Pope Francis: Parishes should be a welcoming family, not private club

Families gather for Easter Mass at St. John by the Sea Church in Klawock on Prince of Wales Island in southeastern Alaska, April 19, 2014. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

A church that lives according to the Gospel must always have its doors open and be a welcoming community, not "an exclusive, closed sect," Pope Francis said.

"Churches, parishes, institutions with closed doors must not call themselves a church; they must call themselves museums," he said to applause during his general audience in St. Peter's Square Sept. 9.

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As part of a series of talks about the family, the pope focused on the close bond that should exist between the family and the Christian community.

The son of God chose to be born and immersed in the everyday life and routine of a simple family in a poor village, the pope said.

In fact, the family is where the "irreplaceable, indelible" start of one's life story begins, which is "why the family is so important."

When Jesus began his public ministry, he formed around him a community with a shared vocation, "that is, a con-vocation of people. This is the meaning of the word, 'church,'" the pope said.

The group Jesus gathers around him has the features of "a hospitable family, not an exclusive, closed sect," he said.

"We find Peter and John, but also the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the persecuted, the sinner, the tax collector, the Pharisees and the multitudes. And Jesus never stops welcoming and speaking with everyone, even with those who no longer expect to encounter God in their life."

Jesus' example is a valuable lesson for the church today, the pope said, as is recognizing that Jesus chose his disciples to take care of these people, "this family of God's guests."

Pope Francis said it was "indispensable and urgent" for the bond between the family and the Christian community to be renewed and strengthened.

"The family and the parish are the two places in which this communion of love, whose ultimate source is God himself, is realized."

Families and parishes must share this bond and be "centers of love" that are an alternative to the prevailing "centers of ideological, financial and political power" in the world, he said. "Our hope is in these centers of love, evangelizing centers, abundant in human warmth, based on solidarity and participation and also forgiveness between us."

A generous spirit is required to find the courage and intelligence to reach out to families, the pope said, because sometimes they "pull away, saying they do not measure up" to expectations or are too "messed up" with too many problems or not enough strength to pull through.

"But nobody is worthy, nobody measures up, nobody has the strength. Without the grace of God, we can't do anything," he said. Only when people put themselves in God's hands can miracles happen, even just "every day miracles when the Lord is there in that family."

The pope asked Christian communities and parishes to do their part, avoid acting too much like impersonal functionaries or managers and engage more in face-to-face dialogue to build mutual understanding and respect.

The Christian community, he said, "is the home of those who believe in Jesus Christ as the source of the unity of the entire human family."

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