‘Pope Francis is a hero. A father to everyone’
These words were expressed to Zenit by a beaming Momoh Muhammed, 19, who arrived from Nigeria in 2016, and is now living not far from Genoa in Savona. Zenit was speaking to young people of all ages in the crowd ahead of the Holy Father’s arrival, the morning of May 27, 2017, to respond to their questions at the Shrine of the Lady of the Guard in the northern Italian city of Genoa.
A Hero, A Father
Pope Francis made a pastoral visit to Genoa, where he met with the world of work, consecrated and religious, young people, sick children, and celebrated Mass.
Explaining that situations of war and potential terror attacks caused him to leave, Momoh expressed how in spite of his challenges, his faith and Pope Francis make him feel at home and included.
“I had to come because of these sad realities and the circumstances which I was living in my country,” he said. “It’s a long story,” he said smiling. “But I am happy to be in Italy, for it’s a great country, and am thrilled to see the Pope today.”
Speaking to us in English, as he acknowledged his struggle to acclimate and learn the language, he noted, that: “He [Pope Francis] is a great man. Pope Francis is a hero. He is a father to everyone. This is why he is a hero,” he said.
The Pope’s words of encouragement to young people, Momoh underscored, make him feel that in the midst of struggles in Italy, such as to find work, he will find his way.
“God has a plan. I know,” he said, smiling.
While acknowledging the great number of unemployed youth in her country, Christina Grasso, 24, who lives near in a little town near Genoa, called Livelatto, says to us that Pope Francis’ words to ‘seek the horizons’ and ‘never think of retiring young,’ are encouraging. “His humility and simplicity strike me the most,” she said.
“I come from a pretty religious family and they always directed me to be faithful, so I believe. Perhaps they’re too faithful, but in any case….[smiling]…I will try to follow what the Pope and the religion says. There are the things I agree with, and some things, I may agree with less, but I try to follow his words.”
“I am happy to be with the Pope today who gives young people comfort and hope.”
From Syria, to Safety and Future
Then, we spoke to a Syrian refugee and his brother who had been brought back by the Pope from the Greek Island of Lesbos, during his day visit to meet with refugees, along with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, on April 16, 2016.
Originally from Damascus, Syria, Samir Hanna, 28, was in the first row, with his brother, Ghaith, 21. They both had been brought into Italy by Pope Francis and now are living in Genoa.
Both were smiling as they expressed how the Holy Father’s efforts brought them to safety.
“It was war, when we were in Syria. Things were bleak. But Pope Francis helped us. He welcomed us, even into his home of the Vatican, through the Community of Sant’Egidio. Now I feel safe and as though I have a future.”
He is studying and training to be a barber, and expressed: “I feel very blessed to see Pope Francis again today.”
A Path Will Always Open
Eugenia Bolla, 18, still in high school, is following the Pope’s advice to never resign oneself to lesser realities than one can achieve. Noting she wishes to be an osteopathic, she too expressed that faith helps to keep things in perspective and to believe that despite obstacles, one can have dignity from work, “without going abroad to find other opportunities like many of my friends believe is necessary.”
“We, young people, love Pope Francis, who has a young spirit.”
Personal Faith and Prayer
Francesco Corsiglia, 17, from Genoa, also expressed wishes to be a physician, but “it’s still early, so I haven’t decided what specialty I am interested in yet,” he said almost apologetically.
“But I really hope that I can be one like my dad.”
“While prayer helps comfort me personally, Pope Francis reminds young people of this, saying to never give up.”
About what he likes most about Pope Francis, “I appreciate his way of behaving which seems almost to be a lowering of himself in a greater way than past popes, which makes it easier for poorer people and families, and those in need or even at times excluded, in general, feel close to him and the Church.”
“The situation for young people in Italy,” he said, “is not maximum, for they are very little motivated, feeling already downcast about their prospects, and those who are more ambitious, tend to leave.”
“However, for me, it would be too difficult to separate me from Italy, but my faith helps me a lot. Prayer helps with the day to day and having trust regarding the future.”
Maurizio Chiappara, 19, from Genoa, is studying languages, French and Arabic, at the University of Genoa. Speaking in perfect English to us, he noted: ‘I want to have a good career which utilizes my interest in languages. God will reveal to me what.”
When asked about the situation of young people in Italy, he noted, it is difficult and many have “an almost defeated attitude,” and think their only way of having a career is to leave and go abroad.”
“However, I am convinced, it is not necessary. It is true it is very challenging, but with faith, it helps me to see the big picture and keep in mind that God can always realize His plans.”
“Pope Francis for me, is a messenger for the young people for the youth, because he represents what Christianity ought to be, in this moment of 2017, especially. I think that his attitude with young people and the environment set a real example. From my personal point of view, it seems the Church is more ‘fresh,’ if you will, than perhaps it had been in the past.”
“Most young Italians,” he explained, “are having difficulties finding jobs, being proud of being Italian, and in having courage to try to find work. It’s difficult to find a job we would like, as many of my friends go abroad because they think in Italy, there is no hope. I think we should find hope in ourselves.”
“Faith, or religion, help us—and in this way, the Pope too, reminds us—to understand why things happen, and it helps to understand that we are part of something bigger,” he said.