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A priest gives Pope Francis a ceramic plate commemorating the day's audience with seminarians and staff from the Cardinal Ascalesi Seminary in Naples, Italy, in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace Feb. 16, 2024. The seminary was celebrating its 90th anniversary. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- During Lent, Pope Francis said, Catholics -- and especially Catholic seminarians -- should rediscover the joy of simplicity, pay less attention to their appearance than to their prayer lives and make a special effort to get along with everyone they live with.

Progress on the Lenten “path of conversion and renewal,” the pope said, starts with “allowing oneself to be conquered by renewed awe at God’s love,” the foundation of every vocation.

The pope met Feb. 16 with seminarians and staff from the Cardinal Ascalesi Seminary, an archdiocesan seminary in Naples, Italy, which was celebrating its 90th anniversary. Pope Francis did not read the speech he prepared for the occasion, but distributed copies of the text.

Eucharistic adoration and prayerfully reading the Bible are two of the best ways to rediscover God’s love and renew one’s sense of awe at being loved by God, he said.

Lent, the pope said, also is a time to rediscover “with joy one’s taste for simplicity and avoiding waste,” something which also will help seminarians learn “a lifestyle that will help you to be priests capable of giving of yourselves to others and being attentive to the poorest.”

Be on guard against “the cult of image and appearance,” Pope Francis said, by “nurturing the inner life.”

Be on guard against “the cult of image and appearance,” he said, by “nurturing the inner life.”

And focus on “living in peace and harmony, overcoming divisions and learning to live in fraternity with humility,” the pope told them. “Especially today, fraternity is one of the greatest witnesses we can offer the world.”

The seminary -- and the Catholic Church itself -- is like a construction site, Pope Francis said.

“Formation never ends, it lasts a lifetime, and if you stop, you do not stay where you were, but go backward,” he told the students.

The church itself is “always on the move, open to the novelty of the Spirit, defeating the temptation to preserve herself and her own interests,” he said. “The principal task of the ‘Church-construction site’ is to journey in the company of the Risen Crucified One, bringing the beauty of his Gospel to men and women.”

The current process focused on synodality, he said, is emphasizing how priests and bishops are called “to be servants -- that is what ‘ministers’ means -- who adopt a style of pastoral discernment in every situation, knowing that all of us, priests and laity, are on the path toward fullness and that we are all workers on a building site. We cannot offer monolithic, preconceived answers to today’s complex reality, but we must invest our energies by proclaiming the essential, which is God’s mercy, and manifesting it through closeness, paternity, meekness (and) refining the art of discernment.”

In the construction site of a seminary, the pope said, seminarians should “not be afraid to let the Lord act in your life; as on a worksite, the Spirit will come first to demolish those aspects, those convictions, that style and even those incoherent ideas about faith and the ministry that will prevent you from growing according to the Gospel; then the same Spirit, after having swept away the inner falsehoods, will give you a new heart, build up your life in accordance with Jesus’ style and make you become new creatures and missionary disciples.”

Thanking the seminary staff, Pope Francis drew special attention to the women religious, married couples and psychological consultants who are part of the team.

The structure of seminary formation is undergoing changes based on “listening to the challenges that await priestly ministry and require commitment, passion and healthy creativity from everyone.”

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