Evidently the visit to the live nativity scene at the parish of Saint Alphonsus Liguori made a real impression on Pope Francis. So much so, that the following day the Pontiff telephoned the parish priest again, Fr. Dario Pompeo Cruscuoli, to thank him for his hospitality and the spiritual fervor of the parishioners.
“It was a simple [telephone] call of a few minutes, Fr. Dario told ZENIT. “The Pope telephoned me on Tuesday afternoon, the day after the visit, and said: ‘Thank you for the beautiful day, I was very [happy].”
“I didn’t expect it – continued the priest – of course it pleased me. Because it is always lovely to see characteristics such as cordiality, education, and simplicity in a person.” All the more so if it is the Pontiff of the universal Church.
On the other hand, observed Fr. Dario, Pope Francis “does no more than follow in the footsteps of Jesus: he does what He already did. We are persons who have constant need of attention, and Christ was attentive to our weaknesses and needs, He intervened because of this. In the same way, the Holy Father “makes himself close to all.” In the phone call, in which he announced his arrival in the church in the Giustiniana area, the Holy Father himself told the parish priest that he accepted the invitation because he “was happy to spend the afternoon of Epiphany in the midst of the people.”
Monday’s visit, then – as all the world media showed – was a memorable afternoon: it is unlikely that they will forget the photo of Pope Francis in the style of the “good shepherd,” who timidly but happily takes a lamb on his shoulders. To say nothing of the numerous anecdotes that took place during the tour of the miniature Palestine reconstructed in the Square of Saint Alphonsus.
Francis gave the best of himself inside the monumental sacred representation. To the laborers of the crib that, on the order of the parish priest, were at work on the Pope’s arrival, he said: “Today is a feast day, we don’t work!” He asked a carpenter who brought him his staff: “Do I use this to lead or to beat someone?” And, after tasting a piece of ricotta and cherries that the figures offered him from their shops, the Pontiff whispered in Fr. Dario’s ear: “These shepherds certainly don’t think of my stomach …”
“He is a normal, simple person,” said Cruscuoli, “as soon as He saw me he said: ’You are mad to have set all this up, but some craziness pleases God very much.” “What struck me,” he continued to tell ZENIT – is that it was evident that the Holy Father would not rest. Between the Mass in the morning and the Angelus, the day of Epiphany was certainly not one of the ‘lightest.’ Despite this, he did not stop for a minute; he spoke with each of the figures of the crib, from the shepherds to the angels. There were several pregnant women, and he blessed each one’s stomach.” In particular, continued Fr. Dario, to a girl who is expecting and who expressed her fear to him of having a child, also because of her young age, the Holy Father said: ‘Speak with the Virgin Mary, she is a mother and will give you the grace and inspire you to do God’s will.”
Despite the fact he came only to visit the crib, the Holy Father paused to greet the sick and to talk with the children in the reception area set up in the parking lot of the parish. “He didn’t neglect anyone; he had a word for all and even in a spirited manner,” said the parish priest, recounting another curious anecdote: “I come from a very numerous family, we are five children, and between wives and nephews we are 26. When we were introduced to the Pope, the first thing he asked my mother was: “Madam, are you the one who cooks when you are all gathered? And how many kilos of pasta do you put in?”
In short, truly, “a lovely day” was had with the Successor of Peter, in addition to the lovely gift that Fr. Dario, parish priest for about a year and a half, made to his parishioners, who are still astonished and ask the priest; “But was it all true? Did the Pope really come here?” In this joyful atmosphere, Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori will hold the living crib again on Sunday, January 13. From 4:00 pm to9:00 pm. “We will do it again, because, after having been blessed by Pope Francis, we can no longer count the number of people who want to see it,” concluded the parish priest.