In his first address in New York, Pope Francis lamented the suffering caused by the sexual abuse scandal in the United States – not only for the trauma inflicted on the Church’s most vulnerable members, but also for the shame it has brought to priests and religious in general.
“I know that, as a presbyterate in the midst of God’s people, you suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalized the Church in the most vulnerable of her members,” he said addressing clergy and religious gathered for Evening Prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City Sept. 24.
“I accompany you at this time of pain and difficulty, and I thank God for your faithful service to his people,” he said, adding they have “come forth from the great tribulation.”
Despite these difficulties, Pope Francis said, “Our vocation is to be lived in joy.”
New York is the second of three cities the Holy Father will stop in during his Sept. 22 to 27 visit to the United States. In his first leg of his trip, the Holy Father addressed a joint session of Congress and met briefly with President Obama in Washington, DC. While in New York City, Pope Francis will address the United Nations before heading to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.
During his remarks Thursday evening, the Pope also took a moment to express his “esteem and gratitude” for women religious in America, calling them the “front line” of evangelization.
“To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say ‘thank you’, a big thank you and to tell you that I love you very much,” he said.
“What would the Church be without you? Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel,” he said.
Pope Francis also expressed his condolences in off-the-cuff comments for those killed in the Hajj stampede in Mecca this week, where more than 700 pilgrims were killed.
“I wish to unite myself with you all in prayer to almighty and all merciful God.”
He then turned his attention to all priests and religious, saying that he hopes vocations in the United States continue to grow, even in the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandal.
In order to “persevere on the path of fidelity to Jesus Christ”, he said, one must build up the “two pillars of the spiritual life”: gratitude and hard work.
Gratitude is the result of joy which comes forth from those who love God and in turn attracts others to him.
Religious and clergy are called to “find and radiate lasting satisfaction in their vocation” he said, encouraging them to recall the blessings God has given throughout their lives.
“Perhaps we need to ask ourselves: are we good at counting blessings?” he said.
The other pillar, hard work, is not simply the standards of efficiency and good management which “govern the business world” even though those aspects are important to those who have been given great responsibility.
Rather, success should be measured by the standard of the cross.
“The cross shows us a different way of measuring success,” he said, “and if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.”
He warned clergy and religious against the danger of becoming selfish with their free time and surrounding themselves with comfort.
“Not only will it diminish their spirit of sacrifice, but it also “alienates people who suffer material poverty and are forced to make greater sacrifices than ourselves.”
“Closeness to the poor, the refugee, the immigrant, the sick, the exploited, the elderly living alone, prisoners and all God’s other poor, will teach us a different way of resting, one which is more Christian and generous,” he said.
He encouraged them in meeting the challenges of “an evolving pastoral landscape” saying that St. Peter, though he faced difficulties, “thanked the Father, took up his cross and looked forward.”
Asking for the Blessed Mother’s intercession, he encouraged them to ask for help with the work they’ve been given.