Pope Francis met with several parish priests from the diocese of Rome.

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Pope Francis arrived at 4 p.m. at the Parish of St. Mary Mother of Hospitality and met about forty priests belonging to the 17th prefecture. The Pontiff was accompanied by H.E.R. Monsignor Riccardo Lamba, auxiliary bishop for the eastern sector.

The meeting began with a moment of prayer. The Pope started talking to the priests saying: "Ask the questions you want, not only the canonical ones".

Don Marco Simeone asked: "Your Holiness, I premise that we love You. Can You help us understand why You are always calling us back to worldliness? Because I feel that, even though I am a sinner, I don't seem to do all these things".

Secondly, the priest asked: "We fight every day with those who want to be godfathers and godmothers. It is difficult to put reception and prophecy together. Because we live in a historical moment in which when you say a half-no, not even a categorical no, people say to you 'oh God what a pain you gave me'".

The Pope replied: “Regarding worldliness this is a problem, a temptation we all run into”. Francis lashed out, for the umpteenth time, against “court priests” like Monsieur l'Abbé. The Pontiff, however, does not realise that the Church De Lubac was talking about was quite different from the current one. At the moment, in Italy but not only, “court” priests no longer exist, and not even “curia” priests by now. Pastoral care, then, would be good to incarnate it and not speak after reading books.

"One of the most common forms of worldliness is clericalism, the Pope said. That is why I sent to you the letter on clericalism. The non-clerical shepherd is one who stands in front of the flock to help it go forward, in the midst of the people to understand and behind the flock for those who remain behind and to leave the flock a little bit alone because the flock has the nose to understand".

As Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd offers his life for the sheep" Pope Francis invites priests to leave them "a little by themselves". The whole thing certainly makes sense.

The Pope and the difficulty between theory and practice

"People are annoying, people are always asking, always wanting. God's people are annoying,said the Pope. But it is our people”. Then he addressed a criticism: "The Anglo-Saxon culture. We who are Latin have closeness to the people. Clericalism is an attitude that is far from the people”.

The Pope's words are very beautiful in theory but they find a big obstacle with the humanity of the priest and also the arrogance of the laity. "Being troublesome" because one is seeking Jesus Christ and wants to progress toward holiness is one thing. Claiming to have what one wants and exercising power is another story. The image of the "priest always available h24" is also something that is not possible in practice. Just look at our history today and realize how many of our priests, who spend themselves enthusiastically, soon end up in burnout.

It is necessary to be realistic and stop rehashing the "slum priest who builds windows" story. Times have changed and the priest not only has to think about the spiritual aspect but is occupied with numerous commitments necessary for the management of the parish. If Pope Francis would engage a little more in listening to priests he would realize that most of our problems arise precisely from hyperactivity and little attention to one's "personal space."

Of course, the priest is called to give himself completely to his people but he needs time for himself, to guard his intimate and spiritual sphere, to cultivate his relationship with the Lord, his friendships, sports and his mental well-being. Otherwise, you run the risk of driving the priest crazy in the 25-40s and then you find yourself without a priest because the priest can't take it anymore.

During these meetings, it would be nice if the Pontiff would focus on topics such as the humanity of the priest. While labelling a host of nonsense as clericalism, one fails to realise that the underlying problem has been precisely this: to deify the priest to such an extent that people believe he is not human, that he does not need friendships, to eat a pizza, to relax....

Bureaucratic Fulfillments

While the parish priests waited for some practical advice, the Pope continued in his always haphazard, never clear style. On the issue of godfathers and godmothers, now an increasingly evident problem, he replied, "Putting together prophecy and welcome is not easy. It is two gestures. The ability to receive and the ability to put limits". Francis then said that often, in the examination of conscience, the priest must ask himself, "how did I welcome?" and added, "one normally chooses what one likes, what does not bring you problems". In fact, only a certain kind of people are welcomed at Santa Marta, usually with cameras on their backs.

The concerns raised by Fr Simeon are practical issues that, as Pope Francis would say, only those who 'have the scent of sheep' find themselves facing. On the one hand, then, there are those who respond to the Dubia, creating even more confusion; on the other hand, there are those who live in the parish and find themselves facing serious issues. The concern, then, concerns those people who come to the parish only to request a bureaucratic fulfilment: the certificate of eligibility to be godparents or godmothers of baptism.

When this happens, the parish priest usually does not have a personal relationship with these people because they live outside the parish and only come to the Church to request this certificate, which is asked of them by another priest. It is clear that if paper has to be wasted, this document can also be eliminated. If one wants to do things "for the good of souls", then, one must focus on their faith journey and their real condition. Very often, therefore, one is faced with people who 'demand' this document as if they were going to a state registry office. People who are not willing to be told: “Start a faith journey and then we will evaluate”.

Again, however, the Pope was unable to offer a concrete answer. As usual he remains vague and practicality is not something that concerns him. Why is this? Because anything goes, a little bit yes a little bit no. So that tomorrow he can go back to the window and attack the priests. Because everyone is bad in the Church except him.

Divide et Impera

One religious asked: 'We have pastoral plans, a myriad of pastoral plans, and we don't know which ones we should follow. The pastoral plans of the diocese, those of the synod, etc.. What should we do?"

"The pastoral plan must be realistic, you can follow it but you have to ask yourself how this can be realistic for my parish reality," the Pope replied. He then warned against "recipes" that make one "lose spontaneity".

The chaplain of the University of Tor Vergata emphasised the need to resolve the problem of State recognition of the degree obtained in the pontifical university. The Pope asked for a letter to be addressed to him in which he urged this measure.

Another parish priest was vocal about the climate that is being experienced in the diocese of Rome: "In the letter you sent us you emphasized two very beautiful things about priestly fraternity and then about the affective and effective communion that you want to live with us. I dwell on this and trust that we feel a little lost, tired, challenged and fatigued. We feel a little lost. There is often an air of fatigue, deployments, suspicion. We feel sorry about that. So the fact that we don't have a clergy meeting, all together is a problem we accuse. We had the meeting divided by sectors. I think we need to break this air a little bit. I think communion among priests is important. We ask you to help us overcome this moment, the difficulties in the episcopal council, things that You know. We need You personally to help us. For example, the clergy meeting, we need to see all of us together at least once a year."

It is enough to think about the fact that the Pope has never gone to his seminary to talk to his seminarians. His predecessors did, Francis did not. In recent years, the pope has fomented an internal struggle within the Vicariate of Rome for which a bishop and a priest who were torpedoed overnight paid the price. Francis has favored the division of the Roman clergy, just as he does now in meeting "in blocks," rather than bringing unity. After all, the motto is not "Miserando atque eligendo" but "Divide et impera".

Even in regard to this prayer, the Pope could not report anything. Everyone knows, however, that no leaf is being moved that Bergoglio does not want. Perhaps it would have been helpful to answer the question, "How is it that he is favoring this division of the diocese by following the wishes of the repressed Mgr. Libanori who wants at all costs to govern a diocese without having the ability to do so?"

"For me you are a distant figure, for us the Pope was the one we had the chance to meet at the Feast of Fiducia", said one priest to the Pope.

"I always receive the priests", said the Pope. He continued: “The advantage of Santa Marta is that people come to the porter's lodge and have them come up to me. There are many priests who come. If they want to come they come, so they shorten the distance”. A sterile discourse, which does not enter into the merits and is not even true. Firstly, it must be said that there are different types of meetings. The bishop has meetings with all the priests. As the pastor said, there are seminary meetings and clergy meetings. Two moments that the Pope does not want to experience with his priests. Secondly, there are the personal talks. It is not true that everyone has access to Santa Marta, as Francis says. Only those who have 'recommendations' in the magic circle enter Santa Marta.

Now we invite all Roman priests to go to Santa Marta tomorrow morning and ask for an appointment with their bishop. Then they will tell us how many have actually been received.

Rome land of mission. And the Jubilee?

Starting with a remark on the inscription that can be read on the façade of the Basilica of St John Lateran, a parish priest asked: “It seems to me that Rome is doing very well in terms of serving the poor. Our parishes are full. However, the queues of those asking for the sacraments are not increasing. In our Church in Rome we are experiencing a profound crisis of faith, of Christian practice. Just look at baptisms, about 50% do not baptise their children. Few ask for confirmation following Holy Communion”.

"Confirmation is the sacrament of farewell," the Pope joked.

"The decline in attendance at Sunday Mass, the seminary is almost empty. Today, having a young vice-parish priest has become a luxury. We ask ourselves what is to be done? I believe that Rome is a land of mission, if there is an urgency it is to proclaim the Gospel again, the beauty of the family, the beauty of becoming priests”, he asked.

"Even at the Synod everyone says that the Gospel must be proclaimed again, but no one explains how", the priest wondered.

Then he opened a large Pandora's box. In fact, everyone is wondering how the Church is preparing for the Jubilee. Apart from the events that Mauro Gambetti organises to compete with Mgr. Fisichella because he did not like the Pope's choice to entrust him with this task, what is the Church of Rome doing to prepare for the Jubilee of 2025?

The priest recalled: "We experienced the Jubilee of 2000, which was an event of great re-evangelisation. Many doors were opened, schools, different realities. We read that the Holy See and the government had a meeting. The Mayor of Rome is taking steps to make Rome more welcoming to pilgrims. I wonder what the Church of Rome is doing, what spiritual interventions to welcome pilgrims?". He then launched a barb at the pundits, including the Pope, who have wanted at all costs to make the Lateran Palace visitable. This initiative is a complete flop and the numbers speak for themselves.

"I would not want pilgrims arriving in Rome to visit dusty monuments, perhaps the empty papal apartment located at the Lateran but should encounter the living Church, the Church of Rome committed to proclaiming the Gospel", he noted.

Pope Francis went on the attack: “I would like to underline the tone of your intervention”. The Pope, in fact, accepts everything but being told about how well things worked before him and the lack of vocations. Are you kidding? It's not like these are the problems.

"Big cities are pagan, there is a lot of paganism. You can feel that many priests are tired, they are fatigued. There are cultural things that we do not know how to handle but this is a problem of all times”, Pope Francis said. Since he no longer knew what to say he returned to worldliness and said that this is a risk. Regarding the Jubilee he said: “We must not stop at the Jubilee, it is not the Jubilee that saves you but the everyday”.

Shortly before, a parish priest had asked him how to behave with the godfathers and the Pope did not reply. Now he intervened, saying: “We must be capable of taking risks. Each of us must say: am I capable of taking risks? Or do I defend myself with rules?"

Norms, however, are not something with which we defend ourselves. Francis forgets that we have abandoned the 'Man for the Law' system but have moved on to the 'Law for Man'. If he thinks that 'risking' means risking the salvation of our souls and that of the faithful entrusted to us, we are probably speaking different languages. Just like when he says: 'Forgive everything, always forgive'. What the Lord asks of us is just the opposite. To risk men not to praise us, not to incense us, but to save their souls. Sometimes a no is salvific. We do not play with people's salvation.

"What does it mean to risk?" the Pope asked. "Pray to the Holy Spirit, he will give you the strength", he said. In essence, each pastor will receive a different 'advice' from the Holy Spirit and everyone will continue to do what they want. Norms, what good are they? For nothing.

Bergoglio Factotum

With great nonchalance, Pope Francis told the parish priests about an episode that involved him personally and makes us realise the seriousness into which we have plunged. Bergoglio recounted that on one occasion an Argentine priest had detected some problems with the godfather of a child who was to receive baptism. He did not explain what kind of problems. He explained that the parents approached him and he called the parish priest and told him what to do, obviously in favour of this person.

Now, do we realise how absurd this is? Being at Santa Marta allows the Pope to welcome people who speak ill of priests and allows the Pope to deal with the problems of individual parishes? There is a Church that has innumerable problems and he deals with the practices of lay people who go to him to complain about their parish priest? But in the Church do we have a code, a Gospel or is there only the Pope?

Carelessness at will

Always following that pattern that characterises Francis, I am good-the Church is bad, the Pope told some stories that are unbelievable.

"You will say that the Pope is Lutheran," he began. "The problem of second union couples. In the general audiences it happened to me, the last time 15 days ago, that this couple told me that they were married. The husband had a previous marriage, they remarried but they have been together for 25 years. The couple reported that perhaps that sacrament was not valid'. He continued: 'When I was in Asti, a lady wrote me a letter saying that she was in her sixties and was living in a second marriage. The first marriage had gone badly, then she found this man, she had children with him, many grandchildren but she complained because they could not receive Communion".

«I called this lady - said the Pope - listened to her on the phone and told her: 'But go quietly, go to confession but then go and take communion in another parish so as not to scandalise people”».

"When the couple reported this to the parish priest, he told them to take communion in the parish", the Pope concluded. We ask ourselves: what is pastoral care for? What is the parish priest for? All you have to do is call the Pope on the phone, tell him two idiotic things and he grants you access to the sacraments. We would like to offer a piece of advice to parish priests: from now on take Francis' mobile phone number and hang it on the notice board at the back of the church, he will solve all your problems. After all, why take it upon ourselves to make people go to hell? Let him take it, probably for the Successor of Peter the common rules do not apply.

"The beautiful rule," said the Pope, "is the one that has exceptions". How to make a jurist die in two seconds. Francis, however, is aware of what he is saying and adds: “Some will say that the Pope is a relativist. But let it be a fruitful relativism”. We ask ourselves: "With Benedict XVI buried, have we given the green light to the tongue?"

Another priest told the Pope clearly: 'We were disappointed, hurt that the new Constitution came down from above. It would have been nice to have been asked to reflect on certain issues, on a draft, to reflect together and then from there to give birth to something. So many times already from above we do not breathe [this walking together]. How have you thought of educating your diocese, the universal Church, to bring in this culture of community discernment? For the moment this fact of walking together is missing'.

Francis glossed over the question on the Constitution and stopped at 'making discernment'. He lashed out at rigidity, another of his mantras, saying that 'discernment is learned by doing'.

The meeting closed with a reference to the appointment of 13 January 2024. The Pope told the priests, 'Prepare him well,' and they all burst out in thunderous, bitter laughter. Francis knows that it is not the priests who prepare him. Wanting to justify his absence at key moments in the diocese, repeatedly pointed out by a news site that he 'cannot keep quiet', Francis blamed the pandemic and his interventions. Yet, it must be said, he did not lack the time and strength to travel the world. He began by saying, 'let us resume this dialogue a little'.

d.R.O. e F.P.

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