A MESSAGE OF POPE FRANCIS TO POLISH BISHOPS
Dear Brothers in episcopate,
I greet each of You and Particular Churches which Lord entrusted to Your paternal management. I thank archbishop Józef Michalik for his words, especially for assuring me that the Church in Poland prays for me and for my ministry.
It can be said that we are meeting on the eve of canonization of blessed John Paul II. In our hearts we carry this Great Pastor who in his all phases of his mission – as a priest, bishop and the pope – gave us an excellent example of his complete entrustment to God and His Mother and his complete sacrifice to the Church and the man. He is accompanying us from Heaven and reminds how important spiritual and pastoral communion among bishops is. The unity of pastors in faith, love, teaching and care for the common welfare of believers is the reference point for the whole ecclesiastical community and for everybody who is looking for some knowledge in everyday following the paths of Lord. Nobody should cause divisions among you. Dear Brothers! You are called to build unity and peace rooted in brotherly love and to give the comforting example to everybody. Surely, such an attitude will be fruitful and will give Your faithful people lots of hope.
During our meetings on the last days I received a confirmation that the Church in Poland has a great potential of faith, prayer, mercifulness and the Christian praxis. Thanks to God, believers in Poland participate in sacraments in big numbers, there are valuable initiatives in the sphere of new evangelization and catechesis, there is a wide charity and social activity, a satisfying number of priestly vocations. All this favours the Christian formation of people, practicing with motivation and belief, readiness of laity and priests for active cooperation in ecclesiastical and social structures. Considering weakening in various aspect of the Christian life, we need discernment, search for causes and ways of facing new challenges, such as for example, the idea of uninhibited freedom, tolerance of an enemy or distrustful idea towards the truth or discontent about the opposition of the Church towards the prevailing relativism.
In the sphere of ordinary pastoral ministry, I would like to concentrate Your attention, first of all, on the family, ‘the basic social cell’, ‘the place where the man learns to live together with others in various environments and where parents pass faith to their children’ (Apostolic exhortation ‘Evangelii gaudium’, 66). Today marriage is often considered as a kind of feeling gratification which is possible to set and changein any way, regardless of sensitivity of everybody. Unfortunately, this vision also influences the mentality of the Christians, causing easiness to resort to a divorce or a separation. Priests are called to ask themselves a question how to help those who live in this situation so that they would not feel excluded from Divine mercifulness, from brotherly love of other Christians and from the care of the Church about their salvation; how to help them so that they would not reject their faith and bring up their children in full Christian experience.
On the other hand, one must ask the question how to improve preparation of young people for marriage, so that they could discover the beauty of the relationship which – strongly based on love and responsibility - can overcome difficulties, egoisms through mutual forgiveness, repairing what threatens with divorce, and not falling into the trap of rejection mentality. One must ask the question how to help parents to live and appreciate both the moments of joy and moments of pain and weakness.
Let Church communities be places of listening, dialogue, comforting, and support for spouses on their common path and their mission of bringing up children. Let families always find support of authentic fathers and spiritual guides in priests, who will protect them against dangers of negative ideologies and help them become strong in God and His love.
The perspective of the nearest World Youth Day, which will be held in Kraków in 2016 tells us to think about young people who – with the elderly people – are the hope of the Church. Today the world, full of informative tools, gives them new possibilities of communication but also restricts interpersonal relationships, a direct contact. However, in hearts of the youth there is a fervent nostalgia for something deeper, which would make their personalities be more valuable. We must face this desire.
Broad possibilities to it are offered by catechesis. I know that in Poland most students at school attend catechesis. They gain a good knowledge of faith dogmas. However, the Christian religion is not an abstract knowledge, but the existential knowledge about Christ, a personal relationship with God who is love. Maybe it is necessary to put more pressure on forming faith experienced as a relationship in which we experience joy of being loved and able to love. It is necessary that the number of catechists and priests grow so that new generations could discover fully values of sacraments as a privileged place of meeting with alive Christ and as a source of grace. Let young people be encouraged to participate in movements and associations whose spirituality is based on the Divine Word, liturgy and community life and the missionary testimony. Let them find also possibilities of expressing their enthusiasm in the works of mercifulness developed by parish or school groups of Caritas or in other volunteer forms or missionary engagement. Let their faith, love and hope become stronger and flourish in a particular engagement in the name of Christ.
My third remark which I would like to recommend to You, concerns vocation for priesthood and consecrated life. I thank Lord with You, that in the past decades He called the workers on the Polish land for his harvest. Many brave and saint Polish priests fulfill their ministry with sacrifice, either in their local Churches, or abroad and on missions. However, let the Church in Poland still pray for new vocations to priesthood! Dear Bishops, your task is to promise that this prayer will bring fruits in particular engagement in vocation pastoral ministry and in good preparation of candidates in seminaries.
In Poland, thanks to the presence of good universities and theological faculties, seminarians gain good intellectual and pastoral preparation. It must be always accompanied by human and spiritual formation, so that they would live in intensive personal relationship with the Good Pastor, they would be people of persistent prayer, who are open to the Holy Spirit and are generous, modest in spirit, full of fervent love to Lord and a fellowman.
In the priestly ministry the light of a testimony could be dimmed or ‘hidden under a bushel’, if there was not a missionary spirit, or willingness to ‘come out’ in a constantly renewed missionary conversion, in order to look for those who are waiting for the Good News about Christ – also in peripheries. This apostolic style also requires the spirit of poverty, renunciation in order to be free in proclaiming the Good News and be honest in giving the testimony of mercifulness. In relation to it, I remind the words of blessed John Paul II: ‘We, the priests of Jesus Christ, are expected to ‘be’ faithful to the example he left to us. So, in order to be ‘for others’. And if ‘we have’, we ‘should also have for others’. Especially that if we have – we have ‘from others’ (…). So that our lifestyle would be close to an average, poor family’. (Speech to alumni, priests and monks, Szczecin, 11 June 1987).
Dear Brothers, we should not forget about vocations to consecrated life, especially the female vocations. As you noted, you are worried about the decrease in number of people entering convents also in Poland: this is a complex phenomenon of various causes. I wish you the situation when women convent institutions would still be, in a way suitable for our times, a privileged place for women to get stronger and develop in a human and spiritual respect. Let nuns face even difficult and demanding tasks and missions which make their intellectual, emotional and spiritual abilities more valuable, as well as their talents and personal charismas. Let’s pray for female vocations and let’s accompany our sister respectfully who often devote their life to God and the Church in silent prayer, pastoral and charity work.
In the end, I encourage You to care about the poor. Also in Poland, despite the present economic development of the country, there are many people in need, the unemployed, the homeless, the ill, the abandoned, and also many families – especially these with many children – without enough means for living and upbringing children. Be close to them! I know how much is done by the Church in Poland in this sphere, by showing great generosity not only in homeland but also in other countries of the world. I thank You and Your communities for this work. Please, keep encouraging Your priests, monks and all believers to have ‘imagination of mercifulness’ and practice it every day. Do not forget about those who leave their country for various reasons and are trying to build a new life abroad. Their increasing number and their needs may require more attention from the Episcopal Conference. Accompany them with suitable pastoral care so that they could maintain faith and religious traditions of the Polish nation.
Dear Brothers, thank you for your visit. Bring my cordial greeting to Your local Churches and to all compatriots. Let Mary the Virgin, the Queen of Poland intercede for the Church in Your country: let she protect priests, monks and nuns under her coat and all believers and let she intercede in your prayers to Lord for grace for you. Let’s pray to Her together: ‘Sub Tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genitrix, nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus nostris, sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta’.
Vatican, 7 February 2014