During a visit to a Roman parish Sunday, Pope Francis repeated his frequent condemnation of gossip, telling the congregation instead to always treat others with gentleness and respect, as the Holy Spirit does.
“The language of Christians who cherish the Holy Spirit, who was given to us as a gift, is special: they don’t have to speak in Latin, no. It’s another language: it’s the language of gentleness and respect,” the Pope said May 21.
Reflecting on these two points can help each of us to reflect on our own attitude as Christians, he said, asking “is it an attitude of gentleness, or of wrath? Or bitterness?”
“It’s terrible to see people who say they are Christians, but who are full of bitterness,” Francis said, adding that the language of the Holy Spirit “is gentle…because he’s gentle. And respect. Always respect others. He teaches to respect others.”
Pope Francis made his comments during an off-the-cuff homily while celebrating Mass at Rome’s St. Peter Damiani parish in the Casal Bernocchi neighborhood in the south of Rome.
After leaving the Vatican around 3:45p.m., the Pope arrived at the parish around 4:15p.m. and was greeted by the Vicar of Rome Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the titular bishop of the parish, as well as the auxiliary bishop of Rome’s southern sector, Paolo Lojudice, and the pastor, Fr. Lucio Coppa.
Francis’ visit marked the third time a Pope has gone to the parish. The first was Bl. Pope Paul VI in 1972 for the 900th anniversary of the death of St. Peter Damiani, and the second was St. John Paul II in 1988.
Before celebrating Mass at 6p.m., Francis met with 80 children enrolled in First Communion classes and around 100 youth who attend post-Confirmation activities. During the discussion, he responded to two questions posed by the youth.
He then met with sick and elderly parishioners, families whose children have been baptized this year, members of the Neocatechumenal Way, employees of the parish and volunteers with the parish’s Caritas program. Four of the parishioners then went to confession with Pope Francis before Mass.
In his brief homily, the Pope noted that even though Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit as his advocate, which he promised to do in the day’s Gospel reading from John, “the devil knows how to weaken us.”
“He will do everything, so that our language is not respectful or gentle, even within the Christian community,” the Pope said.
He lamented the fact that many people come to a parish in the hope of finding a meek and respectful community, and instead find one with “internal bickering, gossip, chatter, competition.”
“They find that air that’s not of incense, but of gossip, and then what do they say?” the Pope asked. “(They say) ‘if these are Christians, I prefer to stay a Pagan,’ and they go away disillusioned.”
With the language focused only on ambition and jealousy, “we push people away and we don’t allow the Spirit to work,” Francis said, explaining that he returns to the topic of gossip so often because “this is the sin that’s the most common in our Christian communities.”
Jesting, Pope Francis said he once spoke to a priest who said some of his parishioners could receive communion standing at the back of the church, because their tongue reached all the way to the altar.
“We must cherish the Holy Spirit and not speak like the devil teaches us,” he said, adding that gossip “hurts my heart,” and is the sin “that destroys our communities the most.”
Francis closed his homily pointing to Mary, telling parishioners, when they go to pray in front of her, to look down at the serpent she is standing on and pray not to be like that: not to leave one’s tongue stuck out, but rather to cherish the Holy Spirit as she did.
“Let’s not throw stones at each other. The devil has fun, this is a carnival for him,” the Pope said. Instead, “let us ask for this grace: to cherish the Holy Spirit that is within us, not sadden him, and that our attitude be one of gentleness and respect.”
by Elise Harris