This afternoon the Pope paid a visit to some men who gave up the priesthood to start a family. On this final “Mercy Friday”, Francis wished to show his closeness to those who made a choice that does not always go down well with fellow priests and relatives
Today Francis went to offer comfort to former priests who decided to leave the priesthood to start a family. He left St. Martha’s House at 3:30 this afternoon and made his way to Ponte di Nona, a neighbourhood in the eastern suburbs of Rome.
The Pope met seven families at a local apartment. They were the families of young men who decided to leave the priesthood within the past few years. The Vatican Press Office informed that the Pope’s visit was intended as a sign of closeness and affection to these young men who in many cases made a choice that was not met with the approval of their confrères and relatives.
Having dedicated several years to the priestly ministry, serving in parishes, solitude, incomprehension and weariness in the face of their pastoral responsibility began to set in, leading them to question their initial decision to enter the priesthood. Months and years of uncertainty and doubt led them to realise they had made the wrong choice in joining the priesthood, hence their decision to renounce it and start a family.
Pope Francis was therefore keen to visit these young people: four of them from the diocese of Rome, where they served as parish priests in different parishes across the city, one from Madrid and another from Latin America, both living in Rome, while another hailed from Sicily.
The get-together marked the final “Mercy Friday” visit in a series of monthly initiatives held to mark the Jubilee Year.
The Pope’s arrival was met with great enthusiasm, the Holy See Press Office reports: “The children huddled around the Pope to hug him, while their parents were unable to hide their emotion.” The Holy Father’s visit was greatly appreciated by all those present who felt nothing but closeness and affection from the Pope, who was not judgemental”. Time flew. The Pope “listened to their stories and took great interest in hearing their thoughts on the development sin the legal proceedings for each of their cases. With his fatherly words, he reassured everyone present of his friendship and personal interest in their cases.”
Francis’ gesture was “yet another act of mercy towards those experiencing spiritual or material strife, highlighting that no one should be deprived of the love and support of pastors.”
The visit ended at around 5:20 pm.
TG2000’s interview with Andrea Vallini, one of the former priests Francis met during his visit, was particularly significant. “I was surprised when I heard the news, I only found out about it a few days ago,” Vallini said. “I was surprised that the Pope thought of us.” “Pope Francis is no ordinary bishop. My first sensation was that something purely evangelical had happened. It’s usually the sinners that should approach the Lord but today the opposite happened. I got a beautiful and pure taste of the Gospel. The Pope has a truly engaging way of relating to people,” he said.
“In some cases there would have been a need to heal old wounds but all the wounds present here today had already healed for the most part. I don’t know whether this visit opens up new prospects. What I understood was that the Pope was particularly stricken by the fact that we – especially us Italians – felt a certain exclusion. He told us that he had never excluded special cases. He told us that when he was in Buenos Aires, the local Caritas president was a former priest who did an excellent job.”
“I hope,” he underlined, “that by following the Pope’s example, despite the fact we all have different stories, we can go on being a resource for the Church. All of us would like to carry on being of use to the Christian community, it would be great if the barriers could be overcome. After all, aside from our priestly manner, which can never be erased, we are all baptised. It would be wonderful if we could go on doing some good as I have sought to do in a different guise.”
“I will never forget this ‘Mercy Friday’,” he ended by saying. “A crowd of around 50 people gathered beneath my house when word got round that the Pope was coming. Someone said to me: ‘You really did a great thing, well done’. To which I immediately responded: ‘It’s precisely because I’m not great that the Pope’s coming here today, otherwise he would never have come’. I was overjoyed by his visit and I hope it will help me be a better human being.”