Vatican City, Jan 15, 2017 / 11:19 am (CNA/EWTN News) – Pope Francis Sunday traveled to a parish on the outskirts of Rome where he visited a priest suffering from a severe form of ALS and celebrated Mass, warning parishioners, as he often does, of the harm gossiping does to a community.
When we read the Gospels, we see that “we have a lot of sins,” including betrayal and jealousy, “but there is one I don’t find: they weren’t gossipers, they didn’t talk bad about others, they didn’t speak badly about each other. No,” the Pope said Jan. 15.
“In this, they were good. They didn’t pluck at each other,” he said, lamenting how often the sin of gossip, “to remove the skin from one another, to talk behind their backs, to believe yourself better than others while talking badly in secret,” is present in parish communities.
However, “in the Gospel they didn’t do this,” he said, adding that if they want to have a “perfect parish” it doesn’t mean not sinning, but rather eliminating the sin of gossip.
Pope Francis traveled to the Santa Maria, a Setteville parish on the outskirts of Rome, near Tivoli. The primary reason for the visit was to see ailing Fr. Giuseppe Berardino, 50, who has been suffering from a severe form of ALS for two years.
Francis arrived to the parish around 3:30 p.m. where he was greeted by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar General of Rome, Guerino di Tora, Auxiliary Bishop of the northern sector of Rome, the parish priest Fr. Luigi Tedoldi, and the associate pastor Fr. Leonel Alehandro Torres Lara.
After his arrival, the Pope went directly to visit with Fr. Berardino, who first arrived at the parish nearly 14 years ago as a Redemptoris Mater seminarian. He was ordained a deacon at the parish, which was followed by his priestly ordination in 2003, according to a communique from the Vicariate of Rome.
Fr. Berardino had worked closely with the youth before falling ill after taking a fall at a summer camp, which led to the onset of his illness and its rapid progression. Given the severity of his current state, 20 couples from the parish alternate in shifts to help him on the weekends when the nurses are off.
Before celebrating Mass, Francis also met with different members of the parish, including a group of 30 members of the community who are sick, parish workers, priests and seminarians, 40 couples who baptized their children in 2016, and a group of around 220 youth aged 13-18, who asked the Pope a few questions.
The Pope then heard four confessions in the parish sacristy before celebrating Mass, the penitents being the father of a sick child, a recently-confirmed youth, and a couple who help to assist Fr. Berardino.
In his homily, Francis turned to the day’s Gospel from John, noting that the Apostles who followed Jesus after John the Baptist’s proclamation that Jesus “is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” were only able to encounter Jesus thanks to John‘s witness.
“This is how it happens in our lives,” he said, explaining that being a Christian is more than just following the Commandments or obeying all the rules.
Being a Christian “above all means bearing witness to Jesus,” he said, adding that this is what the Apostles did when they went throughout the world, even testifying through their martyrdom.
“Testimony and martyrdom, they are the same. You give witness in the small things, and some of them become big, giving one’s life in martyrdom like the Apostles.”
The Apostles didn’t “take a course” on how to become a witness or study at a university, but they “they felt the Spirit inside and they followed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They were faithful to this.”
However, even though they were faithful, they were still sinners, he said, adding that this goes for “all of them,” and not just Judas.
Even the Apostles were envious and jealous of each other, he said, pointing to the Gospel scene where they fought about who was first among them, and when James and John had their mother come to Jesus and ask that they sit at his right and at his left.
The Apostles were even “traitors, because when Jesus was taken they all left, they hid, they were afraid,” including Peter, the first Pope, who denied Jesus publicly.
However, despite their sins they were still able to bear witness because what they testified to was “the salvation Jesus brings, and all of them, with this salvation, were converted. They allowed themselves to be saved.”
“To be a witness doesn’t mean to be a Saint,” but rather recognizing that “I’m a sinner, but Jesus is the Lord, and I bear witness to him. I try to do good every day, to correct my life, to go on the right path.”
While the Apostles had many sins, Pope Francis noted that the only one they didn’t have is to gossip and speak badly about each other.
When it comes to parish life, he said that “we are all sinners, but one community,” and where there are gossipers, “a gossiping community is incapable of giving witness.”
“I would say only this: do you want a perfect parish? Then no gossiping, no! If you have something to say to someone say it to their face, or to the pastor, but not among you,” he said, explaining that what destroys a community, “like a worm, is gossip, from behind.”
He then invited parishioners to make a commitment to hold their tongues whenever they feel tempted to gossip, because “a parish where there is no gossip is a perfect parish. It’s parish of sinners, yes, but of witnesses, and this is the witness given by the first Christians.”
“Start with this,” he said, and prayed that God would give them the gift and grace “to never speak about each other behind your backs.”