WelCom September 2019:
Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington
“Our Baptism calls for us all to be involved.”
Last month on 4 August, on the Feast of St John Vianney – the patron saint of parish priests – Pope Francis wrote a letter to the priests of the world.
The Holy Father thanked priests for their sacrifices and acknowledged the pain many feel in the current environment in the Church. He wrote:
‘On this, his feast day, I write this letter not only to parish priests but to all of you, my brother priests, who have quietly ‘left all behind’ in order to immerse yourselves in the daily life of your communities. Like the Curé of Ars, you serve ‘in the trenches’, bearing the burden of the day and the heat, confronting an endless variety of situations in your effort to care for and accompany God’s people.’
Pope Francis had words acknowledging firstly the pain of those who are victims of abuse of power, the abuse of conscience and sexual abuse. He is very clear, as I witnessed at the meeting in Rome in February of this year, that ‘victims must always come first’.
This 4 August letter though, was written to priests so he said:
‘I want to say a word to each of you who, often without fanfare and at personal cost, amid weariness, infirmity, and sorrow, carry out your mission of service to God and to your people. Despite the hardships of the journey, you are writing the finest pages of the priestly life.’
Pope Francis reminded priests to remain grateful and positive. He warned against falling into sadness and depression. His words are:
‘May we allow our gratitude to awaken praise and renewed enthusiasm for our ministry of anointing our brothers and sisters with hope. May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.’
It is a wonderful letter and worth reading by everyone. The letter can easily be found online by searching using the title ‘Letter to Priests’. [See online link below.]
In these days when there is a severe reduction in the number of priests we once had, and where there are many challenges in our parishes, I suggest that WelCom readers find this letter of Pope Francis, reflect on it and ask some simple questions:
- ‘What am I doing to support and encourage our priests today?’
- ‘What contribution am I making to the life of my parish?’
- ‘How do I see my parish and its plans for the future; its current challenges in the context of the Archdiocese?’
- ‘Do I see my parish as just supplying services – not just liturgical – to meet my needs, or do I look to the Mission of the Church and what we are called to be as stewards and servants?’
I have no doubt about the fact that I, as the Archbishop, and the priests in our parishes must be accountable to you, the People of God, that we must be transparent in all that we do, and that we must work together.
In his first major document, the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote:
‘I emphasised that all the baptised, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelisation, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelisation to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients.’
Pope Francis is very clear that we are in this TOGETHER.
None of us in the Church today should ever be seen as ‘passive recipients’. We all have a mission. The mission for most is in their own parish, being involved, participating, using the gifts God has given – but always for the good of the Church and the good of others. It would be wrong if any of us saw the Church as a place, or as an institution there to serve ‘my needs’ and not requiring any involvement or participation from ‘me’. Our Baptism calls for us all to be involved.
In the Letter to Priests there is a message for all of us. It was written to the priests of the world, but it speaks to us all about our involvement and participation. The Holy Father, writing about priest and people, says:
‘The other essential aspect of this dialectic is our relationship with our people. Foster that relationship and expand it. Do not withdraw from your people, your presbyterates and your communities, much less seek refuge in closed and elitist groups. Ultimately, this stifles and poisons the soul. A minister whose ‘heart is encouraged’ is a minister always on the move. In our “going forth”, we walk “sometimes in front, sometimes in the middle and sometimes behind”: in front, in order to guide the community; in the middle, in order to encourage and support, and at the back in order to keep it united, so that no one lags too far behind… . There is another reason too: because our people have a ‘nose’ for things. They sniff out, discover, new paths to take; they have the sensus fidei (Lumen Gentium, 12) … What could be more beautiful than this? Jesus himself is the model of this evangelising option that leads us to the heart of our people.’
The above paragraph from the Letter to Priests is about all of us, about the relationship of priests with God’s people.
Maybe one of the things asked of us today is simply to encourage one another, look for ways to support each other and be positive about working together, because none of us can be passive recipients. It is our Baptism that calls us to work together and to encourage one another.
The Pope’s letter to Priests is online at these links: tinyurl.com/Pope-Letter-to-Priests-Aug19 or w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2019/documents/papa-
Read more: Responding to Trauma