With humor and passion, Pope Francis on the vigil of Pentecost shared highlights of his personal faith journey and explained some key points of his teaching to an enthusiastic crowd of representatives from Catholic lay movements.
Celebrating the Pentecost vigil with an estimated 200,000 people singing, chanting and waving their groups’ banners, Pope Francis focused on the importance of parents and grandparents educating their children in the faith, the knowledge that God wants a relationship with each person, the importance of caring for the poor, and the need to pray for people who are denied religious freedom. And, without using a prepared text, the Pope responded to questions presented to him prior to the May 18 event.
Pope Francis, who often talks about the beauty of God’s mercy and the sacrament of confession, told the crowd about one confession that he said changed his life.
“It was September 21, 1953,” he said. “I was almost 17 years old.” In Argentina, it was the first day of spring. He said he felt the need to go to confession and entered his parish church where there was a priest he had never met before.
“I found someone waiting for me,” he said. “I don’t know what had happened, I don’t remember why that priest was there or why I felt the need to confess, but the truth is, that someone was waiting for me and had been waiting a while.”
He continued: “After that confession, I felt something had changed. I wasn’t the same. It was like a voice, I felt a call; I was convinced I had to become a priest.”
Pope Francis said people talk a lot about the need to seek God, but the truth is that God always seeks people out first, that he is always waiting for them and always ready to love them.
Implying that he would like to hear confessions in Rome’s parishes like he did as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he said, “but I can’t, because to leave to hear confessions — there is no way out of here,” he said, leading to great laughter in St. Peter’s Square.m
Calling for unity — not uniformity — in the Church, Pope Francis said diversity is a blessing only when all Catholics recognize and follow Church teaching.
“It is the Church which brings Christ to me and me to Christ; parallel journeys are dangerous,” he told some 200,000 members of Catholic lay movements and groups during a Pentecost Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
“When we venture beyond the Church’s teaching and community, and do not remain in them, we are not one with the God of Jesus Christ,” he said during his homily at the Mass May 19, concluding a weekend dedicated to Church movements, including the Charismatic Renewal, the Focolare Movement, Neocatechumenal Way, Regnum Christi, Communion and Liberation, and others.
Pope Francis said Church leaders and Church members need to allow the Holy Spirit to inspire different movements and gifts within the Church, but also to allow the Holy Spirit to unite them all in one Church under the authority of their pastors.
“Only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity while at the same time building unity,” the Pope said. “When we are the ones who try to create diversity and close ourselves up in what makes us different and unique, we bring division.”
On the other hand, he said, “when we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, we end up creating uniformity, standardization.”
The Pope said the Holy Spirit can appear “to create disorder in the Church” by bringing such different gifts to its members, but when everyone allows themselves to be guided by the Spirit, they learn to treasure variety rather than letting it become a source of conflict.
The Holy Spirit can make people uncomfortable, Pope Francis said. “Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we are the ones who build, program and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences.”
The spiritual journey is no different, he said.
“We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind all our too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own,” he said.
Seeking the newness God offers through the Holy Spirit “is not a question of novelty for novelty’s sake, the search for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own day,” he said. “The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually brings fulfillment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good.”