Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave Saturday to an Italian volunteer association, the Misericordie, or Mercies. The group was founded 770 years ago in assistance to the poor and marginalized. Today they have 30,000 volunteers throughout the peninsula, and are distinguised by their emblematic turquoise and yellow uniforms.
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Dear brothers and sisters, hello!
I greet all of you who are members of the “Misericordie” of Italy and the “Fratres” groups and to your families and to the people you assist who were able to join you on your pilgrimage. I greet Msgr. Franco Agostinelli, Bishop of Prato and your spiritual guide, and Mr. Roberto Trucchi, the national president of your confederation. I thank both of them for the remarks with which they opened this meeting. I extend my gratitude to all of you for the important work that you do on behalf of our suffering neighbor.
The “Misericordie,” a venerable association of the Catholic laity with deep roots in this land of Italy are committed to witness to the Gospel of charity among the sick, the elderly, the disabled, minors, immigrants, and the poor. All of your service has its meaning and form in this word: “misericordia,” a Latin word whose etymological meaning is “miseris cor dare,” “giving the heart to the miserable,” that is, those who are in need, those who suffer.
This is what Jesus did. He opened his heart to man’s misery. The Gospel is rich in episodes that present Jesus’ mercy, the gratuity of his love for the suffering and weak. From the Gospel accounts we can see the closeness, the goodness, the tenderness with which Jesus approached people who were suffering and consoled them, gave them relief, and often healed them. Following the example of the Master, we too are called to be near to, share the condition of those who we meet. Our words, deeds, and attitudes should express solidarity, the will not to be strangers to the pain of others, and in all this express fraternal warmth without any kind of paternalism.
We have so much information and so many statistics about poverty and human tribulation at our disposal. We are in danger of being well-informed and disincarnate spectators of these realities, or of making beautiful speeches that offer verbal solutions and disengagement with real problems. Too many words, too many words, too many words and no one does anything! This is the danger. But it is not your danger. You work, you do well, well! But there is the danger... When I hear some conversations among people who know the statistics: “How terrible, Father! How terrible, how terrible!” But what are you doing about these terrible things?” “Nothing, I speak!” And this does not fix anything! We have heard plenty of words! What is useful is doing, your doing, Christian witness, going to people who are suffering, getting close to them as Jesus did. Let us imitate Jesus: he went through the streets and did not make any plans for the poor, or the sick, or the handicapped that he met along the way, but with the first one he met, he stopped and became a comforting presence, a sign of the nearness of God, who is goodness, providence and love.
The work of your associations is inspired by the seven corporal works of mercy, which I would like to repeat because it is good to hear them again: giving food to the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering pilgrims, visiting the infirm, visiting prisoners, burying the dead. I encourage you to go forward with your work with joy and model it on Christ’s, permitting all those who suffer to come to you and to count on you in their time of need.
Dear brothers and sisters, thank you! Thanks again to all of you for what you do. Thank you! May the “Misericordie” and the “Fratres” groups continue to be places of welcome and gratuity, in the sign of authentic merciful love for every person. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady protect you! Thank you!
And please do not forget to pray for me. I need it too! Thank you!
[Translation by Joseph G Trabbic]