Below is a ZENIT translation of Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff remarks yesterday morning, on the Vigil of Epiphany, to victims of the earthquakes that have struck Central Italy in the course of the past year. The encounter took place at 11:30 a.m. in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall and can be viewed via CTV
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!I have written here the two testimonies we heard, and I have underlined some expressions, some words, that have touched my heart, and I wish to speak of this. A word that was like a refrain was reconstruct – what Raffaelo said very concisely and very loudly: “to reconstruct hearts even before homes.” To reconstruct hearts. “To reconstruct – said Don Luciano – the social and human fabric of the ecclesial community.” Re-construct. There comes to mind that man I met – I don’t remember in which of the regions I visited that day [when he went to places struck by the earthquake on October 4, 2016], who said: “I will begin to build my house for the third time.” To begin again, not to let things go – “I have lost everything” –, to be embittered … The pain is great! And to reconstruct with pain … There are wounds of the heart! Some weeks ago I met little Giulia here, with her parents, who had lost her brother, with, with her little sister …. Then I met a married couple that had lost twins … And now I meet with you who have lost people of your family. Hearts are wounded. However, there is the word we heard today from Raffaele: reconstruct hearts, which is not “tomorrow it will be better,” it’s not optimism, no, there is no place for optimism here: yes for hope, but not for optimism. Optimism is an attitude that is somewhat useful in a moment, it leads one forward, but it has no substance. Hope is useful today, to reconstruct, and this is done with the hands, another word that touched me. Raffaele spoke of “hands”: the first embrace with his hands to his wife, then when he took children to bring them out of the house: the hands. Those hands that helped relatives to free themselves from the rubble; that hand that left his child in the arms, in the hands of who knows whom, to go and help another. “Then there was the hand of someone who guided me,” he said. The hands. Reconstruct, and to reconstruct the heart our hands are necessary, our hands, the hands of all. Those hands with which we say that God, as a craftsman, made the world. Hands that cure. I like to bless the hands of nurses and doctors, because they are useful to cure. The hands of so many people that helped to come out of this nightmare, of this grief; the hands of firemen, so good, so brave … And the hands of all those who said: “No, I give of my own, I give the best.” And God’s hand to the question “why?” – but they are questions that don’t have an answer, the thing happened so.
Another word that came out was wound, to wound: “We stayed there to not wound our land more,” said the parish priest. Good. Not to wound more what is already wounded. And not to wound, so often, with empty words or with news that doesn’t respect, that doesn’t have tenderness in face of grief. Not to wound. Everyone has suffered something. Some have lost so much, I don’t know, their home, also children or parents, a spouse … But do not wound. Silence, caresses, tenderness of heart help us not to wound. And then miracles are wrought in the moment of grief: “There were reconciliations,” said the parish priest. Old histories were left aside and we rediscovered ourselves in another situation. We rediscovered ourselves: with a kiss, with an embrace, with mutual help … also with tears. It does one good to weep alone; it’s an expression before ourselves and before God; but it’s better to weep together, we rediscover ourselves weeping together. These are the things that came to my heart when I read and heard these testimonies.
Another phrase, also said by Raffaele: “Today our life is not the same. It’s true, we came out safe, but we have lost,” – safe but defeated. This way of life is something new. The wound heals, wounds heal, but the scars remain for life, and will be a memory of this moment of grief; it will be a life with another scar. It’s not the same as before. Yes, there is the good fortune of having come out alive, but it’s not the same as before.
Then, Don Luciano made reference to the virtues, to your virtues: “I want to attest – he said – to the strength of spirit, the courage, the tenacity and at the same time the patience, the solidarity in the mutual help of my people.” And this is called to be “well born,” I don’t know if this [saying] is used in Italian, in Spanish “bien nacido” is used, a person who is well born. And he, as Pastor, says: “I’m proud of my people.” I also must say that I’m proud of the parish priests who didn’t leave the land, and this is good: to have shepherds who don’t flee when they see the wolf. We have lost, yes, we have lost so may things: home, families, but, in another way, we have become a great family.
And there is another word that was said only twice, somewhat in passing, but it was somewhat the kernel of these two testimonies: closeness. “We were close and remain close to one another.” And closeness makes us more human, more persons of goodness, more courageous. It’s one thing to go alone on the way of life and another to go by the hand of another, close to the other, and you experienced this closeness.
And then another word that was lost in the discourse, to begin again, without losing the capacity to dream, to dream to start again to have the courage to dream once again. These are the things that most touched my heart of the two testimonies, and therefore I wanted to take your words and make them my own, because, in your situation, the worst thing that can be done is to give a sermon – the worst. I only [wanted] to take up what your heart said and make it my own and say it with you, and reflect a little on this.
You know that I’m close to you. And I’ll tell you something: when I realized what had happened that morning, when I just woke up I found a note where there was talk of two shocks. I felt two things: I must go there, I must go there; and then I felt grief, much grief. And I went to celebrate Mass that day with this grief.
Thank you for having come today and to some audiences over these months. Thank you for all you did to help one another, to reconstruct, to reconstruct hearts, homes, the social fabric. Also to reconstruct [repair] with your example … Thank you so much. And I am close to you.
[Original Text: Italian]