Now almost two months have passed since my meeting with the Holy Father and I wish to make good use of that rather recent memory to communicate to you some of the points of the dialogue with Pope Francis, which lasted about 40 minutes....
Now almost two months have passed since my meeting with the Holy Father and I wish to make good use of that rather recent memory to communicate to you some of the points of the dialogue with Pope Francis, which lasted about 40 minutes.
They called me by telephone from the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household asking me to move forward my visit, because a nuncio, whose visit was scheduled before mine, had not been able to arrive in time for his appointment. Once everything was settled I made my way to the Bronze Door to go up the staircase to the Courtyard of San Damaso and then to the stairs to the Papal Library, where the Holy Father received me.
From the very first moment, I felt myself welcomed warmly and in fraternal dialogue with our dear Pope Francis. While we were greeting each other, the photographers were taking pictures. We were face to face and just a couple of feet apart. I gave to the Pope a paper on which I had written the topics and a brief summary of what I was hoping to address in our meeting.
I wanted to thank him for his presence at the beginning of our General Chapter in 2013, on the Solemnity of our Father Saint Augustine. I thanked him also for his inquiries about our brother Isidoro Perez Barrios, an Augustinian of the Vicariate of Saint Alonso of Orozco of Argentina and Uruguay, whom the Pope knew well and with whom there was a bond of friendship from the past. This friar, sick with cancer, had died two months ago. The Holy Father spoke about the friendship that his nephew had with P. Isidoro, and the concern he had for him.
After a brief pause in which we remembered some of the moments shared with our brother Isidoro, I continued with another of the topics that I had written on the paper: a summary of where we are in the world and some statistics, but the Pope corrected me and said to me: “Father you jumped over the topic of Bishops of the Order and the word you wrote, Thank you.” I said: Pardon me, your Holiness. I rapidly corrected my omission and returned to that topic. I said: Yes, your Holiness, our thanks, as an Order, for your confidence in our religious and your appointment of them to the episcopal ministry. And immediately he cut off my words and he commented to me some of the insights concerning how he had chosen some of our brother religious for ministry as bishops. Then he told me about some of the other places in which he had encountered certain difficulties at the time of naming his bishops. It was an ecclesially enriching moment for me. I listened with great attention to all that he was telling me and I sensed a great trust in his sharing with me his concerns. In that moment, more than anything, I understood something of the great responsibility that the life of the Catholic faithful each day and in every corner of the world places on the Pope. At the same time, it seems to me how very necessary it is for all believers to pray for the Holy Father. So far, he has named four Augustinians as bishops.
Some of the appointments have brought about a certain “headache” at the time of finding a replacement, including for me, as I told him, at that Pope Francis gave a mild laugh.
From this, we passed to our present situation as an Order, the number of religious, vocations and formation. We spoke about places of conflict, such as the Northeast of Nigeria, and the situations and difficulties in some countries where social repression is great. We spoke of the difficulties of vocations, as with the majority of religious Orders, in the old continent of Europe and in some other places. We also spoke about the places where vocations are growing. It was interesting the point of view that the Pope offered to the meeting of the Union of Major Superiors concerning the four pillars of formation. We paused to reflect on the difficulties and on the need for a good formation. “To help to mature before the world overwhelms our vocational beginnings.” The word, collaboration, both inter-circumscriptional and inter-congregational, was also a topic of our conversation, Today we must collaborate because the energy is less and formation takes a greater psychological toll. There is a need to form the formators. The pressures are never good and in formation much less than the wished for happens.
We did not forget the service that the Order is carrying out in various areas in the Vatican: in the Secretariat of State, (Fr. Fernando Del Rio); the pastor of Saint Peter’s, (Fr. Mario Bettero); the Parish of Saint Ann’s (within the Vatican) with the presence of four friars, (Fr. Schiavella, Fr. Bruno, Fr. Stefano, who also works at the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies for Apostolic Life; and Fr. Jafet); the Papal Sacristy, ( Fr. Paolo, Fr. Jesús, Fr. Nestor and Fr. Pablo). The Pope thanked us for this service and spoke about the friars by name. It surprised me that he was able to recite their names without hesitating and saying how much he appreciated the service of each. He appreciated very evidently our service.
The topic that took up the majority of our time was that of the charism and mission of the Order. The “unity in charity” and the “sense of Church, service to the Church, and evangelization, announcing the Good News of the Kingdom of God, especially where human needs, especially that of love, are the greatest.
Two great difficulties that damage and strongly attack our charism are “individualism” and “hedonism”. We spoke together about our community life and the elements and means that we have to combat these two evils that are present frequently within Religious Life. “How are your communities?” and “How are you living your brotherhood?” the Pope asked and continued saying: “Individualism is a great evil that destroys community life”. Effectively, our charism is marvelous, exciting, attractive and passionate… We are pilgrims; we walk in that land that is not ours; we prefer the search; we yearn to enter into ourselves in order to discover who dwells in our heart… and the beauty of all that is much greater because we seek to do it in communion, not alone, not individually. Nonetheless, in many cases, discouragement invades us and does not favor that aspect of communion and leads us to go it alone… which does not make sense in our way of life.
Not only individualism but also hedonism threaten our life. The temptation to enjoy those superficial things and those things of the world, which attract us with a passion, those things that for us make little sense. Pleasures and superficiality make their way very easily into our hearts. They enter without us taking note of it and without seeing neither the danger nor how far they can carry us. It is something that with great ease takes root in the heart of the human person. I came to see the coherence of the Holy Father as he was speaking, the value and the importance that he gave to this topic, the sorrow that the scandals cause to him and cause to us, and which are to be found within the Church because of hedonism. I was struck greatly by the austerity, which this man of God has always lived.
In speaking of our mission he insisted to me that we never cease to do this out of our charism. “This is that which the Church seeks from you, that you show us how to work as a team, sharing and uniting hearts.”
He drew out into the light some of the characteristics of mission that already we have heard in his homilies, Angelus messages, etc. “We must try to maintain a level of life that is somewhat more modest than that of the people who surround us, or at least, not at a level that is greater than them.” “We must act so that our life may be a sign of protest against the mentality of the society of consumerism in which we live, to be a questioner that helps us to think.” My mind ran through our communities and circumscriptions very rapidly and a strong chill invaded me at times and also a certain peace at other moments. I confess that my heart was moved while I was listening to his words and my mind returned to those places where I had seen the greater need. I recalled to the Holy Father the beautiful phrase of Saint Augustine on this subject: “If you give from what is yours that would be generosity, but as it is that you give from what is His, it is restitution” (In Ps. 95, 15). He remained pensive and silent for a few moments. At the end of this topic he became more lively and continued being very clear about the preaching of the Gospel. With simplicity and very seriously, he listened to my words… Without doubt, his heart suffers with the suffering of humanity, which is in difficult straits, rejected, estranged, and without the most essential things in order to survive.
After this serious reflection, we dedicated the last minutes to comment on some rather close to home matters. He thanked me for the hospitality we have given to his nephew (a Jesuit priest and professor of Patristics) at Collegio Santa Monica. He told me that his nephew was very appreciative for this.
He told me that he had asked that the painting of Our Mother of Good Counsel be brought back to the Pauline Chapel, from which it had been moved by Saint John Paul II (so that a painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa could be placed there). I told him that I had already been informed about this and I thanked him.
I reminded him that the Order, the Augustinians, were at his service; that our Constitutions emphasized the fidelity that the Order must have toward the Supreme Pontiffs, and that the distinction and attention that the Holy See gave to the Order at its birth, defined us, above all, in our apostolate, because the Order considers itself as destined to the service of the universal Church.
I gave him the greetings of all of the friars of the Order and I gave him also the greetings from all of the Augustinian Sisters in the Contemplative Life, and I told him of the prayers which they offer to God for him each day.
After thanking him for the time that he had spent with me, I asked for his blessing. He gave me a container filled with rosaries and I gave him an envelope with a contribution for his many works of mercy, a gesture that he thanked me for.
While returning to home, in that brief space of time, I recalled the beautiful words and acts of this man of faith, faithful witness, messenger of the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God…hope for the poor and consolation for all.
From here I offer my Augustinian greeting and my thanks to the Holy Father, Pope Francis.
During the Octave of Easter
Rome 9 April 2015
P. Alejandro Moral Antón
Prior General, OSA