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In Lithuania, Francis tells priests to hear their people’s cries

Pope Francis signs a guest book after visiting the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights in Vilnius, Lithuania (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis told priests and religious in Lithuania Sunday to listen to the cries of suffering that come from the People of God, who are looking to them for hope.

“The cry of our people must strike us, like Moses, to whom God revealed the suffering of his people in the encounter at the burning bush,” the pope said Sept. 23. “Listening to the voice of God in prayer makes us see, makes us hear, know the pain of others in order to free them.”

“The cry that makes us seek God in prayer and adoration is the same that makes us listen to the lament of our brothers,” he continued. “They hope in us and we need, starting from a careful discernment, to organize ourselves, plan and be bold and creative in our apostolate.”

There is no room for improvisation when it comes to responding to the needs of God’s people, he said.

Pope Francis spoke during an encounter with priests, religious, and seminarians in the Cathedral of Kaunas in Lithuania, part of the program of the second day of a visit to the Baltic states Sept. 22-25.

In their encounter, the pope offered one piece of advice in particular – for priests to be close to their people and close to God in the tabernacle.

He said a priest more concerned with the administrative or functionary parts of his job “opens the office at that time, does his job, closes the office.” And meanwhile, the people are all outside. “He does not approach people.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, if you do not want to be an executive, I will tell you one word: closeness!… Closeness to the Tabernacle, face to face with the Lord. And closeness to people. The Lord wants you shepherds of the people, and not clerics of the State!”

The pope said that closeness and mercy are linked, and “a priest cannot but be merciful. Above all in the confessional.” He told priests to think about how Jesus would treat the person coming to confession and to welcome them.

“Already enough has he been beaten by life, that poor guy! Let him feel the embrace of the forgiving Father,” he said. If absolution cannot be given to someone right away, he advised encouraging the person to pray and to come back to talk. “Never chase someone from the confessional! Never drive [someone] away,” he said.