“I enter Milan as priest.” With these words, Pope Francis started his pastoral visit in the Milanese Archdiocese on Saturday, March 25, 2017. It was from the periphery of a popular suburb, marked by social malaise that he entered the capital of Lombardy.
After landing by helicopter around 8:15 a.m., the Pontiff was welcomed at the Milan-Linate airport by two children who gave him flowers, as well as by Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan; Roberto Maroni, President of the Lombardy Region; Luciana Lamorgese, Prefect of Milan; and Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of the city. Before leaving the airport, the Pope spontaneously approached the crowd held back by barriers, and greeted and exchanged words with the Milanese.
From there he went to the Forlanini-“Case Bianche” suburb, in the southeastern periphery of Milan, where he visited three families – two Italian and one Moroccan – in their apartments. During this stage, marked by walkabouts, the Pontiff also met representatives of the Roms, of Muslims, of immigrants, and of residents of the suburb.
A thousand people – more than 420 families – dwell in the “Case Bianche.” The popular suburb has suffered from marginalization for decades, with numerous situations of social malaise.
“I thank you for your very warm welcome. It is you who receive me at the entrance of Milan, and it is a great gift for me: to enter the city seeing faces, families, a community,” said the Pope to them.
The Holy Father also thanked them for the two gifts they gave him: “The first is a stole, a typically priestly sign, which touches me very especially because it reminds me that I come here in your midst as priest, I enter Milan as priest,” he said.
This stole, woven by residents ”in a craftsman-like way,” stressed the Pope who was wearing it, reminds that a priest is “at the service of the people”: “my priesthood, as that of your parish priest and of the other priests who work here, is a gift of Christ, but it is “woven” by you, by our people, with their faith, their sufferings, their prayers, their tears . . . I see that in the sign of the stole.”
Mary’s Haste and that of the Church
Then the Pope picked up the second gift, a restored picture of the Virgin Mary of the district: “I know that the Virgin welcomes me in Milan, above the Duomo, but thanks to your gift, the Virgin Mary welcomes me already here, at the entrance,” he continued.
“Mary’s haste” at the Visitation, “is the haste, the solicitude of the Church, who does not remain in the center, but goes to encounter all, in the peripheries; she also goes to encounter non-Christians and non-believers . . . and brings everyone to Jesus, who is the love of God made flesh, who gives meaning to our life and saves us from evil,” added the Pope.
“The restoration is significant: your Holy Virgin was restored, as the Church is always in need of being “restored,” because she is made up of us, who are sinners.” And the Pontiff encouraged: “Let us allow ourselves be restored by God, by His mercy. Let us allow ourselves to be cleansed in our heart, especially in this Season of Lent,” he said. It is about “allowing oneself to be cleansed by God’s mercy to witness the holiness of Jesus.”
Inviting the faithful to a “good Confession” and the confessors to be “merciful,” the Holy Father concluded by praying a “Hail Mary” with the crowd.
At the end of the visit, during which he blessed many sick and handicapped persons, the Pope returned to the Duomo of Milan to meet with priests and consecrated persons.
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