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Pope says priests should be men of prayer who are close to the people

Catholic World News - July 28, 2014

On July 26, Pope Francis made an apostolic journey to the southern Italian region of Campania and arrived by helicopter in Caserta, a city of 80,000.

The visit to Caserta was the Pope’s sixth apostolic journey within Italy, following trips to Lampedusa (July 2013), Cagliari (September 22), Assisi (October 4), Cassano all’Jonio (June 21), and Molise (July 5).

Following a trip of less than an hour, Pope Francis landed at the heliport of the Italian Air Force School at the Royal Palace of Caserta, where he was greeted by the local bishop and civic leaders. After being driven to the palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, he met with diocesan priests in the palatine chapel at 4:00.

After a brief welcome by the bishop, the Pope said that he had told the bishop that he planned to visit a Protestant friend. The bishop told him that July 26 was the feast of the city’s patroness, and in the hope of heading off newspaper headlines to the effect that the Pope ignored Caserta’s Catholics on the feast day, a visit was swiftly arranged-- for which the Pope thanked the bishop and the Secretariat of State.

Pope Francis then took four questions from diocesan priests.

Addressing a question from the vicar general about diocesan boundaries, Pope Francis said that bishops should be united, but that this unity does not necessarily entail unity in thought or spirituality, since each has his own charism. Rather than gossiping, bishops should speak face-to-face, shout if necessary, then embrace and not speak badly of one another.

Asked by a priest how to foster popular piety without losing sight of the “primacy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis said that people today are as religious as ever, but some fall into Gnostic, New Age spirituality that is “pagan or even heretical. We must not be afraid to pronounce this world, because Gnosticism is a heresy, it was the first heresy of the Church.” On the other hand, the popular piety that comes from the sense of faith-- “devotion to the saints, to the Virgin Mary”-- is an “instrument of evangelization.” In this context, the Pope spoke of the importance of shrines where priests hear confessions and said that youth missionary trips, in which the youth travel to areas lacking a priest and catechize, are a form of popular piety.

A Jesuit-educated priest then said that priests were facing an “existential crisis” and asked how to respond creatively. The Pope, citing the example of the early Church in her relations with Judaism, said that God gives the gift of creativity through prayer: “prayer is so important. Not only the prayer of the Divine Office, but the liturgy of the Mass, tranquil, made well with devotion, personal prayer with the Lord.” Through prayer, one becomes open to God and discerns what one must do, even if is costly, as in the case of Blessed Antonio Rosmini.

Prayer also opens the priest to others, and nearness to others is of crucial importance: “you must not be a Church closed in on itself, which gazes at the navel, a self-referential Church,” said the Pope.

In response to the final question, the Pope said that the spirituality of a diocesan priest is different from the spirituality of a religious. The diocesan priest must have a relationship with the bishop and with the other priests. Rumors, he said, are the “strongest enemy” of the diocesan priesthood. If you have something against the bishop, confront him face to face, but “then there will be not good consequences. You will carry the cross, but be a man!” Likewise, if there is something wrong with a fellow priest, the Pope advised speaking with the priest directly, or with the bishop, but not gossiping about it to everyone.

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