fields and of the sea, which shine with the strength of the solar brightness. It is no coincidence that so much blood was shed at the hand of the violent but also for the humble and heroic resistance of the saints and the just, servants of the Church and the State.
The current social situation in Sicily has been in sharp decline for years; a clear sign is the depopulation of the island, due both to the decline in births - this demographic winter that we are all experiencing - and to the massive emigration of young people. Mistrust in institutions reaches high levels and the dysfunction of services burdens the carrying out of daily practices, despite the efforts of valid and honest people, who would like to commit themselves and change the system. It is necessary to understand how and in which direction Sicily is experiencing the change of the era and which paths it could take, to announce, in the fractures and joints of this change, the Gospel of Christ.
This task, although entrusted to the entire people of God, asks us priests and bishops to give full, total and exclusive service. In the face of this great challenge, the Church too is affected by the general situation with its burdens and its turning points, registering a decline in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, but above all a growing detachment of young people. Young people find it hard to perceive in parishes and ecclesial movements a help in their search for the meaning of life; and they do not always see the clear distancing from old ways of acting, erroneous and even immoral, to decisively take the path of justice and honesty. I was saddened when I had to have some file in my hands that reached the Roman Congregations for some judgment on priests and people of the Church: but why, why did we arrive at this path of injustice and dishonesty?
There have been, however, in the past, and still today, figures of priests and faithful who fully embrace the fate of the Sicilian people: how can we forget the Blessed Don Pino Puglisi and Rosario Livatino, but also lesser-known people, women and men who have lived fidelity to Christ and to the people in every state of life? How can we ignore the silent, tenacious and loving work of so many priests in the midst of people who are disheartened or without work, in the midst of children or the elderly who are increasingly lonely? And speaking of the priests who are close to the elderly, I recently received a letter from one of your priests, who told me how he had accompanied the old parish priest in the last days of his life, up to the last moment. He came back very tired from work, but the first thing was to go to the "old man" and tell him things, make him happy; and then take him to bed, accompany him until he falls asleep… These are great, great gestures! And this greatness is also among you, in your clergy. The priestly figure among the people, of good priests, is important because in Sicily, priests are still seen as spiritual and moral guides, people who can also contribute to improving the civil and social life of the island, to support the family and to be a reference for growing young people. The expectation of the Sicilian people towards the priests is high and demanding. Don't stay halfway, please!
Faced with the awareness of our weaknesses, we know that Christ's will places us at the heart of this challenge. The key to everything is in his call, on which to lean on to put out into the deep and cast the nets again. We do not even know ourselves, but if we go back to the call, we cannot ignore that Face that met us and drew behind it, even united to itself, as our tradition teaches when it states that in the liturgy we even act "in persona Christi" . We cannot limit this full unity, this identification to the celebration, but must be lived fully in every moment of life, mindful of the words of the apostle Paul: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20).
If then, in the sentiment of the people of Sicily, bitterness and disappointment prevail at the distance that separates them from the richest and most advanced areas of the country and Europe; if many, especially young people, aspire to leave to find richer and more comfortable living standards, while those who remain carry feelings of frustration; all the more reason we pastors are called to fully embrace the life of this people. Let us not forget the prophets of Israel, who remained faithful to the people through God's fidelity to the covenant, and followed him right into exile. As well as the wise and pious who supported the faithful people in the diaspora. Being close, being close, this is what we are called to live, for the fidelity of God; for love of him we are close to the end, to the extreme, when the circumstances of justice, reconciliation, honesty and forgiveness lead to them. Closeness, compassion and tenderness: this is the style of God and it is also the style of the shepherd. The Lord himself says to his people: "Tell me, which people have their gods as close as you have me?". Closeness, which is compassionate, forgives all, is tender. Hugs, caresses.
In the tiring "today" of the people of God that is in Sicily, priests draw this form of life from the Eucharist every day. I said this while speaking to you in Palermo four years ago: "The words of the Institution outline our priestly identity: they remind us that the priest is a man of gift, of self-giving, every day, without holidays and without stopping. Because ours, dear priests, is not a profession but a donation; not a job, which can also be used to make a career, but a mission "(Address to the clergy, religious and seminarians, Palermo, 15 September 2018). And please, beware of careerism: it is a wrong path that in the end disappoints, in the end disappoints. And it leaves you alone, lost.
And then you are animated by the great Marian devotion of Sicily, consecrated to Mary Immaculate, for which together, bishops and priests, you have taken the habit of celebrating a Marian Day of Priests: continue with this. The first value that is emphasized with this practice is that of unity, truly crucial in the face of individualism and fragmentation, if not the division that hangs over us all. Unity, the gift of Jesus' Easter sacrifice, is strengthened with the method of synodality, which you too have adopted through the training courses set out on the theme "With a synodal step". In the various initiatives for the regional formation of the clergy, it is beautiful your resolution to carry out exercises of synodality by vivifying priestly fraternity and fatherhood, to "walk together" by reciprocally narrating human and spiritual experiences, pastoral initiatives, with sincerity and naturalness, with gratitude and amazement for the steps taken with the help of the Spirit. A journey, certainly, that requires openness to God's surprises in our lives and in the existential hubs of our communities, with the awareness that through listening, humble and sincere, we can experience a discernment that reaches our hearts and changes us inwardly.
The other value is that of entrusting himself to Mary, a woman of tenderness and consolation, patience and compassion. Between the priest and the heavenly Mother a secret dialogue is intertwined day after day that comforts and soothes every wound, which above all alleviates the ups and downs of everyday life that he encounters. In this simple dialogue, made up of looks and humble words like those of the Rosary, the priest discovers how the pearl of Mary's virginity, totally dedicated to God, makes her a tender mother to all. Thus he too, almost unbeknownst to him, sees the fruitfulness of celibacy, sometimes difficult to carry on, but precious and rich in its transparency.
I don't want to finish without talking about something that worries me, worries me enough. I ask myself: the reform that the Council has initiated, how are you doing? Popular piety is a great wealth and we must guard it, accompany it so that it is not lost. Even educate her. On this read n. 48 of Evangelii Nuntiandi which is fully topical, what St. Paul VI told us about popular piety: free it from every superstitious gesture and take the substance it has inside. But the liturgy, how is it going? And there I don't know, why I don't go to Mass in Sicily and I don't know how Sicilian priests preach, if they preach as suggested in Evangelii gaudium or if they preach in such a way that people go out for a cigarette and then come back ... Those sermons in which we talk about everything and nothing. Keep in mind that after eight minutes attention drops, and people want substance. A thought, a feeling and an image, and he carries that for the whole week. But how do they celebrate? I don't go to Mass there, but I have seen some photographs. I speak clearly. But dear ones, still the laces, the coins…, but where are we? Sixty years after the Council! A little updating also in liturgical art, in liturgical "fashion"! Yes, sometimes bring some grandma's lace goes, but sometimes. It's to pay homage to the grandmother, isn't it? You understand everything, right? You understand. It is nice to pay homage to the grandmother, but it is better to celebrate the mother, the holy mother Church, and how the mother Church wants to be celebrated. And that insularity does not prevent the true liturgical reform that the Council has put forward. And don't stay quiet.
Dear brothers, I thank you so much for your visit. I bless you and your communities, I bless their path. I recommend: do not forget to pray for me, because I need it.
Another thing ... I am not saying this only for Sicily, this is universal: one of the things that most destroy ecclesial life, both the diocese and the parish, is chatter, chatter that goes together with ambition. They will give you a piece of writing that an Apostolic Nuncio made about chattering, he calls it "abused word". We can't get rid of the chatter: even after a meeting: Hello, we say goodbye, and begins: "Did you see what that one, that other, that other said ...". Chattering is a plague that destroys the Church, destroys communities, destroys belonging, destroys the personality. And I really like the image he put on the cover - then you will see it because they will give you one for each - there is the sign of the finger, which is the sign of identity, and one that takes it off, because with chatter it takes away your identity, it takes away your belonging: this is the gossip with us. Excuse me if I preach these things that seem to be from First Communion, but they are essential things: do not forget them!
Now I will give you the blessing.
Source: Vatican.va - Image Screenshot Vatican News