The Holy Father met with the representatives of the diocese of Rome, gathered to participate in the Diocesan Pastoral Congress on the theme “A people who raise children: community and family in the major stages of Christian initiation”. During his address, Pope Francis spoke on the issue of the “society of orphans”: of parents who do not spend enough time playing with their children because of their long working hours, and because of their fatigue when they arrive home that leads the young to be deprived of time spent freely with their parents. He emphasized that nowadays we need this sense of gratuity within the family, in parishes, in society as a whole, and that the Lord is revealed to us in gratuity, or rather as Grace: “But if we do not have a sense of gratuity within the family, at school, in the parish, it will be very difficult to understand what the grace of God is: that grace that cannot be bought or sold, that is a gift from God, and is indeed God Himself”. He also commented on other social aspects that contribute to the “orphanhood” of the young: “a technological society that multiplies to infinity the opportunities for pleasure, distraction and curiosity, but is not able to lead man to true joy”, and added that only by encountering Jesus can be encounter true joy and understand that we do not lead our lives in vain, as a task has been conferred to each one of us”.
The Holy Father went on to describe the Church as a mother who knows how to raise her children. “The great challenge faced by the Church is that of being a mother”, he said, “not a well-organized NGO full of pastoral plans. … The Church needs to rediscover her maternity. She must be a mother; maternity is the grace that we must now ask of the Holy Spirit in order to go ahead in our pastoral and missionary conversion. However, the Church grows not by proselytism but by maternal attraction, through tenderness, through the testimony of her many children”. The Pope remarked that the Mother Church has aged somewhat, to the risk of becoming “Grandmother Church”, and that she must therefore be rejuvenated, “but not by taking her to a cosmetic surgeon, no! The Church becomes younger when she is able to generate more sons; the more children she has, the younger she becomes”.
The Pontiff added that this means recovering the memory of the Church. In a world in which there exists little sense of history and fear of time, a world in which the present reigns supreme, in which language is increasingly abbreviated and everything becomes rapid, making us slaves to our situation, we must recover the memory of God’s patience. “God is not hasty during our history of salvation, and has accompanied us throughout history”. The Pope therefore urged the priests and clergy present not to close the doors of their churches, but rather to welcome all with an open heart, as a family, asking the Lord to make them able to participate in their difficulties and in the problems that children and the young frequently encounter in their lives.
“People hope to find Jesus’ gaze in us, often without realising it; they seek a serene and joyful gaze that enters the heart. But the whole parish must transform into a welcoming place, not only the priests and catechists”. The Pope encouraged those present to ask themselves whether their parishes were truly welcoming, whether their celebrations were scheduled to favor the participation of the young, if they spoke the language of youth and if their communities kept their doors open.
Before concluding, the Pope acknowledged that the work carried out by priests is not easy. “It is easier to be a bishop”, he affirmed, “because we can always maintain a distance and hide ourselves behind the title of ‘Your excellency’, and defend ourselves in this way. But being a priest, when the parishioners knock on the door, when they talk to you about their problems … it is not easy”. He commented that the Church in Italy is strong because of her priests, and urged them not to forget the memory of evangelization and always to stay close to the faithful. “We want a Church of faith, who believes that the Lord is able to make her a mother, to give her many children; our Holy Mother Church”.