VATICAN CITY, MAY 20, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II visited his 296th Roman parish this morning — one without a church.
Children were the first to welcome the Bishop of Rome when he crossed the threshold of the parish´s “church,” a 200-square-meter tent dedicated to St. Edith Stein, the Jewish philosopher-turned-Carmelite who died at Auschwitz.
This neighborhood, known as Torre Angela, is on the outskirts of Rome and lacks many services. The Holy Father continued the meeting in the field where a construction is set to begin on a church in December.
A 10-year-old named Ludovica, who had been chosen to help welcome the Pontiff, said: “When I see you tired, I am filled with love for you, and I feel I want to embrace you like a dear little grandfather and tell you not to get so tired.”
Next came young men named Riccardo, who spoke about his struggle for life.
“Holy Father, I was ill with cancer at the same time that you also suffered numerous and painful operations,” Riccardo said. “I have sought God a lot in my sufferings. I have seen too many children die. My soul would rebel and cry out: God, why have you abandoned us?”
He continued: “One day, while I was undergoing chemotherapy, I saw your face on television, Holy Father. With my eyes I saw how you accepted with infinite serenity the trials God was giving you. Then, I finally stopped being blind. The sufferings I endured were gifts God was giving me. Since then, I have placed my life in the hands of Jesus´ Mother.”
The Pope greeted Riccardo amid the applause of the 2,000 faithful attending the ceremony.
The Holy Father, who turned 81 on Friday, then said, “I thank you, for this day of celebration with which you wished to prolong my birthday. Eighty-one years is quite something.”
He said he was confident that they would continue to pray so that he could “carry out the ministry that has been entrusted to me.”
In his homily during the Mass, the Bishop of Rome encouraged the faithful to get to know the figure of St. Edith Stein, whom he canonized in 1998.
“I would like to recall on this occasion the phrase that Edith Stein wrote in 1933, when she went to see the mother superior of the Carmelite convent in Cologne: ´Human activity cannot help us, but only the Passion of Christ. I wish to share in it.´”
The Holy Father then gave first Communion to eight children, and said: “To you, and to all children in the world who this year receive their first Communion, I recommend that you go frequently to the sacrament of confession, so that the meeting with Jesus, present in the Eucharist, will take place in a pure heart open to the action of grace.”