VATICAN CITY (CNS) – While Pope Francis often raises warnings against “clericalism” and “spiritual worldliness” in the priesthood, he expressed his deep gratitude and affection for priests and deacons around the world for what he called their generous and faith-filled dedication to their communities.

“I would like first to convey my gratitude, my affection and my closeness to the priests and deacons of the whole world,” he told members and consultants of the Dicastery for Clergy, which was holding its plenary assembly at the Vatican.

Pope Francis speaks with members and consultants of the Dicastery for Clergy attending a plenary assembly at the Vatican June 6, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“Many times, I have warned against the dangers of clericalism and spiritual worldliness, but I am well aware that the vast majority of priests work with great generosity and spirit of faith for the good of the holy people of God, bearing the weight of many hardships and facing pastoral and spiritual challenges that are sometimes not easy,” he said during an audience at the Vatican June 6.

The pope emphasized the importance of giving priests support and ensuring they do not feel alone.

“Unfortunately, many priests are too lonely, without the grace of accompaniment, without that sense of belonging that is like a life buoy in the often-stormy sea of personal and pastoral life,” he said.

“Weaving a strong network of fraternal relations is a priority task in ongoing formation,” he said.

“It is indispensable for priests to feel ‘at home,'” the pope said. This network should include the bishop, other priests, communities in relation to their pastors, religious and consecrated men and women, associations and movements.

He encouraged the dicastery to continue to build and strengthen a global network so that it offers support to priests and “bears fruit throughout the world.”

“One of the great challenges for the people of God is the fact that, in an increasing number of areas of the world, vocations to the priestly ministry and to consecrated life are declining sharply, and in some countries they are almost dying out,” he said.

“But the vocation to marriage, with that sense of commitment and mission it requires, is also in crisis,” he added. That is why in his recent messages for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, he included the whole range of Christian vocations and the vocation of discipleship as a consequence of baptism.

“We cannot resign ourselves to the fact that for many young people the hypothesis of a radical offering of life has disappeared from the horizon,” he said, encouraging them to revitalize the dicastery’s Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations, “perhaps by networking with the local churches and identifying good practices to circulate.”

The pope also asked the dicastery to devote resources to research and reflections regarding the permanent diaconate, noting how questions are often asked about its “specific identity.”

The synthesis report of the first session of the Synod of Bishops on synodality recommended an assessment of how the diaconal ministry has been implemented since Vatican II and called for “a more decisive focus, among the various tasks of deacons, on the ‘diakonia’ of charity” and service to the poor, he said.

Thanking members for their work, the pope asked the dicastery to “always work so that the people of God may have pastors according to the heart of Christ and may grow in the joy of discipleship.”