Pope Francis, appearing recovered, gives message of unity on Holy Thursday

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, appearing fully recovered from a bout of bronchitis, on Thursday began an intense four days leading to Easter, urging priests to avoid fomenting division in the Church and seek harmony if they wanted to win back lapsed faithful.

Pope Francis, 86, spent four days in hospital last week for treatment for bronchitis after complaining of breathing difficulties. He recovered quickly after antibiotics.

“Many times, we priests are rude,” he said in the homily of a Holy Thursday Mass at St Peter’s Basilica on the day the Roman Catholic Church commemorates the birth of the priesthood.

People seeking spiritual peace and tranquillity in their lives will continue to keep their distance from the Church and view it with suspicion if they see it bogged down in internal disunity, finger-pointing and being coldly judgmental, he said.

Apart from an occasional cough during the nearly two-hour-long Mass, Pope Francis read his homily in a clear, strong voice for 20 minutes. He frequently and confidently went off script as he called on priests to stick to their calling as peacemakers and ministers of mercy.

Pope Francis, along with dozens of cardinals and bishops and about 1,800 priests, gathered in Christendom’s largest church and renewed the vows they took on the day of their ordination.

He urged them not to live “double lives” or turn into Church bureaucrats seeking promotions with perks and privileges, and not yearn for a past when the Church was more self-centred.

“Let’s think of the gentleness of priests. If people see even us as people who are dissatisfied and discontented old bachelors who criticise and point fingers, where else will they find harmony?“ Pope Francis asked.

“How many people fail to approach us, or keep at a distance, because in the Church they feel unwelcomed and unloved, regarded with suspicion and judged?” he addde.

Thursday through Sunday is the most intensive period in the Church’s liturgical calendar, as Christians commemorate the period between Jesus’ arrest and what they believe is his resurrection from the dead.

Later on Thursday, Pope Francis was scheduled to wash and kiss the feet of 12 inmates at a juvenile facility outside Rome in a gesture commemorating Jesus’ humility towards his apostles on the night before his death.

The Pope is due to preside at two Good Friday services on the day Christians commemorate the crucifixion, including a Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) service at Rome’s Colosseum.

He presides at an Easter vigil Mass on Saturday night and on Easter Sunday delivers his twice-annual “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing and message in St Peter’s Square. REUTERS

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