01 October 2018, The Tablet

Pope Francis on the vulnerability of priests

In a two-hour meeting with the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, Pope Francis urged them to live their faith with joy.

Pope Francis on the vulnerability of priests

Pope Francis meets Sept. 28 at the Vatican with bishops from England and Wales.
Photo: CNS/Vatican Media

Pope Francis has spoken with the Welsh and English Catholic bishops of how vulnerable priests are feeling in the difficult circumstances of today's critical environment.
In a two-hour meeting with the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales at the end of their "ad limina Apostolorum" visit to Rome last week, he urged them to live their faith with joy.
In a statement published today, the bishops said: "We spoke with the Holy Father about the difficulties of fulfilling our role as bishops. In turn he reflected on the importance of prayer and preaching in our lives, and of paternal closeness to our priests and people, with care and with firm justice. He spoke of the encouragement he wishes to give to priests today, who. can sometimes feel vulnerable in the face of difficult circumstances, in a critical environment.
"He spoke, movingly, of the wounds inflicted by abuse and neglect, wounds that wreak such harm in the lives of its victims and in the life of the Church. Wherever they are found, these are wounds in the Body of Christ and are painful to touch. He encouraged us, in our pastoral work, never to neglect even the tiny flames of faith that exist in so many communities and people."
The bishops asked Pope Francis for a message to bring back home.
They said: "His message was simple: we are to live the gift of our faith with joy. Joy was his great emphasis. He explained that this joy is rooted firmly in our relationship with Jesus. It is a joy of knowing that he is with us; of knowing the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, drawing and guiding us towards the will of God; a joy of knowing our Heavenly Father is waiting for us, longing to hold us in his embrace of loving mercy."
They added: "Even in this time of turmoil, the Holy Father is so clearly rooted in God and blessed by God. His peace is secure. His life is serene. We know, because he showed us his heart. It is the heart of a loving father."
For the first time ever on such a visit, the bishops were accompanied by two bishops of the Church of England, Bishop Martin Warner and Bishop Christopher Foster. 
In another first, they were also joined for the first time by a woman. Sister Frances Orchard CJ of the Conference of Religious in England and Wales accompanied the bishops on their visit to the Vatican department responsible for religious congregations.
Sister Frances, (pictured below, centre with Cardinal Nichols and others) said: "What made yesterday’s visit unique was that, for the first time in the history of an ad limina visit to this particular dicastery, a member of a religious congregation – and a woman, me – was invited to join them."
Ad Limina w Sister Frances Orchard


Sister Frances, who spent nine years in Rome as part of the Congregation of Jesus General Council, said that what emerged from the exchanges was the huge appreciation that diocesan bishops have of the work and presence of the religious in their diocese.

She said: “Many of the bishops said how pleased they had been with my presence – and I don’t think they were just being polite. They felt there was more openness and appreciation of our different roles all working within one Church than they had previously experienced on the ad limina."

Much of the visit was chronicled on Twitter by the Bishop of Portsmouth Philip Egan. He posted one particularly beautiful photograph with the caption: "We’ve just had Mass in honour of Our Lady in the beautiful Borghese Chapel in St Mary Major’s, beneath the holy icon of Maria Salus Populi Romani. I offered the Mass for the evangelisation and conversion of England."
Pic of Ad Limina by Bishop Philip Egan
Photo: Bishop Philip Egan on Twitter

Scotland’s eight Catholic Bishops were also in Rome on their separate ad limina visit last week.

After their own private audience with Pope Francis, the President of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia said: "We updated the pope on the ecumenical work being done in Scotland to ensure that friendship, prayer and common witness among Christians will grow and flourish and he encouraged us in that work.

“We also discussed Nuclear Disarmament and explained that the issue of nuclear weapons had a special relevance in Scotland and was of particular concern to the church."

He also gave the Pope a copy of “In God’s Image”, the Church’s new safeguarding document and the culmination of two years’ work designed to create a robust set of safeguarding procedures and protocols in Scotland. 

Archbishop Tartaglia added: “Pope Francis encouraged us all in our vocations and reminded us that as bishops, we must be close to God, close to our priests and close to our people. All of the bishops found his words uplifting and affirming and in thanking him we assured him of our prayers that he may bear the heavy responsibility which rests on his shoulders.”

Scottish Ad Limina

After the private audience, the Bishop of Paisley, Bishop John Keenan presented Pope Francis with “Mungo” the Prayer Bear of St. Charles’ Primary School in Paisley

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