ROME – Nearing the end of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis paid a visit to seven families formed by men who left the priesthood to marry. The Vatican said the visit was a sign that God loves and is merciful to everyone experiencing difficulty.
“The Holy Father wanted to offer a sign of closeness and affection to these young men who made a choice that often was not shared by their fellow priests and families,” the Vatican said in a statement about the pope’s visit Nov. 11.
The visit was part of the “Mercy Friday” initiative Pope Francis began in December for the Holy Year, which ends Nov. 20. Almost every month throughout the year, the pope visited a group of people – people recovering from addiction, women rescued from prostitution, infants in a hospital neonatal unit – as his own expression of the corporal works of mercy.
The destinations were not announced in advance and journalists were not invited.
Traveling to an apartment in the Ponte di Nona area on the far eastern edge of Rome, the pope met the families of the former priests. Four of the men had been priests in Rome. A former priest from Madrid and a former priest from Latin America, both now living with their new families in Rome, also were in attendance as was a visiting former priest from Sicily.
After serving in parishes, the Vatican said, “solitude, incomprehension and tiredness because of the great requirement of pastoral responsibility put in crisis their initial choice of priesthood.”
The crises were followed by “months and years of uncertainty and doubts that in many cases led them to believe they had made the wrong choice with priesthood. So they decided to leave the priesthood and form a family.”
Pope Francis entered the apartment and was greeted by the priests’ children, who embraced him. The adults, the Vatican said, “could not hide their emotion.”
The former priests and their families did not feel judged by the pope, the Vatican statement said, but felt his closeness and affection. He listened to their stories and paid particular attention to the concerns they raised about “juridical procedures,” apparently in reference to the process of releasing a priest from his priestly promises.
Pope Francis’s “paternal words reassured every one,” the Vatican said. “In this way, once again, Pope Francis intended to give a sign of mercy to those who live in a situation of spiritual and material difficulty, showing the obligation to ensure no one feels deprived of the love and solidarity” of the church’s pastors.
For his last “Mercy Friday” during the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis spent the afternoon visiting seven young men who have left the priesthood, as a sign of closeness and affection after the difficult decision they made.
Francis left his residence at 3:30 p.m. and traveled to the Ponte di Nona neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Rome, where he met with seven families formed by young men who have left the priesthood in recent years. According to a Nov. 11 communique from the Vatican, the Pope wanted “to offer a sign of closeness and affection to these young men who have made a choice not often shared by their brother priests and families.”
After several years dedicated to carrying out priestly ministry in the parish, eventually “loneliness, misunderstanding and fatigue due to the great effort of pastoral responsibility put their initial choice of the priesthood in crisis.” Thrown into feelings of uncertainty and doubt that led them to question whether they made the wrong choice with their decision to enter the priesthood, the young men eventually chose to leave and start a family. Of the seven young men present, four were from the Diocese of Rome; the others were from Sicily, Madrid, and Latin America.
According to the Vatican, when the Pope entered the apartment he was met with “great enthusiasm” both on the part of the children, who gathered around his legs to give him a hug, as well as the parents. The young men felt the Pope’s “closeness, and the affection of his presence.”
Francis listened attentively to each of their stories, paying particular attention to the development of the legal proceedings in each of the individual cases. When a man leaves the priesthood, he must undergo a process called “laicization,” in which his priestly faculties for administering the sacraments are removed.
The Pope conveyed to everyone his friendship and personal interest, the communique noted. By visiting the young men and their families, Pope Francis “wanted to give a sign of mercy to those who live in a situation of spiritual and material hardship, highlighting the need that no one feel deprived of the love and solidarity of the pastors.”
Francis kicked off his monthly works of mercy in January by visiting a retirement home for the elderly, sick, and those in a vegetative state, and a month later traveled to a center for those recovering from drug addiction in Castel Gandolfo. The Pope’s act of mercy in March took place on Holy Thursday, when he traveled to the CARA welcoming center for refugees at Castelnuovo di Porto, washing the feet of 12 of the guests.
Migrants were also the center of Francis’ act of mercy in April, when he visited refugees and migrants during a daytrip to the Greek island of Lesbos. In May, he traveled to the “Chicco” community for people with serious mental disabilities at Ciampino.
In June, Pope Francis visited two communities of priests – the “Monte Tabor” community, which consists of eight priests suffering from various forms of hardship, and the Diocese of Rome’s “Casa San Gaetano” community which houses 21 elderly priests, some of whom are sick.
The following month Francis’ work of mercy took place while he was in Krakow for World Youth Day when he offered silent prayer at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and visited sick children at the pediatric hospital of Krakow. In August he visited a special community for women freed from prostitution, while in September he melted hearts around the world by visiting the neonatal unity of Rome’s San Giovanni hospital before stopping by a hospice for the terminally ill.
Last month Francis spent his “Mercy Friday” with children, when he visited the “SOS Village” in Rome, a community made up of homes for children who are in positions of family or social hardship, as recommended by social services.