Immediately after greeting those present, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to those who suffer in the ongoing conflict in Iraq and Syria. “Few days ago,” he said, “a priest from Iraq visited me and presented a tiny crucifix which I bring with me these days.” The same priest, he narrated, was tortured because of Christ. Like the many martyrs of the past the Pope remembers the martyrs of today.
Then, three religious presented each a question to the Pope, which he answered later on based on three key words: Memory, Closeness, and Prophecy.
The key word “memory” was prompted by the question of a religious from Syria. He raised a very personal query for the Pope: “Why did you become a religious?” In his response, Francis shared the moment of his own calling. “I remember the day when the Lord looked at me…and he asked me to share his memory,”he said. He narrated his experience of having approached the confessional and coming out as a different person. He said, life was changed in me. He then encouraged the consecrated people to go back to the memory of their first encounter with Christ.
Sr. Mary Jacinta, a religious from the Sisters of Charity of Maria Bambina, asked, “What is the mission of the young today… to whom shall we go, to where is the Church sending us?” Francis answered it by directing the attention of those present to the nature of evangelization. “Evangelization,” he said, “is drawn from the heart. It is not the same as proselytism, like a football club asking, who will join us? It is not just convincing people rather it is done in the flesh (witnessed) in one’s life….study and coursesare good but the capacity to warm hearts comes not from books but from the warmth of one’s heart.” The pope then gave special mention of the exceptional place and character of women religious. He noticed the dominant number of women religious present as well as their desire to be at the forefront. The pontiff commented that the phenomenon reflects the maternity of women who wants to be intimate, to be close. Afterwards, he inspired them not to lose the sense of maternity and be icons of the motherhood of the Church and icons of our Blessed Mother Mary.
The last question which came from a cloistered nun was read by Sr. Sara, a religious of Don Guanella: "How can we avoid falling into mediocrity and on the other hand rigidity?” The pope then differentiated the freedom that comes from the Holy Spirit and the freedom that comes from the world. The freedom that comes from the Lord calls one to testimony. It inspires another to dream. “Rigidity,” he continued, “is the opposite of the capacity to dream.” He presented the image of a mother who teaches her children to do things out of blind obedience. This type does not allow the child to grow and eventually affects the life of a child. The child becomes sterile (or incapacitated) in the same way that rigidity would make the consecrated life sterile.
Pope Francis also discussed various topics related to community living. He admonished them against the incapacity to forgive and against gossip which he likens to terrorism. “Gossip is not only a sin. It is also terrorism. The person who gossip throws a bomb on the other who in turn cannot defend himself…darkness is the place of gossip and darkness is of the devil… Pray instead”, he said.
The pontiff also warned against instability in one’s consecration. He calls this “the culture of the probational”. This reflects the throwaway culture wherein promises, like those committed in marriage, can easily be set aside. “The culture of the definitive have been set aside,” he stated.
Francis then recalled the story shared to him by a bishop about a candidate for the holy orders who expressed to be a priest but only for ten years.
The program was concluded with the pope inviting the young consecrated persons to pray and to be men and women of adoration.