Pope urges Catholic priests to help poor, shun careerism

VATICAN CITY (REUTERS) - Beginning a busy programme of Easter events, Pope Francis on Thursday urged Catholic priests to devote themselves to helping the poor and suffering instead of worrying about careers as Church"managers".

Pope Francis' homily at his first Holy Thursday service as Roman Catholic leader was the latest sign since his surprise election two weeks ago of his determination that the 1.2 billion-member Church should be closer to the poor.

"We need to go out, then, in order to experience our own anointing (as priests) ... to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters," he said during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

The 76-year-old former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina has inherited a Vatican rocked by a scandal in which documents leaked to the media spoke of alleged corruption in its administration and depicted prelates as fighting among themselves to advance their careers.

At the Mass, the start of four days of hectic activities leading up to Easter this Sunday, Pope Francis said priests should not get bogged down in "introspection" but step outside of themselves and concentrate on those who need their help.

"Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager ... doesn't put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks," he said.

In the next few weeks, Pope Francis is expected to start making changes in the Curia, the central bureaucracy that was at the heart of the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal.

The new pope delivered his appeal for priests to live simply and closest to the needy on the day when the Catholic Church commemorates when Jesus founded the priesthood at the Last Supper on the night before he died.

Speaking to about 1,600 priests from Rome who attended the Mass, he said those who did not live in humility close to the people risked becoming "collectors of antiques or novelties - instead of being shepherds living with 'the smell of the sheep'".

The pope took the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, who is associated with austerity and helping the poor. The new pontiff has already set a clear tone for a humbler papacy and Church.

Later on Thursday, he will wash and kiss the feet of 12 young inmates at a youth prison on the outskirts of Rome, at a Holy Thursday ceremony commemorating Jesus's gesture of humility towards his apostles on the night before he died.

All popes in living memory have held the service either in St. Peter's or the Basilica of St. John in Lateran, which is the pope's cathedral church in his capacity as bishop of Rome.

The four days leading up to Easter are the most hectic in the Church's liturgical calendar.

On Friday, Pope Francis will preside at two Good Friday services including the traditional "Via Crucis" (Way of the Cross) procession around the ancient Colosseum in Rome.

He celebrates an Easter eve service on Saturday night and on Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Church's liturgical calendar, he will deliver his first "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message to a large crowd in St. Peter's Square.

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