Spread hope, preach Christ, don't worry about numbers, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) — Visiting Milan, the center of Italian fashion
and finance, Pope Francis spent the morning with the poor and those who
minister to them.

He had lunch at the city’s historic San Vittore prison,
where all 893 inmates — men and women — are awaiting trial.

But Pope Francis began his visit March 25 on the outskirts
of the city, at the “White Houses,” a housing development for the
poor built in the 1970s. Three families welcomed the pope into their
apartments: Stefano Pasquale, 59, who is ill and cared for by his 57-year-old
wife, Dorotee; a Muslim couple and their three children from Morocco; and the

Nuccio Onete, 82, was home for the pope’s visit, but his
wife, Adele, was hospitalized with pneumonia three days earlier, so the pope
called her on the telephone.

The people of the neighborhood gave Pope Francis a handmade
white stole, which he put on before addressing the crowd.

The fact that it was homemade, he said, “makes it much
more precious and is a reminder that the Christian priest is chosen from the
people and is at the service of the people. My priesthood, like that of your
pastor and the other priests who work here, is a gift of Christ, but one sewn by
you, by the people, with your faith, your struggles, your prayers and your

Arriving next at Milan’s massive Gothic cathedral, Pope
Francis met with the archdiocese’s pastoral workers and responded to questions
from a priest, a permanent deacon and a religious sister, urging them to trust
in God, hold on to their joy and share the good news of Christ with everyone
they meet.

“We should not fear challenges,” he said. “It
is good that they exist” and Christians must “grab them, like a bull,
by the horns.”

Challenges “are a sign of a living faith, of a living
community that seeks the Lord and keeps its eyes and heart open.”

Asked by Father Gabriele Gioia about evangelization efforts
that do not seem to result in “catching fish,” Pope Francis said the
work of an evangelizer — of all Christians — is to set out and cast the nets.
“It’s the Lord who catches the fish.”

Preoccupation with numbers is never a good thing, Pope
Francis said.

Responding to Ursuline Sister Paola Paganoni, who spoke of
the challenge of reaching out when so many orders are experiencing an aging and
declining membership, the pope spoke as a Jesuit, saying, “The majority of
our founding fathers and mothers never thought they’d be a multitude.”

Rather, he said, they were moved by the Holy Spirit to
respond to the real needs of their time and “to build the church like
leaven in the dough, like salt and light for the world.”

Just think, he said, a dish with too much salt would be
inedible. And, “I’ve never seen a pizzamaker who took a half kilo of yeast
and 100 grams of flour to make a pizza. No, it has to be the opposite”
proportion. Christians must be concerned with being leaven in society more than
with being a majority.

It is not up to
the pope to tell religious orders what their focus should be, he said. They
must look to their founding charisms and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But
in all they do, he said, “ignite the hope that has been extinguished and
weakened by a society that has become insensitive to the pain of others. Our
fragility as congregations can make us more attentive to the many forms of
fragility that surround us and transform them into spaces of blessing.”

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