“The Church, and every baptized person, is in the world, is for the world, but is not of the world.”
Those were Pope Francis’ words on Thursday morning as he met with members of the Secular Institute of the Missionary Priests of the Kingship of Christ.
Members of the Institute are diocesan, or secular – rather than religious – priests who live in various parts of the world under the jurisdiction of local bishops.
Their encounter with the Pope took place as part of the Institute’s 70th anniversary celebrations, and members presented Pope Francis with the floor plan of a new training centre under construction in Burundi.
Secularity vs secularism
In his prepared remarks, Pope Francis began by underlining “the value of secularity in the life and ministry of priests.”
“Secularity (secolarità),” he stressed, “is not synonymous with secularism (laicità).”
Secularity, he said, is rather “a dimension of the Church,” having to do with its mission to “serve and bear witness to the Kingdom of God in this world.”
If, said the Pope, secularity is a dimension of the Church, then it follows that priests, as well as lay people, are called to live it out.
Inspiration from St Francis
Pope Francis went on to praise the priests’ way of living out their secular vocation.
Members of the Institute, he said, live “according to the Franciscan charism” and are thus formed for “humble, available, and fraternal service.”
They also live, he said, “according to the model of the kingship of Christ, which consists in serving, in giving oneself generously, and in solidarity with the poor and the excluded.”
Pope Francis brought his speech to a close by quoting a line from the Institute’s prayer to the Sacred Heart, which members recite every day.
“May we be in solidarity with, and friends of, the people, apostles of kindness and truth, so that the Gospel might become the heart of the world.”
Institute’s Project in Burundi
The Secular Institute of the Missionary Priests of the Kingship of Christ was established in October 1953 in the Church of San Damiano in Assisi.
During their audience with the Pope, members provided the Pope with the floor plan for their new Spiritual Formation and Interreligious Dialogue Center, which the Institute is constructing in Burundi.
The Center will be dedicated to Archbishop Michael Courtney, who served as Apostolic Nuncio to Burundi from 2000 and was shot to death there in 2003. He played a significant role in national reconciliation in the country.
Among its aims is the goal of teaching the local population rainwater harvesting and wastewater filtration techniques.