QUITO, Ecuador: Pope Francis on Wednesday warned priests and religious against career ambitions that lead to ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s.’
“When a seminarian or priest thinks too much about his career, he starts to suffer from spiritual Alzheimer’s and he loses his memory and forgets where he came from,” the Pope said. “Never forget where you came from; don’t forget your roots.”
Wednesday is the final day of Pope Francis’ time in Ecuador, which is part of his ongoing July 5-13 visit to the continent of his birth. The Pope later in the week went to Bolivia and Paraguay.
The Pope spoke off-the-cuff to a gathering of clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians at the shrine of Our Lady of Quinche, the patroness of Ecuador. The shrine, located fewer than 30 miles northeast of Quito, is home to a statue of Our Lady of the Presentation to which various apparitions and miracles have been attributed.
Arriving at the shrine, the pontiff venerated the statue of Our Lady of Quinche, and was greeted by Bishop Celmo Lazzari, Vicar Apostolic of San Miguel de Sucumbios, a missionary to Ecuador from Brazil. He also listened to testimonies from Father Silvino Mina, a representative of the Afro-Ecuadorian culture, and from Sister Marisol Sandoval, an Augustinian.
Setting aside his prepared remarks, the Pope then said that he was inspired by the location of the Marian Shrine and wished to speak from the heart.
Emphasizing that “everything is a free gift,” he pointed to the example of Mary.
“She was never a protagonist. All her life she was a disciple. Mary knew that everything she had was a freely given gift from God,” he said. “And God’s free gift is shown in you, religious men and women, and priests and seminarians.”
“We need to go back to that free gift of God,” he continued. “You paid no entry ticket to be who you are or to be where you are in the seminary or in religious life. You did nothing to deserve it.”
The Holy Father encouraged the clergy and religious to recognize that everything is a free gift from God and to “give back to the Lord.” He invited them to look at Christ each night before bed and thank him for the free gift of everything in their lives.
Even things that may be difficult, such as being sent to a new location as a priest or religious, is part of the freely given gift from God, he said.
“We are the objects of those freely given gifts and we are important only insofar as we never forget that,” he stressed, warning against those who say, “Oh look at this one, look at that one, look at this bishop or that one they’ve made a monsignor.”
“If we do that we slowly move further and further away from the example of Mary, the example of the gift.”
Pope Francis lamented situations when a priest or religious abandons the use of their native tongue – especially in Ecuador, where there are more than 20 indigenous languages spoken by the nation’s diverse cultures.
“It’s sad when priests or religious forget their local dialect, or don’t want to speak them anymore – it means they’ve forgotten where they came from.”
Life of service
In addition, he exhorted the crowd to remember that “yours is a life of service: God chose you to serve. Service is for others – not for me, my time, my things.”
He cautioned against a priest insisting his office close at a given time, or who complains about house blessings because he’s tired; or saying there’s a soap opera on TV – “I say this to the nuns,” he jested. These examples, he said, “are not service.”
“Service means doing what you have to do, even when you’re tired. Even when people irritate you … service means dedicating ourselves to others.”
“Please, do not ask to be paid for having received grace,” the Pope added. “May our pastoral work be a free gift.”
He said a consecrated person who lives out their free gift, who is aware of their memory, can be recognized by their joy. “Joy is a gift of Jesus, which he gives us if we ask for it.”
“We have to pray that we never lose our memories, never forget, that we never feel we’re more important than others.”