Here is a Vatican translation of the address Pope Francis has prepared for his meeting this evening with priests and religious in Uganda. He spoke off-the-cuff – see below for that translation…
Dear Brother Priests, Religious and Seminarians,
I am happy to be with you, and I thank you for your cordial welcome. I especially thank the speakers for bearing witness to your hopes and concerns, and, above all, the joy which inspires you in your service to God’s people in Uganda.
I am pleased, too, that our meeting takes place on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent, a season which invites us to look to new beginnings. This Advent we are also preparing to cross the threshold of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy which I have called for the whole Church.
As we approach the Jubilee of Mercy, I would ask you two questions. First: who are you, as priests or future priests, and as consecrated persons? In one sense, the answer is an easy one: surely you are men and women whose lives have been shaped by a “personal encounter with Jesus Christ” (Evangelii Gaudium, 3). Jesus has touched your hearts, called you by name, and asked you to follow him with an undivided heart in the service of his holy people.
The Church in Uganda has been blessed, in its short yet venerable history, with a great cloud of witnesses – lay faithful, catechists, priests and religious – who forsook everything for the love of Jesus: homes, families, and, in the case of the martyrs, their own lives. In your own lives, whether in the priestly ministry or in your religious consecration, you are called to carry on this great legacy, above all with quiet acts of humble service. Jesus wants to use you to touch the hearts of yet other people: he wants to use your mouths to proclaim his saving word, your arms to embrace the poor whom he loves, your hands to build up communities of authentic missionary disciples. May we never forget that our “yes” to Jesus is a “yes” to his people. Our doors, the doors of our churches, but above all the doors of our hearts, must constantly be open to God’s people, our people. For that is who we are.
A second question I would ask you tonight is: What more are you called to do in living your specific vocation? Because there is always more that we can do, another mile to be walked on our journey.
God’s people, indeed all people, yearn for new life, forgiveness and peace. Sadly, there are many troubling situations in our world for which we must pray, beginning with realities closest to us. I pray especially for the beloved people of Burundi, that the Lord may awaken in their leaders and in society as a whole a commitment to dialogue and cooperation, reconciliation and peace. If we are to accompany those who suffer, then like the light passing through the stained glass windows of this Cathedral, we must let God’s power and healing pass through us. We must first let the waves of his mercy flow over us, purify us, and refresh us, so that we can bring that mercy to others, especially those on the peripheries.
All of us know well how difficult this can be. There is so much work to be done. At the same time, modern life also offers so many distractions which can dull our consciences, dissipate our zeal, and even lure us into that “spiritual worldliness” which eats away at the foundations of the Christian life. The work of conversion – that conversion which is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus (cf. Mk 1:15) – must be carried out each day, in the battle to recognize and overcome those habits and ways of thinking which can fuel spiritual complacency. We need to examine our consciences, as individuals and as communities.
As I mentioned, we are entering the season of Advent, which is a time of new beginnings. In the Church we like to say that Africa is the continent of hope, and with good reason. The Church in these lands is blessed with an abundant harvest of religious vocations. This evening I would offer a special word of encouragement to the young seminarians and religious present. The Lord’s call is a source of joy and a summons to serve. Jesus tells us that “it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45). May the fire of the Holy Spirit purify your hearts, so that you can be joyful and convincing witnesses to the hope of the Gospel. You have a beautiful word to speak! May you always speak it, above all, by the integrity and conviction of your lives.
Dear brothers and sisters, my visit to Uganda is brief, and today was a very long day! But I consider our meeting tonight to be the crowning of this beautiful day when I was able to go as a pilgrim to the Shrine of the Uganda Martyrs at Namugongo, and to meet with the many young people who are the future of the nation and our Church. Truly I leave Africa with great hope in the harvest of grace which God is preparing in your midst! I ask all of you to pray for an outpouring of apostolic zeal, for joyful perseverance in the calling you have received, and, above all, for the gift of a pure heart ever open to the needs of all our brothers and sisters. In this way the Church in Uganda will truly prove worthy of its glorious heritage and face the challenges of the future with sure hope in Christ’s promises. I will remember all of you in my prayers, and I ask you, please, to pray for me!
OFF-THE-CUFF AS SAID BY POPE FRANCIS ON THE DAY:
There are three things I want to tell you. First of all, in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds his people: “Don’t forget.” And he repeats it in this book various times. To not forget. To not forget everything that God did for his people.
The first thing that I want to say to you is that you ask for the grace of memory, [of remembering.] As I said to the young people: In the blood of Ugandan Catholics is mixed the blood of martyrs. Do not forget the memory of this seed. So that in this way you continue to grow.
The main enemy of memory is forgetting. But this isn’t the most dangerous enemy. The most dangerous enemy of memory is becoming accustomed to inheriting the goods of those who’ve gone before. The Church in Uganda can never become accustomed to the distant memory of its martyrs. Martyr means witness. The Church in Uganda, to be faithful to this memory, must continue to be a witness. It can’t live “piggy-backing.” The glories of the past were the beginning but you have to make the glory of the future. And this is the task that the Church gives to you. Be witnesses, as the martyrs who gave their lives for the Gospel were witnesses.
To be witnesses — the second word that I want to say to you — fidelity is necessary. Fidelity to memory. Fidelity to one’s vocation. Fidelity to apostolic zeal. Fidelity means to follow the way of holiness. Fidelity means to do what the witnesses of the past did: to be missionaries.
Perhaps here in Uganda there are dioceses that have many priests and dioceses that have few. Fidelity means offering oneself to the bishop to go to another diocese that needs missionaries. And this isn’t easy. Fidelity means persevering in the vocation. And here, I want to give thanks in a special way for the example of fidelity that the sisters from theHouse of Mercy gave me. Fidelity to the poor, to the ill, to the neediest. Because Christ is there.
Uganda was watered with the blood of martyrs, of witnesses. Today it is necessary to continue watering it and for this, new challenges, new testimonies, new missions.
If not, you’re going to lose the great richness that you have. And the “pearl of Africa” will end up being on display in a museum. Because the devil attacks like that — little by little. And I’m speaking not only for the priests, but also to the religious.
For the priests, I did want to speak particularly about this issue of being missionaries: That the dioceses with a lot of priests offer themselves to those with fewer clergy.
Thus, Uganda will continue to be missionary.
Memory which means fidelity and fidelity that is only possible with prayer. If a man or woman religious, a priest, abandons prayer or prays only a little, because he says he has a lot of work, he has already begun to lose memory. And he has already begun to lose fidelity.
Prayer, which also means humiliation. The humiliation of going regularly to your confessor and to say your own sins. You can’t limp with both feet. Men religious, women religious and priests cannot live a double life. If you are a sinner, ask for forgiveness. But don’t keep hidden what God doesn’t want. Don’t keep a lack of fidelity hidden away. Don’t shut memory up in a closet. Memory. New challenges, fidelity to memory. And prayer. Prayer always begins with recognizing oneself as a sinner.
With these three columns, the pearl of Africa will continue to be a pearl and not just the word missionary.
May the martyrs who gave strength to this Church help us to go forward in memory, in fidelity and in prayer.
And please, I ask you to not forget to pray for me.
Now, I invite you to pray all together an Ave Maria to the Virgin.