From the Marian Shrine of Aparecida, Pope Francis continued his activities on Wednesday going to another “shrine” — that of human suffering caused by sickness, and dependence on drugs and alcohol.
The Saint Francis of Assisi of the Providence of God Hospital, which the Pope visited in the afternoon, houses people with serious drug and alcohol dependence and, with its 500 available beds, offers surgical assistance to the indigent.
Its origin goes back to the desire of a young Brazilian, Nelio Joel Angelo Belotti, who wished to imitate Saint Francis.
The conversion of the Poverello of Assisi occurred at a crucial moment after kissing a leper, as Pope Francis stressed in his address at the hospital, thus also quoting his recent encyclical Lumen Fidei, where he makes explicit reference to this event, in which the marginalized and suffering brother became mediator of light for the young man of Assisi in search of precise references for his vocation and mission in the Church.
Nelio Joel became a priest in 1984, after having founded with a few volunteers — who could take utmost care of seven bedridden indigents –, a work that some twenty years later, showed the evidence of the intervention of the Crucified in the flesh of the men who carry the cross of suffering and sickness.
And Brazil and the world, weighed down as they are by indifference and egoism, are in need of such good Samaritans.
Effective was the example of a youth of the “Land of Vera Cruz,” who became a bearer of hope with meager human and financial means.
This hospital opened a new pavilion, blessed by Pope Francis, thanks to the contribution of the 8 per thousand of the Italian Episcopal Conference. Its particularity is the treatment and care of young people who depend on chemical substances and synthetic drugs.
The Pope wished to express his affection to all the patients and persons working in the hospital with the image of a great embrace.
“We are all in need of looking at the other with the loving eyes of Christ, learn to embrace those who are in need, to express our closeness, affection and love,” said Francis.
“But to embrace isn’t sufficient. We must give a hand to those in difficulty, to those who have fallen into the darkness of dependence, perhaps not knowing how, and we must say to them: You can get up, you can rise again, it’s laborious, but possible if you want to,” he continued.
From the sentiment of affection and compassion, therefore, the Pope invited to action that is solidaristic and of a good father and teacher, so that care does not become welfare, he said to every victim of toxic dependence. “Be protagonists of the rising; this is the indispensable condition! You will find the outstretched hand of one who wants to help you, but no one can rise for you.”
Pope Francis then praised the work of those who assist in the medical profession and in the psychological support of victims of dependence and, touching on a political proposal as controversial as it is timely in different countries of the world, he continued: “It’s not with the liberalization of the use of drugs, as is being discussed in several parts of Latin America, that the diffusion and influence of chemical dependence will be able to be reduced. It is necessary to address the problems that are at the base of their use, promoting greater justice, educating young people in values that build common life, supporting those who are in difficulty and giving hope in the future.”
With his usual gentleness, Pope Francis had a thought, a word and a proposal for each and all, but he also condemned firmly the “merchants of death,” the drug traffickers.
To all, he repeated: “do not let hope be stolen from you!” And he added by way of conclusion: Let us not steal hope, rather let us all become bearers of hope!”