Pope defends priests, religious who brave pandemic to serve the poor against ‘elite mentality’

Pope Francis Saturday cautioned against what he said is an “elite” and “clerical” mentality that leaves the poor behind, saying this attitude is also on display during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

ROME – In his daily Mass Saturday, Pope Francis cautioned against what he called an “elite” and “clerical” mentality that leaves the poor behind, saying this attitude is also on display during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

Pointing to the day’s Gospel reading from John, which recounts a dispute between a crowd calling Jesus a prophet and Pharisees who want him arrested, the pope in his March 28 homily said there are two clear groups in the passage: The people of God, “who love Jesus and follow him,” and the “intellectuals of the law, the leaders of Israel, the leaders of the people.”

“The Holy Faithful People of God believe in Jesus, they follow him. This little group of elites, the doctors of the law, are detached from the people and they don’t receive Jesus,” he said, insisting that the latter group, although studied and well-read in the law, “had a great defect: they had lost their memory of their own belonging to a people.”

When it comes to the “elite,” the problem, Francis said, “is that they have lost their memory of their own belonging to God. They became sophisticated, they passed to another social class, they feel like executives, but this is clericalism.”

On the other hand, “the people of God follow Jesus. They can’t explain why, but they follow him, he reaches the heart and does not grow tired,” he said.

Referring to the coronavirus and Italy’s strict lockdown, Pope Francis said he has seen such a mentality emerge even amid the outbreak, with some arguing that priests and religious sisters shouldn’t be allowed out to care for the poor or the sick for fear of spreading contagion.

“I’ve heard it said in these days, ‘How in the world do these priests, these sisters, who are healthy, go to the poor to give them something to eat? They can get the coronavirus! Tell the Mother Superior not to let the sisters out, tell the bishop not to let the priests out!’”

But priests and religious “are for the sacraments,” the pope said, noting that this attitude, which says to give the poor something to eat “as the government provides” but not as God does, is the same mindset of the Pharisees and the doctors of the law, who view the poor as “’second-class’ people” whereas “we are the ‘executive class’, we shouldn’t dirty our hands with the poor.”

“Many times, we think there are good people, priests and sisters, who don’t have the courage to go and serve the poor. Something is missing,” he said, insisting that these people “have lost their memory, they have lost what Jesus felt in his heart, he was part of the people.”

Francis then recalled a photo he had received recently of a priest serving a collection of small towns in the mountains, who recently brought the Blessed Sacrament to these towns in a monstrance for a blessing despite a snowfall.

For this priest, he said, “the snow didn’t matter, the shivers that the snow caused didn’t matter; in his hands, in contact with the metal of the monstrance, the only thing that mattered was bringing Jesus to the people.”

Urging Catholics to reflect on which group they belong to, he also encouraged faithful to remember the many men and women committed to serving the people of God who “are good, and they go to serve the people. (There are) many priests who don’t leave the people.”

Pope Francis at the beginning of his Mass also offered prayers for those struggling financially, noting that in some parts of the world, “We are beginning to see some consequences of the pandemic.”

“One of those is hunger,” he said. “We’re beginning to see people who are hungry because they can’t work, they don’t have a stable job, and many other consequences. We’re beginning to see the aftermath that will come later but it’s beginning now. Let us pray together for the families who find themselves in need due to the pandemic.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen


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