On Aug. 4, 2019, the Feast Day of St. John Vianney, Patron of Parish Priests, Pope Francis wrote a letter to all priests of the Church prompted by the recent scandals within the Church and the great pain this has caused on our good priests. In his letter the Pope acknowledged the pain that priests feel due to the scandals in the Church, expressed his gratitude for their ministry, encouraged them as they continue to serve in their ordained ministry and exhorted them to trust God and to praise His goodness even in challenging times.
The Holy Father recognized the pain the scandals have brought:
In these years, we have become more attentive to the cry, often silent and suppressed, of our brothers and sisters, who were victims of the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience and sexual abuse on the part of ordained ministers. This has been a time of great suffering in the lives of those who have experienced such abuse, but also in the lives of their families and of the entire People of God.
He again committed himself to carrying out the reforms needed “so that the culture of abuse will have no room to develop, much less continue.”
The Pope wrote that the pain experienced by all the people of the Church has also affected the priests who “faithfully and generously spend their lives in the service of others.” He asked priests to recall that “blazing light” of God which first touched our lives calling us to priesthood and to allow that light to continue to ignite our ministry with a joy which sorrow and distress cannot overcome. He wrote that the worst temptation is to brood over troubles. Instead he asked priests:
To cherish the memory of the Lord’s presence in our lives and His merciful gaze, which inspired us to put our lives on the line for Him and for his people. And to find the strength to persevere and, with the Psalmist, to raise our own song of praise, ‘for His mercy endures forever.’ (Ps 136)
He urged priests to continue in fidelity to the priesthood. “In this way, we celebrate the fidelity of God, and who continues to trust us, to believe in us and to count on us, for all our sins and failings, and who invites us to be faithful in return.” He went on:
Thank you for working to strengthen the bonds of fraternity and friendship with your brother priests and your bishop, providing one another with support and encouragement, caring for those who are ill, seeking out those who keep apart visiting the elderly and drawing from them their wisdom, sharing with one another and learning to laugh and cry together.
The Pope also wrote that he wants the hearts of priests to be encouraged. “Jesus, more than anyone, is aware of our efforts and our accomplishments, our failures and our mistakes.” It is Jesus who says “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:28-29) “Brothers,” the Pope wrote, “let us indeed acknowledge our weaknesses, but also let Jesus transform them and send us forth anew to the mission.”
Dear brother priests, the pain of so many victims, the pain of the people of God and our own personal pain, cannot be for naught. Jesus himself brought this heavy burden to His cross and He now asks us to be renewed in our mission of drawing near to those who suffer, of drawing near without embarrassment to human misery, and indeed to make all these experiences our own…”
The Pope concluded his letter by asking priests to be inspired by Mary. “She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands our pain … As a true mother, she walks by our side …” He asked all priests to be “men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.”
I immediately shared this letter from Pope Francis with all the priests in our archdiocese. I join with him expressing gratitude to our priests.
We in the Archdiocese of Mobile are blessed by outstanding priests who faithfully minister in word, worship and service. Please pray for and encourage your priests.