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Pope Francis: 'Priests must be close to the people'

In a conversation with seminarians and priests studying in Rome, Pope Francis addresses numerous topics: from the compassionate style of priests, called to be close to the people, to spiritual direction.

By Vatican News staff writer

A long dialogue took place on Monday in the Paul VI Hall between Pope Francis and seminarians and priests studying in Rome. Throughout the meeting, the Pope was asked ten questions.

The good priest and God’s style

Responding to a question on the concreteness of mercy, the Pope stated that it is necessary to learn the language of gestures that express closeness and tenderness. This also applies when giving homilies, he said. “Let the expression be complete”.

Pope Francis spoke of three languages that reveal “the maturity of a person: the language of the head, the language of the heart, and the language of the hands” and urged them to learn to express themselves in these three languages, “that I think what I feel and do, feel what I think and do, do what I feel and think”.  

Keeping in touch with God’s people

To those who asked him how to live the priesthood without losing that “smell of the sheep” that must be proper to the priestly ministry, Pope Francis replied that even if one is engaged in studies or in Curial work “it is important to maintain contact with the people, with God’s faithful people, because there is the anointing of God’s people: they are the sheep.

By losing the smell of the sheep, by distancing yourself from them, you can be a theorist, a good theologian, a good philosopher, a very good curial official who does all the things” but you will have lost “the ability to smell the sheep”. The Pope then reiterated what he calls the principle of the four “proximities” of priests: closeness with God through prayer, closeness with the bishop, closeness with other priests, and closeness to the people of God: “If there is no closeness to the people of God, you are not a good priest.”

The priesthood is not a commodity

The Pope then spoke of priests who live the priesthood as if it were a job, with set hours; official priests, who seek tranquillity.

“The priesthood is a sacred service to God”, the Pope explained, “the service of which the Eucharist is the highest degree, it is a service to the community”. He then addressed the topic of “climbing priests”, those who aim to make a career for themselves, inviting them to stop: “The climber, in the end, is a traitor, he is not a servant. He seeks his own and then does nothing for others”. 

Spiritual accompaniment

In the wide-ranging dialogue developed in the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis also emphasized the importance of spiritual direction – noting, however, that he preferred the term “spiritual accompaniment” – which is not obligatory but helps on life’s journey, and which is good to entrust to a person other than one’s confessor.

The Pope emphasized that the important thing is that these are two separate roles. “You go to the confessor so that he may forgive you your sins. You go to the spiritual director to tell him the things that are going on in your heart, the spiritual emotions, the joys, the anger, and what is going on inside you”. It is important to be accompanied, to recognize that you need to be accompanied, to “clarify things”, to recognize that you need someone to help you understand your spiritual emotions, said the Pope.

Not every question has an answer

Taking his cue from a question on the dialogue between science and faith, the Pope first of all invited priests to be open to the questions of scholars and the anxieties of people and university students, to listen, and to always maintain a positive, open, and humble attitude.

“To be humble, to have faith does not mean having the answer to everything”, said the Pope.” That method of defending the faith no longer works, it is an anachronistic method… To have faith, to have the grace to believe in Jesus Christ is to be on the way”, he explained. The Pope also recommended always keeping dialogue open with science, even if one has no answers, and if anything, directing the person to whom one has not been able to answer towards those who can offer more clarification. Dialogue is saying “I cannot explain this to you, but you must go to these scientists, to these people who will perhaps help you”, said the Pope. 

Falling down, getting back up

Responding to another question, the Pope described life as “a continuous imbalance”, because it means walking among many difficulties, falling down, and getting up.

He encouraged his audience not to be afraid of it and to discern, instead, in such daily imbalance, because “in the imbalance, there are God’s motions that invite you to something, to the desire to do good”. “Knowing how to live in imbalance” leads to “a different equilibrium”, a “dynamic equilibrium” governed by God.

Dangers of the Internet

During the meeting with priests and seminarians, the Pope also spoke about his relationship with technology and his discomfort with modern digital tools. He recounted how, as a gift, he received a mobile phone as soon as he was ordained bishop in Argentina, used it for a single phone call to his sister, and immediately returned it.

“It is not my world, but you must use them”, he told those present, albeit cautiously. Pope Francis emphasized the dangers of the internet, such as digital pornography, which presents a temptation for many, including religious. “It weakens the soul. It weakens the soul. The devil enters from there: it weakens the priestly heart”, he warned.

The Church in the face of war

Responding to a Ukrainian priest, the Pope said that the Church, like a mother, suffers in the face of wars “because wars are the destruction of children”. The Church, continued the Pope, “must suffer, weep, pray. It must assist people who have had bad consequences, who lose their homes, or war wounds, deaths … The Church is a mother, and the role first of all is closeness to the people who suffer”.

Then, addressing himself directly to the young priest who had asked him the question, the Pope concluded by saying, “You suffer so much, your people, I know, I am close. But pray for the aggressors, because they are more victims like you. You cannot see the wounds in their souls, but pray, pray that the Lord will convert them and that peace will come”.

Source: Vatican News