VATICAN CITY — Nearing the end of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis paid a visit to seven families formed by men who left the priesthood to marry. The Vatican said the visit was a sign that God loves and is merciful to everyone experiencing difficulty.
"The Holy Father wanted to offer a sign of closeness and affection to these young men who made a choice that often was not shared by their fellow priests and families," the Vatican said in a statement about the pope's visit Nov. 11.
The visit was part of the "Mercy Friday" initiative Pope Francis began in December for the Holy Year, which ends Nov. 20. Almost every month throughout the year, the pope visited a group of people -- people recovering from addiction, women rescued from prostitution, infants in a hospital neonatal unit -- as his own expression of the corporal works of mercy.
The destinations were not announced in advance and journalists were not invited.
Traveling to an apartment in the Ponte di Nona area on the far eastern edge of Rome, the pope met the families of the former priests. Four of the men had been priests in Rome. A former priest from Madrid and a former priest from Latin America, both now living with their new families in Rome, also were in attendance as was a visiting former priest from Sicily.
After serving in parishes, the Vatican said, "solitude, incomprehension and tiredness because of the great requirement of pastoral responsibility put in crisis their initial choice of priesthood." The crises were followed by "months and years of uncertainty and doubts that in many cases led them to believe they had made the wrong choice with priesthood. So they decided to leave the priesthood and form a family."
Pope Francis entered the apartment and was greeted by the priests' children, who embraced him. The adults, the Vatican said, "could not hide their emotion."
The former priests and their families did not feel judged by the pope, the Vatican statement said, but felt his closeness and affection. He listened to their stories and paid particular attention to the concerns they raised about "juridical procedures," apparently in reference to the process of releasing a priest from his priestly promises.
Pope Francis' "paternal words reassured every one," the Vatican said. "In this way, once again, Pope Francis intended to give a sign of mercy to those who live in a situation of spiritual and material difficulty, showing the obligation to ensure no one feels deprived of the love and solidarity" of the church's pastors.
— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
Mercy Fridays give pope a year of stories, tears, hugs
VATICAN CITY —Tears, prayers, caresses -- but most of all, listening -- were the hallmarks of Pope Francis' "Mercy Friday" visits during the Year of Mercy.
As the jubilee began last December, Pope Francis said he would ditch the media one Friday afternoon each month and personally try to give life to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Throughout the year, he used his weekly general audiences and monthly Saturday jubilee audiences to teach about the reality of God's mercy and the obligation of sharing mercy with others.
But the Mercy Friday visits -- even the two that were not held on a Friday -- were about presence. While top personnel at the places he visited had some advance notice, in most cases the guests, residents or patients did not. The Mercy Fridays gave them a chance to tell the pope their stories and, usually, to share a late afternoon snack with him.
Here is a list of the pope's Mercy Friday visits during the Holy Year, which ends Nov. 20:
-- Dec. 18, in an event that turned out not to be private at all -- the pope opened the Holy Door at a remodeled Rome Caritas homeless shelter and celebrated Mass there.
-- Jan. 15, Pope Francis visited a retirement home in Rome and a nearby care home for people in a persistent vegetative state.
-- Feb. 26, he visited members of a residential community for people recovering from drug addiction.
-- March 24, Holy Thursday, Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of the Lord's Supper at a refugee center in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome, and washed the feet of asylum seekers.
-- April 16, Pope Francis joined Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens for visits with refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. The pope brought 12 of the refugees to Rome with him.
-- May 13, he visited Il Chicco, a L'Arche community south of Rome. L'Arche communities are homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share their lives.
-- June 17, the pope visited two communities of priests; one was a home for retired priests and the other was described as a community for priests with "various difficulties."
-- July 29, during Pope Francis' visit to Poland for World Youth Day, the Vatican described the following events as part of the Mercy Friday initiative: a silent visit to the Nazi's Auschwitz death camp; a visit to a pediatric hospital; and the celebration of the Way of the Cross that connected each station to a work of mercy.
-- Aug. 12, he visited a community for women rescued from the slavery of prostitution.
-- Sept. 16, Pope Francis visited the neonatal unit of a Rome hospital and a hospice across town.
-- Oct. 14, he spent the afternoon at Rome's SOS Children's Village, which attempts to provide a home-like atmosphere for children under the age of 12 whose parents cannot care for them.
-- Nov. 11, Pope Francis visited seven families formed by young priests who left the ministry to marry.
— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service