The 25th of February is a very special day in the life of the Congregation. On this day 274 years ago, on 25th February 1749, Pope Benedict XIV approved the Rule of the Congregation and bestowed on the Congregation Papal Approval. On this very day, Fr. Rogério Gomes, C.Ss.R., Superior General and the General Council, together with the Secretary General, Procurator General, Postulator General and Vice Economo General, met with Pope Francis in his personal library for a private audience.
Pope Francis greeted Fr Rogério and each of the members of the Curia personally at the door of his library, welcoming us in. Then after we all were seated, Fr Rogério gave Pope Francis a gift on behalf of the General Curia (A collection of CDs of Alphonsian songs put to music, an episcopal cross with the coat of arms of the Congregation in silver and a little silver statue of St. Alphonsus). Then Fr Rogério addressed the Holy Father on behalf of the Curia and the Congregation thanking him for his message to the Congregation at the Audience in October 2022 for the XXVI General Chapter and assured the Holy Father that we as a Congregation take his words to heart to constantly come out of our comfort zones and reach out to the peripheries with the Good News of Redemption.
Fr. Rogério also thanked the Holy Father for granting the Alphonsian Academy a Pontifical Status, to which the Holy Father graciously accepted.
In a very personal dialogue with us, the Holy Father took note of the day being that of the 274th anniversary of the approval of the Rule by Pope Benedict XIV. The Holy Father spoke of his own admiration for Pope Benedict XIV as a very wise Canon Lawyer and Moralist but also a very human pope who was in touch with the struggles of people. The Holy Father was delighted that it was Benedict XIV who granted Papal approval to the Rule for St. Alphonsus.
The Holy Father was very keen to know the number of Redemptorists in the world and the number of vocations that we have to which Fr Rogério gave him the latest statistics especially noting that we have around 800 young postulants, candidates, novices, and students in Philosophy and Theology. The Holy Father then wanted to know from which parts of the world these vocations were, and Fr Rogério explained that the fast rise in vocations is from Asia and Africa, and there is a steady number in Latin America but unfortunately, a critical drop in vocations in Europe and North America. The Holy Father spoke to us about the importance of promoting vocations to the Redemptorist way of life and that we must take this up urgently. He also insisted that we should pay much attention to the quality of vocations rather than the quantity. He insisted that we screened all vocations and gave us some examples of seminaries where there were severe moral issues among the seminarians and that this had to be dealt with. He again reiterated the need to take care of vocation promotion and carefully journeying with those in formation.
Fr. Rogério explained to the Holy Father of the work of the General Council about the Chapter Documents, Message, Reflection on our Identity, Mission, Consecrated life, Formation and Leadership, which the Holy Father took careful note of. Fr Rogério also shared with the Holy Father about the efforts of the General Council to accompany all those in formation with online meetings over the next few months, to which the Holy Father was extremely delighted to note this aspect of our mission.
Fr. Rogério also shared with the Holy Father about the mission of the Redemptorists in our Shrines, especially at Aparecida in Brazil, to which the Holy Father said that he has fond memories of his visit to Aparecida.
The Holy Father finally thanked Fr Rogério and the Council for the visit, requested our prayers for his ministry and exhorted us to move ahead with courage with the mission of leadership entrusted to us for the Congregation and the Church at large in this time of Synodality.
He finally invited us to pray with him the Ave Maria invoking the intercession of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and then concluded by giving us his Apostolic Blessing. He finally led us to the door and once more greeted each of us personally at the door of his library at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
A Memorable day indeed for the Superior General, the Council, the Curia and the Congregation!
Joseph Ivel Mendanha, C.Ss.R.