VATICAN CITY — In reviewing the administration of property and finances, the Italian bishops should “maintain only what is useful for the faith experience and the charity of the people of God,” Pope Francis said.
Opening the Italian bishops’ conference annual assembly in the Vatican May 16, the pope focused on the bishops’ main agenda item: “the renewal of clergy.”
The agenda item on the administration of material goods fits into the main theme, though, the pope insisted. “In an evangelical vision, avoid weighing yourselves down with a pastoral plan for preservation, which blocks openness to the perennial newness of the Holy Spirit.”
Quoting the late Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara of Olinda and Recife, Pope Francis told the bishops, “When your boat starts putting down roots in the stagnant water by the quay, put out to sea!”
“Set off!” the pope said. “And not because you ‘have’ a mission to complete, but because you are a missionary. In encountering Jesus you have experienced the fullness of life and, therefore, with all your being” you want others to encounter him as well.
Pope Francis suggested that the Italian bishops, before setting out a plan for the permanent formation of their priests, spend time in silence thinking about their priests and how they give of themselves and why they do it.
While bishops too often use “a bitter and accusatory tone” to speak about the modern age, he said, they are right to recognize that the current culture has left many people adrift and selfish.
“On this background, the life of our priests becomes eloquent because it is different, alternative,” the pope said. The men who have entered the priesthood have given up their “ambitions for a career and power.”
Aware of how God has healed and saved him, a priest is not scandalized by the fragility of others and is not coldly rigid, but reaches out to help others on the path to salvation, he said.
“Our priest is not a bureaucrat or an anonymous institutional functionary; he is not consecrated to a white-collar role nor is he motivated by criteria of efficiency,” the pope said. “He knows that love is everything.”
In an age when true friendships are rare, he said, a priest knows how to build communion, involving and recognizing the gifts of the laity, and he commits himself in a true spirit of brotherhood to supporting and learning from his brother priests.
Pope Francis asked the Italian bishops to take great care to treasure their priests and to do so “with patience and the availability of your time, your hands and your heart.”