Catholics must get involved in politics even if it may be "dirty," frustrating and fraught with failure, Pope Francis said.
Given today's "throwaway" culture and so many problems unfolding in the world, "Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony? No, you can't watch from the balcony. Get right in there!" he said.
The pope made his comments Thursday during an informal question-and-answer session with members of Italy's Christian Life Community and the Student Missionary League -- groups inspired by Ignatian spirituality. As a Jesuit priest, Pope Francis served as a national assistant to the Christian Life Community in Argentina in the late 1970s.
Pope Francis set aside his prepared text and instead took questions from four people in the audience, warning them at one point that it could be dangerous.
"When you ask me these questions, the danger -- danger for the pope, too, you know -- is believing that I can answer all your questions. The only one who can answer every question is the Lord. My job is simply to listen and say what comes to me from within. But [it is] insufficient and too little," he said.
One man asked how to keep strong the link between faith in Jesus and the responsibility of building a more just and caring world.
Christians have a duty to work for the common good in the world of politics, the pope said, adding that that does not mean forming a Catholic political party.
"That is not the way. The church is the community of Christians who adore the Father, follow the way of the Son and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not a political party," he said.
However, individual Catholics must get involved and "embroiled" in politics, he said, because it is one of the "highest forms of charity" since it seeks the common good.
Yet, it isn't easy, especially when there is so much corruption, he said. "It's a kind of martyrdom" where one carries the cross of the ideal of the common good every day "without letting yourself be corrupted" or discouraged in the midst of failure.
It is hard to be in the middle of it all "without getting your hands or heart a little dirty," he said. "Ask the Lord to help you not sin, but if you get your hands dirty, ask for forgiveness and keep going;" don't get discouraged.
A woman told the pope she often loses hope and asked what she and others could do to really understand that God never abandons his people.
The pope said sometimes people think "hope" means having an easy, successful or comfortable life. That is "a controlled hope" that exists only as a concept and has nothing to do with a real life made up of problems, skepticism and failure, he said. "True hope is a gift of God, a present, and one that never lets you down."
God is always walking with his people, even if they may not always realize it, he said. Doubts that he is there come when people try to do good, but fail or witness so much brutality and suffering.
Hope is one of the hardest virtues to have because "you have to lower yourself a lot so the Lord can give it to you," he said. "Humility and service -- these are the two things that hold small hope, the most humble virtue, but the one that gives life."
The pope told a diocesan priest who is involved in formation programs that "the best medicine" to cure the disease of indifference was touching "the wounds of the Lord in the poor of our time."
"You will never know Jesus Christ if you don't touch his wounds, his pains," he said.
The pope told the priest that if he came across someone considering a priestly vocation, but who had never directly experienced touching and loving the wounded Lord, he was to send the candidate away "on a beautiful vacation for one, two years, it will do him good."
Recognizing it is difficult to turn smart candidates away because there are so few priests, the pope said, "please, don't let the illusion of quantity deceive us and make us lose sight of quality! We need priests who pray," who can be strong like Moses in pleading with God to save his people, courageous enough to suffer and bring people lots of love.
At the end of the audience the pope received a camera drone. Students between the ages of 8 and 17 at a Jesuit-run school in Rome built the remote-controlled craft, painting it yellow and white -- the colors of the Holy See -- and decorating it with the pope's coat of arms.
A statement from the school, which is the headquarters of the Student Missionary League, said the drone was meant to symbolize technology at the service of humanity because camera-equipped unmanned aerial vehicles have been used to assess damage and find access routes after natural disasters.