Pope Francis’ Address to Sick Children and Their Parents

“Do not be afraid to ask, even to challenge the Lord. ‘Why?’ Maybe an explanation won’t come, but his Fatherly gaze will give us the strength to go forward.”

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Here is a ZENIT translation of the Holy Father’s Friday address to a group of 20 disabled children, along with their parents, and several volunteers in the chapel of his residence in Casa Santa Marta. The children were part of the program UNITALSI (National Italian Union for Transporting the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines).

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Good evening everyone.

Take a seat, take a seat.

Let us begin with a prayer to the Lord.

(recites the Our Father)

In catechism class, when they taught us the Holy Trinity, they told us that it was a mystery: that yes, there is the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, but not everything about it could be understood. It is true, we have the proof that it is true, but to understand it is another thing. We have the proof. Even here, if we look at Jesus, the Eucharist, in that piece of bread there is Jesus, it is true. But how so? We do not understand how it can be…but it is true, it is Him. It is a mystery, we say. And thus, if we ask other questions from catechesis, it cannot be profoundly explained but we have the proof.

There is also a question whose explanation is not learned in catechism. It is the question that I ask myself many times, and many of you, many people ask: “Why do children suffer?” And there is no explanation. This is also a mystery. I only look at God and ask: “But why?” And looking at the Cross: “Why is your Son there? Why?” It is the mystery of the Cross.

Many times I think of Our Lady, when they gave her the dead body of Her Son, all wounded, spat upon, bloodied, dirty. And what did Our Lady do? [Did She say:] “Take Him away?” No, She embraced Him, She caressed Him. Even Our Lady did not understand. Because She, in that moment, remembered what the Angel told her: “He will be a King, He will be great, He will be a prophet…”; and within Herself, surely, with that wounded Body in Her arms, with so much suffering before dying, within Herself She certainly would’ve wanted to say to the Angel: “Liar! I have been deceived.” Even She did not have an answer.

When children grow up, they arrive at a certain age in which they do not understand how the world is, at the age of 2 years, more or less. And they begin to ask questions: “Dad, why? Mom, why? Why?” And when the mom or dad begins to explain, they don’t listen. They have another “why?” “And why is that?” And they do not want to listen to the explanation. Only, with this “why?” do they draw upon them the gaze of their dad and mom. We can ask the Lord: “But Lord, why? Why do children suffer? Why this child?” The Lord will not say words, but we feel His gaze upon us and this will give us strength.

Do not be afraid to ask, even to challenge the Lord. “Why?” Maybe an explanation won’t come, but his Fatherly gaze will give us the strength to go forward. And He will also give you that strange thing of which this brother spoke in his double experience: a different feeling, a strange feeling [the Pope refers to the testimony given by the father of a sick child]. And maybe this feeling of tenderness towards your sick child will be the explanation, because it is the gaze of Father. Do not be afraid to ask God: Why?” to challenge him: “Why?”, always when you have an open heart to receive His Fatherly gaze. The only explanation that He will be able to give you will be: “My Son also suffered.” But that is the explanation. The most important thing is this gaze. And your strength is there: the loving gaze of the Father.

“But you who are a Bishop – you may ask -, who studied so much theology, you have nothing else to tell us?” No. The Trinity, the Eucharist, the grace of God, the suffering of children are mysteries. And one can enter into the mystery only if the Father looks at us with love. I truly do not know what to tell you because I have so much admiration for your strength, for your courage. You said that you were advised to abort. You said: “No, let him come, he has a right to live.” A problem is never, never resolved by getting rid of a person. Never. This is the rule of the Mafia: “There is a problem, get rid of this one…” Never.

I accompany you as I am, as I feel. And truly I do not feel just a momentary compassion, no. I heartily accompany you on this path, that is a path of courage, that is a path of the cross, that is also a path that does me well, your example does me well. And I thank you for being so courageous. Many times, in my life, I have been a coward, and your example does me well, it does me well. Why do children suffer? It is a mystery. We must call upon God like a child calling upon his father and say: “Why? Why?”, to draw the gaze of God, who tells us one thing: “Look at my Son, even He [suffered].”

That fact that in a world where the daily experience of the throwaway culture is so much, that which isn’t good is discarded, you bring this situation like so. If you allow me to say – I do not want to flatter, no, I say with my heart – this is heroism. You are the little heroes of life. I have heard many times the great worries of dads and moms like you and I am sure that it is yours: that [my son] not remain alone in life, that [my daughter] does not remain in life. Perhaps it is the only occasion in which parents ask the Lord to call the child first, so that they do not remain alone in life. And this is love. I thank you for your example. I do not know what else to tell you, because these things strike me so much. I too do not have an answer.

“But you are the Pope, you should know everything!” No, on these things there are no answers, only the gaze of the Father. And then, what do I do? I pray, I pray for you, for these children, for that feeling of joy, of pain, all mixed together, of which our brother spoke about. And the Lord knows how to console this pain in a special way. May He give the just consolation to each of you, that which you need.

Thank you for your visit, thank you, thank you!

Father Joannis [Msgr. Gaid, one of the two particular secretaries of the Pope, who accompanied the group], who is a bit special, you know him, made a suggestion: to tell you a story. Maybe it will help you to look at the Lord.

There was once a child who was playing. The father watched him from the third floor window and the child wanted to move a big stone, but he couldn’t, it was very heavy. Then the child, who was intelligent, went to take an iron bar to move it and he couldn’t, then he called his friends and he wanted to move it with his friends, and they couldn’t because the stone was heavy. And they wanted to move it so that they could play in that spot. In the end, the father who was watching him from the window came down and, with a lot of strength and with an iron bar, moved away the stone. And the child reproached his father: “But Dad, you saw that I couldn’t do it?” – “Yes” – “And why didn’t you come first?” – “Because you didn’t call me.”

Do not forget this: call upon the Lord. He knows how it will be, when it will come, and this will be your consolation. Pray also for me. Thank you.

Let us pray to Our Lady: “Hail Mary…”

[Translation by Junno Arocho Esteves]

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