ROME (CNS) – The first years of priesthood are challenging, and the best way to survive and thrive is through closeness to God, to one’s bishop, one’s fellow priests and to one’s parishioners, Pope Francis told priests who have been ordained less than 10 years.

“One never comes out of a crisis alone,” the pope told them, according to the Vatican press office.

Pope Francis listens to a question during a meeting with priests ministering in the Diocese of Rome who have been ordained 10 years or less in the Church of Jesus the Divine Master May 29, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis held a closed-door meeting May 29 with about 90 priests working in the Diocese of Rome who have been ordained since 2014; they included priests who were ordained for the diocese in April.

Earlier in May the pope had met with priests who have been in ministry for more than 40 years, and he is scheduled to meet June 11 with clerics ordained between 11 and 39 years ago.

Meeting at a church complex owned and staffed by the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master, a religious order of women, Pope Francis and the priests began with prayer and then moved into a private question-and-answer session.

“Among the topics at the center of the dialogue were the experience of the early years of priesthood, the happy discovery of people’s faith but also the challenge of ministering to the sick, to whom one must respond with closeness, compassion and tenderness, and the crises one faces in priestly life,” including loneliness, according to a summary provided by the Vatican press office.

The pope and priests also talked about what is going well and what challenges the Diocese of Rome faces, the summary said. Pope Francis told the priests the problems must be faced “not with gossip, but with dialogue.”

Rome Auxiliary Bishop Michele Di Tolve, who was present at the meeting, described the dialogue with the pope as part of the priests’ formation.

“It is not enough just to have seminary training; one becomes a priest by exercising ministry,” he told Vatican News. “And so, the questions of our priests were precisely in reference to their becoming pastors in the midst of the people of God.”

In response to several of the questions, he said, Pope Francis spoke of the importance of “the four proximities: closeness to God, to the bishop, to each other in fraternity and closeness to the people of God.”

Auxiliary Bishop Baldo Reina, who also was present, told the diocesan media that Pope Francis “gave advice, like that which a father gives — or a grandfather, we might say — to grandchildren, to younger children, related to his experience. He talked a lot about closeness: to the elderly, to the sick, to those living in distress.”

“He also recommended closeness among them, among priests, without giving space to the gossip that sometimes frays relationships and a healthy spiritual life,” Bishop Reina said. “The meeting was beautiful as was the frankness with which the young priests put questions to the Holy Father, even questions about problematic issues, and he answered them naturally, without hiding problems but manifesting his willingness to deal with them and resolve them in a positive way.”