Pope Francis met the 5000+ young consecrated persons yesterday in the Sala Paolo VI in the Vatican. Don Guido Errico had the inspired idea to send him a note informing him about the presence of several young Salesians from Syria, and in fact the Holy Father began his audience by acknowledging this: "I have been told that there are, among you, some from Iraq and Syria. I want to begin by remembering this church of martyrs." He went on to say how, during a recent audience, a priest from Syria had given him a little cross: it was a cross belonging to one of the priests whose throat had been slit by the ISIS. The pope said he carried this cross next to his heart. It was an emotional moment with which to begin the audience.
Three young religious put questions to the pope, and we were surprised to see that the first among them was our own Fr Pierre Jabloyan, SDB, till recently a student of theology at Crocetta, and now, after ordination, assigned to the Salesian house at Aleppo. When Pierre finished, the pope asked: Where are you from? Again an emotional moment when Pierre said he was from Syria. The pope got up and embraced him and exchanged some words with him.
In his response to the three questions put to him, the pope spoke about prophecy, closeness (vicinanza - cercania), and memory. In his remarks about prophecy, he mentioned both rigidity and gossip. Prophecy involves the ability to dream; rigidity is the opposite. A mother who insists only on rules with her children, and does not encourage them to dream, is destroying the future of her children. A formation that is only based on rules, and does not encourage the ability to dream, cannot produce prophets. Jesus, the pope said, had hard things to say about the rigid people of his time, in Mt 23.
As for gossip, he equated it to terrorism. Gossips are people who throw bombs on other people's good name, and they throw them from the dark - the darkness that is the kingdom of the devil. Gossip must be avoided by all means. We ought to have the courage to go and discuss matters with our confreres. Peter and Paul did not agree in everything; they give us a great example of the ability to dialogue, and to still be brothers.
Closeness is intimately tied to evangelization. The pope recalled some Korean sisters in a hospital in Buenos Aires: they did not know Spanish, and yet they had a marvellous influence on the people - because of their smiles, their kindness, the fire that burned in their hearts. Evangelization is not proselytism: we are not out to get more people into our club, we are not out to convince people; we give witness, and witness is given by people whose hearts are aflame.
The pope spoke at length about women religious. "I am a bit of a feminist," he said. He thanked women religious for the witness of their lives, and reminded them that they were icons of the motherliness of the Church and of Mary.
As for memory, Pierre had asked about the pope's vocation story, and the pope obviously remembers the day he walked into a church, way back in September 1953, made his confession, and came out a changed person, in his own words. He said how that priest had been a great influence on him, and then, when he died, a Salesian priest (Fr Pozzoli), who guided him to the Jesuits - a great example of "religious ecumenism."
The final words: narcissism and adoration. "We all pray; but how many of us adore the Lord?" Adoration is the opposite of narcissism, the preoccupation with oneself. A great invitation. I could not help recalling Bob Doran speaking about Jung's dream of being before God, and how, in that dream, he could not in the end bow down before God....