Pope Francis visited the Catholic lay Community of Sant'Egidio on Sunday in the Roman neighborhood of Trastevere.
Despite the bad weather and strong storm expected in the afternoon, thousands of faithful awaited the arrival of the Bishop of Rome. Upon arrival at the Trastevere square, the Pope was able to greet and shake hands with some of those present, and he even stopped for a sip of Argentina's famous tea, mate, as well as to bless the womb of a pregnant woman and pose for a "selfie" with some groups of youth.
The Pope was welcomed by the founder of the Community, Andrea Riccardi, and its president, Marco Impagliazzo, as well as the parish priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Monsignor Marco Gnavi.
Riccardi began by thanking the Pope for the visit and did a brief review of the history of the Community of Sant'Egidio and its work. "We have not given up the dream of changing the world," he stated. As expected, before the Holy Father gave his speech, he dedicated time to hear testimonies.
The first to share his experience was the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Jean Kawak, who recalled the drama that his nation is living and expressed the urgent need for peace.
A 90-year-old Italian woman thanked the Pope for his many exhortations in favor of the elderly and those ignored by society. She gave testimony as a volunteer with the Community of Sant'Egidio and explained how this service helps her make sense of her old age.
The third was the testimony of a teenager from the outskirts of Rome who spoke of his service in "Youth for Peace." Immediately after, a 28-year-old married father of three children spoke about the difficulties of finding work because of the global economic crisis.
The next testimony was of a woman with a disability. As a member of the Community, she thanked her husband, friends and faith for helping her live through daily struggles.
Then, a young gypsy with parents who were Yugoslav immigrants to Rome, recalled memories of his childhood marked by marginalization and exclusion. The young man, now employed, expressed pride to have not given into pressures and encouraged other gypsies to succeed.
A young Muslim who fled Afghanistan when he was still a minor, recalled his trip to Rome and how he met here the Community of Sant'Egidio, which helped him "find the peace that I so desired." Finally, a man named Jaime born in El Salvador, explained the work of Sant'Egidio against gang violence and drug trafficking in this country.
Prayer is 1st work
For his part, the Holy Father began his speech by thanking everyone for the warm welcome. Francis noted that the ancient Basilica of Trastevere "has become a place of daily prayer for so many Romans and pilgrims. Praying in the center of town does not mean forgetting the human and urban peripheries; listening and welcoming here means taking the Gospel of love to go and meet the brothers and sisters in the peripheries of the cities of the world."
He also reminded them that "prayer is the first work in your community, as is to hear the word of God. This bread, the bread that gives us strength, makes us go on."
He has made mention of the work of Sant'Egidio with the underprivileged, and stressed that Jesus identifies with the poor.
He asked them to remain "a community for the poor" and added, "I see among you many seniors, I'm happy to be your friend and neighbor." In this regard, Francis explained that the treatment of the elderly and children is "an indicator to see the quality of a society." The Pope highlighted how good the alliance is between young and old, "where everyone gives and receives." Elders and prayer are a treasure for Sant'Egidio, he said.
The Holy Father reaffirmed that "a people who do not care for their elderly, their young, is a people without a future, without hope. Because young people, children and the elderly carry the story forward." Youth and their biological children and elders allow for sharing of memories, the Pope explained. "It's ugly to see a society, a people, a culture that has lost his memory."
Francis indicated that to maintain a balance where the center of the world is the economy, rather than the person, and where "the idol is money," means that often the children and elderly are discarded.
He said this occurs in Europe, adding these factors "tire" Europe. For this reason, Francis proposed to help Europe, "to rejuvenate it, to find its roots. It's true, it has disowned its roots, it's true. But we must help."
Prayer and dialogue
The Pope noted that the poor are, somehow, the cornerstone for society, just as Jesus said of himself that "the stone which the builders discarded has become the cornerstone."
On the other hand, he called for peace. "Working for peace does not give quick results, but it is a work of artisans and patient seeking what unites and leave aside what divides." He added that "more prayer and dialogue" is needed.
At the end of the Pope's words, the celebration continued with the reading of the Gospel and the prayers of the faithful for peace among suffering nations, for immigrants, and for the unity of Christians. To conclude, everyone prayed together the Lord's Prayer and Pope Francis gave his blessing and was given an icon of the Virgin Mary.
At 6:30 p.m., the Holy Father left the basilica to go to the headquarters of the Community of Sant'Egidio. He said a few last words to those gathered, and asked for prayers for the "new poor," referring to those who cannot pay rent and have to leave their houses, and for peace. Finally, he asked them to pray for him, "You know that my work is 'unhealthy,' extraordinary work, and I need prayer."
[Translation by Deborah Castellano Lubov]