Pope Francis to Venezuelan clergy: Serve with ‘joy and determination’ amid pandemic

Pope Francis attends the Prayer Meeting for Peace in Rome’s Piazza del Campidoglio Oct. 20, 2020. / Vatican Media

Pope Francis sent a video message yesterday encouraging priests and bishops in their ministry during the coronavirus pandemic and reminding them of two principles which he said would “guarantee the growth of the Church.”

“I would like to point out to you two principles that should never be lost sight of and which guarantee the growth of the Church if we are faithful: love of neighbour and service to one another,” Pope Francis said in a video message to a meeting of priests and bishops in Venezuela yesterday.

“These two principles are anchored in two sacraments that Jesus institutes at the Last Supper, and which are the foundation, so to speak, of his message: the Eucharist, to teach love, and the washing of the feet, to teach service. Love and service together, otherwise it won’t work.”

In the video, sent to the virtual two-day meeting focused on priestly ministry during the coronavirus crisis, the pope encouraged priests and bishops to minister to “renew the gift of yourselves to the Lord and to his holy people” during the pandemic.

The meeting, organized by the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, is taking place a week and a half after Venezuelan Bishop Cástor Oswaldo Azuaje of Trujillo died of COVID-19 at the age of 69.

Pope Francis said that the virtual meeting was an opportunity for priests and bishops “to share, in a spirit of fraternal ministry, your priestly experiences, your labours, your uncertainties, as well as your yearnings and your conviction to carry on the work of the Church, which is the work of the Lord.”

“In these difficult moments, the passage from the Gospel of Mark comes to mind (Mark 6: 30-31), which tells how the Apostles, on their return from the mission to which Jesus had sent them, gathered around him. They told him all they had done, everything they had taught and then Jesus invited them to go, along with Him, to a deserted place to rest for a while.”

He commented: “It is essential that we always return to Jesus, with whom we gather in sacramental fraternity to tell him and to tell each other ‘all that we have done and taught’ with the conviction that it is not our work, but that of God. It is he who saves us; we are only instruments in his hands.”

The pope invited priests to continue their ministry during the pandemic with “joy and determination.”

“This is what the Lord wants: experts in the task of loving others and capable of showing them, in the simplicity of small daily gestures of affection and attention, the caress of divine tenderness,” he said.

“Do not be divided, brothers,” he urged the priests and bishops, warning them against the temptation of having “an attitude of a sectarian heart, outside the unity of the Church” amid the isolation caused by the pandemic.

Pope Francis asked the Venezuelan clergy to revive their “desire to imitate the Good Shepherd, and to learn to be servants of all, in particular of the less fortunate and often discarded brothers and sisters, and to ensure that, in this time of crisis, all feel accompanied, supported, loved.”

Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, the archbishop emeritus of Caracas, said earlier this month that the pandemic had exacerbated Venezuela’s already severe economic, social, and political problems.

Inflation in Venezuela surpassed 10 million percent in 2020, and many Venezuelans’ monthly salaries cannot cover the cost of a gallon of milk. More than three million Venezuelans have left the country in the last three years, many of them on foot.

“The political, economic and social situation continues to be very bad, with runaway inflation and extremely high devaluation, which make us all increasingly poor,” Urosa wrote on 4 January. 

“The outlook is bleak because this government has not been able to solve the problems of ordinary administration, nor guarantee the fundamental rights of the people, especially to life, food, health, and transportation.” 

But the Venezuelan cardinal also stressed that “even in the midst of the pandemic, of economic, social and political problems, in the midst of negative personal circumstances that some of us may suffer, God is with us.”

Pope Francis thanked the Venezuelan priests and bishops for their service during the pandemic.

“With gratitude, I assure my closeness and my prayers to all of you who carry out the mission of the Church in Venezuela, in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the numerous initiatives of charity towards brothers exhausted by poverty and the health crisis. I entrust you all to the intercession of Our Lady of Coromoto and of St. Joseph,” the pope said.