Pope tells suffering churches in the Middle East and Ukraine that he is "very close" to them
At a meeting with students from Rome's pontifical colleges and boarding schools, Pope Francis talked about the dangers of "academism" and "gossip". He also focused on the need for a spiritual and community life. He urged students to study deeply but never forget that they are first and foremost priests. "Gossip is a plague on a community," he warned, telling priests that they should talk straight, face to face, always, watchful of their vocation.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis said that he was "very close" to the suffering churches of the Middle East and the Ukraine. He did so during a meeting he had with students from pontifical colleges and boarding schools in Rome,

Taking advantage of the meeting in the Vatican with young priests attending Pontifical universities, he renewed his solidarity with the suffering Churches. He did son addressing in particular those from the aforementioned regions.

"I want to tell you," he told them," that I am very close to you at this time of suffering; indeed, very close, and praying. There is a lot of suffering in the Church," and "the suffering Church is also the Church persecuted in some regions. I am close to you."

The meeting, as Vatican Radio reported, was informal with a question and answer session, which gave Pope Francis an opportunity to reiterate certain principles dear to him, and warn against some dangers to spiritual and community life such as "academism" and "gossip".

In answering a question about academic education, he warned against "the danger of academism. [. . .] The bishops sent you here to get a degree, but expect you back in your diocese. In the diocese, you have to work in the presbytery as presbyters."

"The priestly education has four pillars, namely spiritual, academic, community and apostolic education. It is true that here, in Rome, the focus is on training the minds - that is why you were sent - but the other three pillars must be nurtured as well. And all four" interact "with each other."

"Personally, I would not be able to understand a priest who comes to Rome" to get a degree "without engaging in community life. That is not right and does no good to one's spiritual life - daily Mass, daily prayer, lectio divina, personal prayer with the Lord - or apostolic life" because "The Lord," he explained, "called you to be priests, to be presbyters. This is the fundamental rule."

"There is something else I want to stress. If you focus only on the academic side, there is a danger of becoming ideological, and this hurts. It also hurts how we conceive the Church. In order to understand the Church, we must study it but also pray, and engage in community and apostolic life. When we become ideological, because we are 'macrocephalous' for example, go down that road, we will not have Christian hermeneutics". It will be the "hermeneutics of an ideological Church, and this hurts: this is a disease. The Church's hermeneutics must be the hermeneutics the Church itself offers" and "gives us."

It means "Understanding the Church through Christian eyes, understanding the Church with a Christian mind, understanding the Church with a Christian heart, understanding the Church through Christian activity. Otherwise, we cannot understand the Church; it does not work any other way. Hence, it is important to stress academic work for this is why you have been sent, but do not neglect the other three pillars: spiritual life, community life and apostolic life."

During the question and answer session, a Chinese seminarian asked the pope for advice on the seminary community, "a place of spiritual and human growth and priestly charity."

"If one prepares for the priesthood alone, without a community, that is bad," the pope said. "Seminary life, community life is very important. It is very important because brothers share, walking towards the priesthood. However, there are problems, struggles: power struggles, struggles of ideas, even hidden struggles. Plus, we have seven deadly sins: envy, jealousy . . . But there are also the good things: friendships, exchange of ideas. This is the important part of community life. Community life is no paradise; purgatory at best."

A Jesuit saint once "said that for him the greatest penance was community life," the pope noted. Isn't that true! Because of this, I believe we must go forward, in community life. How? Four or five things might help us."

First, "Never, but never speak ill of others! If I have something to say against someone else, or there is someone with whom I disagree, I am going to talk to him to his face! Sadly, we in the clergy, are tempted to say nothing directly to others; we try to be too diplomatic." We use a "clerical language, right? . . . But that hurts us. It really hurts us!"

"Gossip is a plague on a community," he said. "Talk to people directly, always. If you do not have the courage to speak to someone's face, speak to a supervisor or a director, someone who can help you. But do not go around gossiping with your mates".

"Women are usually said to gossip but men do it too. We can gossip a community to destruction. It is one thing to hear and listen to different opinions and discuss views. That is good. Seeking the truth and unity helps the community."

Speaking about his own experience as young student of philosophy, the Holy Father said that he once confessed to his spiritual father that he had gotten angry with someone. "He asked me a single question: 'Tell me. Did you pray for him?' Nothing else. I said 'No', and he fell silent. 'We are done,' he told me." But he also added, "Pray, pray for all members of the community, pray above all for those with whom you have problems and for those you don't love because not loving others is sometimes natural, instinctive. But pray, and the Lord will do the rest. Always pray the community prayer."

"I assure you that if you do these two things, the community will go on, everyone will be able to live well, everyone will be able to talk well, discuss well, pray well together. . . But don't forget two things: Do not speak ill of others and pray for those with whom you have problems."

A Mexican student asked him for advice on how to be watchful in order to remain faithful to the vocation. Watchfulness," the Pope said, "is a Christian attitude."

"Watch yourself, watch what happens in the heart? Because the heart holds my treasure. What happens there? Eastern Fathers say that one must know if one's heart is in turmoil or is quiet. If it is in turmoil, one cannot see what is inside, like the sea. One does not see the fish when the sea is like that."

As a first piece of advice for when the heart is in turmoil, the pope quoted the Russian Fathers who said, "Go under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God. Remember that this is the first Latin antiphon: in times of turmoil, seek refuge under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God: sub tuum presidium Sancta Dei Genetrix. First, go there. Wait there until there is a bit of calm, praying, trusting in Our Lady . . .".

"Some of you will tell me: 'But Father, at a time such ours with so many modern tools - psychiatry, psychology - at such a time of turmoil, would it not be better to see a psychiatrist to get help?

"I do not dismiss this," but, "first go to your Mother, because a priest who forgets his Mother, especially in times of turmoil, will miss something. He will be an orphaned priest, someone who forgot his Mother."

"Children go to their mothers in times of hardship, they always do. And we are children, in our spiritual life. Never forget that! Watch for the heart. In times of turmoil, go and find refuge under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God. That is what Russian monks say, and that is the truth."