(Vatican Radio) The Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica will publish the text of Pope Francis’ conversation with 140 Superiors General of male religious orders during the 88th General Assembly of the Union of Superiors General (USG) which took place on 25 November 2016.
An excerpt of this conversation was published on Thursday in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
“The Church must accompany the young in their journey towards maturity, and it is only with discernment and not abstractions that young people can discover their path in life and live a life open to God and the world, so I chose this theme to introduce discernment more forcefully into the life of the Church,” the Pope said when asked why the next General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is on young people.
“You have to work with young people by doing things, working with the popular missions, social work, going every week to feed the homeless,” – the Holy Father continued – “Young people find the Lord in action. Then, after action they have to reflect. But reflection alone doesn’t help, because it is only ideas ... ideas. So, two concepts: listening and movement. This is important. But not only training young people to listen, but first listening to them, the young people themselves. This is an important priority for the Church: listening to young people.”
He also spoke about the falling number of vocations in religious orders, saying it is “certainly linked to the demographic problem,” but added “it is also true that sometimes the pastoral vocation does not respond to the expectations of the young.”
He also expressed “worry” over some of the new religious institutes, remarking “some of them seem to represent a new approach, to express a great apostolic strength, attracting many, only then ... to go bankrupt.”
He also said he was at peace with being Pope, and spoke about his election.
“There was talk in the General Congregations [the meetings among the Cardinals before the Conclave] of the Vatican’s problems, there was talk of reforms. Everyone wanted them,” – Pope Francis said – “There is corruption in the Vatican. But I’m at peace. If there is a problem, I write a note to St. Joseph and put it under a statue that I have in my room. It is a statue of St. Joseph sleeping. And now he sleeps on a mattress of notes! That’s why I sleep well: it is the grace of God.”
The Pope said he believes that everyone must seek to discover what the Lord has chosen for them.
“After all, losing peace does not help us to suffer at all,” – he explained – “The Superiors must learn to suffer, but to suffer like a father. And also to suffer with a great deal of humility. This is the path that can lead from the cross to peace. But never wash your hands of problems! Yes, in the Church there are Pontius Pilates who wash their hands to avoid discomfort. But a superior who washes his hands is not a father, and doesn’t help.”
When asked about the prophetic role of religious life, Pope Francis said it was important to be “radical in prophecy.”
“Being radical in the prophecy is the famous sine glossa, the rule sine glossa, the Gospel sine glossa,” – the Holy Father emphasized – “In other words, without tranquillisers! The Gospel should be taken without tranquillisers. This is what the Church Fathers did. It is in them that we should seek the radical nature of the prophecy. They remind us that we are called to come out of our comfort zones, forsake all that is worldly: in our way of life, but also in thinking up new ways forward for our Institutes.”
Pope Francis also spoke about the issue of sexual abuse by clergy and religious.
“On the subject of sexual abuse: it seems that half of those who commit abuse have themselves been victims of abuse,” – the Holy Father said – “Abuse is thus sowed in the future and this is devastating. If priests or religious are involved it is clear that the devil is at work, who ruins the work of Jesus through those who should proclaim him. But let’s be clear: this is a disease. If we are not convinced that this is a disease, we cannot solve the problem. So pay attention when receiving candidates for the religious life and ensure that they are sufficiently emotionally mature. For example: never accept in a religious community or diocese a candidate that has been rejected by another seminar or another institute without asking for very clear and detailed information on the reasons for their rejection.”
The full dialogue between Pope Francis and the Religious superiors will appear in La Civiltà Cattolica on Saturday. The excerpt published by Corriere della Sera on Thursday can be found in English here.