A dialogue with future Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik


In an extensive interview with Vatican News, the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy, Cardinal-elect Lazarus You Heung-sik, praises the heroism of many priests around the world and notes that evils and abuses can be fought with priests mature and holy. who offer credible testimony.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

There are many heroic priests all over the world, says future Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-Sik, prefect of the dicastery for the clergy.

In an extensive interview given to Vatican News at his Dicastery on the occasion of his appointment as Cardinal, the Prefect observes: “There are many beautiful priestly stories to tell, not just the ugly and unpleasant ones, which unfortunately are not lacking.

During the broad conversation, he speaks candidly about the priesthood, vocations, seminary formation, and the Church in Asia.

For the future Korean cardinal, clericalism in the Church is fought with priests who are “fathers” and also “sons and brothers” of their communities. If the Church trains priests who are humanly, spiritually and intellectually mature, he says, “then we will finally hear less about abuse and other well-known evils.”

Calling the priesthood a gift from God, the smiling South Korean prefect of the Vatican exhorts priests to be joyful and to pass it on, and similarly declares that “all the people of God must invoke in prayer the gift of new priests”.

Q: Cardinal-elect Lazarus, what were you doing when you learned that the pope had appointed you cardinal? What was your reaction ?

I was in Zagreb for a pastoral engagement and that Sunday I was in the company of a friend, visiting a Marian shrine, when at some point my cell phone rang. As this sanctuary is at a very high altitude, the reception was not the best. On the telephone, a friend said: “The pope named you…” “Who did he name?” I answered.

Basically, he was the one who told me that my name was on the list of these new cardinals. I remember it was about 20 minutes after the recitation of the Regina Caeli in Saint Peter. So I turned off my phone, we prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, we prayed the Holy Rosary, and I asked Our Lady for her help to respond well to this new call to serve the Church, the Pope and priests.

Then I turned the phone back on and I was bombarded with phone calls and messages and I thought to myself, I’m not worthy, but if the Holy Father has appointed me, then being a Cardinal will mean d to love the Church even more, to serve the Pope better, to be an instrument of God’s grace for all the priests, deacons and seminarians of the world.

New Cardinals

Q: Cardinals are the Pope’s closest advisers. How do you think about living this role?

I never thought of advising the Holy Father. Instead, I have always found communion with the Pope very beautiful. For my part, instead of advising, I rather try to listen to the Holy Father in order to fully understand what he expects of my service, starting from a few fundamental questions: What priests does the Church need today? How do we choose them? How do we form them? In this regard, I see a very clear answer, since at the beginning of the Pontificate the Pope gave us the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium.

The important thing is to live the Word of God. We usually say those who live the Word are Christians, and those who don’t can’t call themselves Christians. [What is important is] live the Word together as the Holy Father recommends in the Encyclical Fratelli tuttithat is to say, to be brothers and sisters in an evangelical atmosphere of reciprocal love.

Today we read in the Apostolic Constitution Evangelium Predicate that evangelization is done first by witness: the witness of charity, of fraternal love. Priests must therefore be the first to put into practice the spirit of Evangelium Predicateliving, with the communities entrusted to them, the reality of a synodal Church.

Cardinal-elect You Heung-sik on his cardinalate

Q: The reform of the curia described in Evangelium Predicate has been in effect since Sunday, June 5, Solemnity of Pentecost. What effect does this have on your daily reality?

Pope Francis, as soon as he was elected, created the “Council of Cardinals”, convening them periodically, the last meeting, I think, was the 41st. But the work of this Council concerned in a way the whole Church, precisely in view of the new Apostolic Constitution Evangelium Predicate, which is precisely not the work of anyone alone. Many indeed have studied, prayed, dialogued, trying to find the “way” of the Church of our time.

Personally, I feel that my task is to live well the spirit of Evangelium Predicate, so that the Church becomes, thanks to the commitment of each one, more and more what God wants, and also that she appears more and more credible in the eyes of the world. And a synodal Church is the testimony of its most beautiful face.

Q: You are Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy, which deals with priests and deacons. Pope Francis often condemns clericalism. In your opinion, what are the specific behaviors and habits that the Pope wants to combat? And how to fight them?

The priest presides over the community, celebrating for it and with it the Most Holy Eucharist; he is the father and head of the community. Jesus also instituted the priesthood for service to the community; therefore, without community, there can be no ministerial priesthood. But the priest is also a child of the community, a companion of the community, in the sense that he walks with it, eating the same Bread.

So, when the role of the priest-father is absolutized, this is where clericalism can come from. When, on the contrary, a good priest is, yes, a father, but he also feels in his heart that he is a son and a brother, then he will love the community of everything himself, will dedicate himself fully to it. . time, and waste no time chasing after personal aspirations and ambitions. The important thing is to live this Trinitarian life with the community.

Q: Are you concerned about the decline in vocations to the priesthood in many parts of the world?

Yes, I am very worried about this. In almost all countries, vocations are declining. However, many young people want to imitate the good examples, which are not lacking.

It is therefore a question of offering them good examples, that is to say credible testimonies, of those who live the Gospel integrally and thus know how to show that God is love and that being with Him represents our only good, the only true happiness of the human heart.



Q: From this perspective, how can the formative experience of seminary help?

The seminary is not a factory where priests are made, but rather a place where the disciples of Jesus live and gradually become his apostles.

This is why, in the seminary, one must first live the Word, both on a personal level and in community life. Indeed, it is important that we live community life well even in the few seminaries. If celibacy also means renouncing a human family to form a larger one, however, this awareness must be born and develop in the hearts of candidates for the priesthood from the first years of formation.

Q: You are from South Korea. On your continent, Asia, many Churches are seeing priestly vocations flourish. What do you think they could teach those where the vocations crisis is most felt?

Korea’s Christian history is a story of martyrs, and many of them received the gift of faith through the witness of lay believers. Then, in more recent times, it is true that vocations to the priesthood have increased, but they are also in decline, even if the Church remains very committed to the promotion and accompaniment of vocations to the priesthood and to life consecrated, both male and female.

Personally, I see vocations in Korea as a gift that God gave us and continues to give us through our martyrs. So we have to go back to the example of the martyrs, and I think that can also apply to other countries.

Q: In your capacity as Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy, what do you see as the most pressing challenges today for priests and their ministry? And how can they be treated?

The priesthood is a great gift from God. Often the media bombards listeners with information about priests that is not always good… Yet I see that there are so many heroic and good priests: priests, missionaries in the service of the people of God, especially those who are marginalized by society.

Then, it is important and right to encourage the priests, so that they are joyful: never with a long face but with a smile on their lips, capable of expressing even on their face the beauty of the gift received. There are many beautiful priestly stories to be told, not just the ugly and unpleasant ones, of which unfortunately there is no shortage.

Priests in Tanzania

Priests in Tanzania

Q: Pope Francis has worked hard for the Church to regain and earn its reputation as a credible and trustworthy institution committed to safeguarding and protecting minors from abuse. How does your Dicastery participate in and take into account these efforts?

I feel enormous pain hearing about acts committed by priests against minors, such as pedophilia and abuse in general. I believe that if we succeed in forming priests who are humanly, spiritually and intellectually mature, they will not use sexuality for pure pleasure; they will not abuse minors. On the contrary, they will respect them and help them, as the vast majority of priests have done and do.

So the question is [how] form solid and mature priests, and then – I am sure – we will finally hear less about abuse and other well-known evils.

Q: Let’s go back to the rise of priestly vocations that the Churches of Asia and Africa are experiencing….

Each continent experiences its own situation, but it is impossible to imagine a Church without priests.

This is why the whole People of God must invoke in prayer the gift of new priests. It is my hope. And I’m sure that the Lord will soon give us this grace and show us the way.


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