Meeting with representatives of a charismatic group dedicated to caring for the sick, Pope Francis on Monday emphasized the need for tenderness as the natural Christian response to human suffering.
The word “tenderness,” Pope Francis warned, is “a word that today risks being dropped from the dictionary.”
“We must take it up again and put it into practice anew. Christianity without tenderness does not work. Tenderness is a properly Christian attitude: it is also the very marrow of our encounter with people who suffer,” he said.
The pope met March 18 with men and women religious from the Camillian Charismatic Family.
Founded by St. Camillus de Lellis in the late 1500s, the Camillians around the world serve the sick, with an emphasis on the poor and dying.
Pope Francis praised those present for their work of “loving and generous donation to the sick, carrying out a precious mission, in the Church and in society, alongside the suffering.”
He encouraged members of the Camillian family to always remember that their charism of mercy toward the sick is a gift from the Holy Spirit, meant to be shared with others.
Charisms, he said, “always have a transitive character: they are orientated towards others. Over the years, you have made efforts to incarnate your charism faithfully, translating it into a multitude of apostolic works and in pastoral service to the benefit of suffering humanity throughout the world.”
St. Camillus de Lellis initially founded an order of men, at a time when active consecrated life for women “had not yet matured,” Pope Francis noted. Two congregations for women were created in the 19th century, and secular institutes were established in the 20th century.
These developments, the pope said, “have given completeness to the expression of the charism of mercy towards the sick, enriching it with the distinctly feminine qualities of love and of care.”
He offered prayers that Mary, Health of the Sick might especially guide and accompany the consecrated women, teaching them maternal dedication and tenderness.
Together, Pope Francis said, these different Camillian groups make up “a single constellation, that is, a 'charismatic family' composed of men and women religious, secular consecrated persons and lay faithful.”
“None of these realities is the sole custodian or single holder of the charism, but each receives it as a gift and interprets it and updates it according to his or her specific vocation, in different historical and geographical contexts,” he said. In this way, the different ecclesial bodies all work together “[t]o witness in every time and place Christ's merciful love towards the sick.”
“At the centre there remains the original charism, as a perennial source of light and inspiration, which is understood and embodied dynamically in the various forms.”
Looking forward, Pope Francis urged the Camillians to be open to new apostolates, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
He instructed them “always to cultivate communion among you, in that synodal style that I have proposed to all the Church, listening to each other and everyone listening to the Holy Spirit, to value the contribution that every single situation offers to the single Family, so as to express more fully the multiple potentialities that the charisma includes.”
Through fidelity to their founder, and by listening to and accompanying those experiencing poverty and suffering today, the pope said, the Camillians “will know how to make light shine, always new, on the gift received; and many young people the world over will be able to feel attracted by and to join with you, to continue to bear witness to God's tenderness.”