by Francis X. Rocca
ROME (CNS) – Acting in his capacity as bishop of Rome, Pope Francis offered words of encouragement to his diocesan priests, assuring them that recent and current scandals cannot overcome the Church’s holiness and urging them to keep their vocations alive through love of God.
The pope made his remarks Sept. 16 at a meeting with diocesan clergy in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome.
Pope Francis devoted the first part of the meeting, which lasted more than two hours, to answering a letter he had received a few days earlier from an elderly parish priest, writing of his struggles as a pastor.
“The letter is beautiful, I was moved,” the pope said, speaking without a text. “The letter is simple. The priest is mature and he shared with me one of his feelings: fatigue.”
While voicing sympathy, the pope said that such an experience is an inevitable part of priestly life.
“When a priest is in contact with his people, he gets tired,” he said, according to a report by Vatican Radio. “When a priest is not in contact with his people, he gets tired, but in a bad way, and to fall asleep he needs to take a pill.”
“The people have so many demands, so many demands, but they are the demands of God,” the pope said. “That makes one seriously tired, right? And one doesn’t need pills.”
The pope then took questions from five of the priests in the audience, who asked him about specific pastoral challenges.
As he has done on other occasions, Pope Francis urged priests to make their churches more welcoming, suggesting, among other ideas, that marriage courses for engaged couples be scheduled at more convenient times.
The pope offered success stories from his native Argentina, including one about a counterintuitive technique of fundraising that appealed to natural generosity.
“One priest – not from my diocese, from another – once told me: ‘But I don’t make them pay anything, not even for Mass intentions. I have a box there, and they leave what they want. But, Father, I get almost twice what I got before!’”