In an interview with ZENIT’s Senior Vatican Correspondent and with another vaticanista of Italian news agency ANSA, Cardinal Pietro Parolin has shared with ZENIT moving episodes from his trip to Lebanon.
Following his ordination of 29 new priests of Opus Dei at the Basilica of San Eugenio in Rome, the Vatican Secretary of State reflected on vocations, and admitted that while papal trips due to COVID are temporarily not feasible, he knows the Holy Father is eager to embark once able.
Pope Francis called for yesterday, Friday Sept. 4, 2020, to be a special day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon, and to commemorate it, he sent Cardinal Parolin to Beirut to show his closeness to the Lebanese people.
The morning after the Cardinal’s two full days in the Middle Eastern nation, the Secretary of State was ready to preside over these priestly ordinations, and to encourage these young men from various nations, to be “good shepherds” and to thank them for their service to the Church and Her faithful.
In this interview, the Cardinal reflects, as a longtime priest, on priestly identity, and what he would say to someone considering a vocation. He also discusses his recent whirlwind trip, along with a related appeal, as well as papal trips in general.
Here is the full text of the interview:
ZENIT: Some note there are, generally speaking, not many priests and less vocations, aside from some exceptions, such as Asia and Africa. However, you were here at the Opus Dei ordination of 29 priests, a considerable number. You, Your Eminence, who have been a priest for a considerable time, what would you say to a young person, a young man, who is considering such a vocation, but has some doubts? What would you, as a priest, tell him?
Cardinal Parolin: I believe that perhaps many words are not needed, because words can be believed or not believed. I believe that to answer the doubts of a young person – because it is true that many young people have many doubts since today there is a certain shortage of vocations – the only way to respond to a young man who poses the problem of his vocation and asks himself what to do with his vocation and his life, and feels the call of the Lord, the only way is to give a witness: that is, to be priests with all our limitations, our weaknesses, our miseries, but being priests who are truly in love with the Lord and spend their lives for the people entrusted to them. If a young person really sees a priest fulfilled, a priest who feels joy because he knows that this is his path, he feels that he is responding to a call from the Lord and that it makes sense to give his life for others, then all the doubts disappear, or at least they dissolve, little by little.
ZENIT: Your Eminence, the Holy Father sent you to Lebanon to express his closeness to the Lebanese people. You returned only last evening. There you heard many testimonies and met many people. Which one left the strongest impression and touched you the most?
Cardinal Parolin: As for the visit, it was really very, very emotional. It really moved me. There are two aspects that I would like to emphasize. The first thing is destruction! Someone has defined the destruction as apocalyptic. I think the adjective suits the situation very well. There was a bomb, a bomb I don’t know if [it were] atomic or not, whose strength, they tell me, was even muffled by the presence of the sea; the explosion was somewhat muffled by the sea, but where it arrived, it caused a lot of destruction.
And then I would like to underline the sense of pain, the sense of suffering that I saw in my encounters with the families of the victims. There was a woman who lost three relatives, her husband, brother and brother-in-law, who were part of that group of firefighters sent [there] after the first explosion.
The second thing I want to say is the great willingness that I saw to restart again, to start over as soon as possible. Thus, I felt the sense of pain, of bewilderment, because this misfortune adds to the many problems that Lebanon already had previously, but I understood that there is a great desire to start over. Seeing the closeness of the Church, made me very happy. The Church is really close to the people.
ZENIT: What about a visit of Pope Francis to Lebanon? Some reliable sources, in 2019, envisioned a papal trip there this month, this September of 2020, before the world changed. Thinking of a potential papal trip, if the situation with the pandemic were greatly improved, perhaps even with vaccines, do you believe, that such a travel to Lebanon could be possible? The circumstances, aside from COVID, in your opinion, would permit it?
Cardinal Parolin: Many have asked that the Pope go to Lebanon, I imagine that if they have asked, it means that there are conditions, including security, that would allow the Pope to go. Now the problem is that of COVID. Until this situation is overcome, travel will not be possible.
Reflecting on other Apostolic Trips of Pope Francis in the future, are you saying it seems unlikely we will see trips in the near future?
Cardinal Parolin: Not for the moment, we need to see the evolution of the pandemic, see how it evolves. For this year, travel is certainly suspended. I think that the Pope has the desire, as soon as possible, to resume traveling. But much depends on the evolution of the pandemic, of course, in order not to put people’s health at risk, because when there are large gatherings, it is logical that there is the greatest danger.
But is there an appeal from the Vatican to clarify what happened in Lebanon and what caused the Beirut tragedy?
Cardinal Parolin: I have not touched on this point in my various speeches, but an assurance has been given by the authorities nonetheless. I mean, I touched on the subject of the investigation with the authorities, the need to give answers, they told me that they are doing everything possible. And someone pointed out that this time, unlike other times, the investigations are also reaching the highest levels of the political hierarchy, and therefore no stone will be left unturned. We really hope that we can know the origin and causes of this disaster which are very obscure, because currently there are so many hypotheses, one after the other, but no one knows yet what caused the explosion. So even if not in public, this issue was touched upon in the meetings with the authorities.
Grazie, Your Eminence…
NOTE: Zenit has obtained Cardinal Parolin’s full homily (currently in Italian) to the new priests. Be assured that once we have finished its translation, we will include the full text at the end of this interview.
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