Pope Francis went on a pastoral visit to the Roman parish of San Pier Damiani ai Monti di San Paolo in Casal Bernocchi, Acilia (on the southern periphery of Rome) on the afternoon of Sunday, May 21, 2017.
Upon his arrival, at 3:40 p.m., the Pope met in the Sports Center of Casal Bernocchi with the catechism children and young people and with all who frequent the center. During the meeting, the Holy Father answered some of the children’s questions.
Then, after going by car to the parish buildings, at 4:15 p.m., the Pontiff greeted the sick, the Neocatechumenal Community and the poor helped by Caritas. Finally, he heard the Confession of four penitents.
At 5:55 p.m. the Holy Father presided over the celebration of Holy Mass in the parish church. After the proclamation of the Gospel, the Pope gave an off-the-cuff homily.
Here is a working translation of the Pope’s greeting to the parish’s Neocatechumenal Community:
Holy Father, welcome among us – a brief presentation.
This meeting we are having briefly is with the reality of the Neocatechumenal Way, which was born here, in this parish, about 30 years ago. There have been various evangelizations: there are five communities in addition to two communities on mission, which your Predecessor Benedict XVI sent eight years ago, and invited them here, to this periphery of Rome, to evangelize those who were distant. They are two communities: one comes from Piazza Bologna, so they travel 50 kilometers to come here every Wednesday and Saturday; and another from Saint Leonard of Murialdo: every Tuesday they go to homes to visit families, to pray with them, to say a word, to listen, and this has borne much fruit. Not too many frequent this parish of ours: you see so many people now, today, but what you see today I think is the fruit of all that has been done in these years, first by my predecessors and also by this reality of our parish. I am truly grateful to the Lord – I also come from the Redemptoris Mater, I did my seminary years there, I was itinerant at first; now I have been in this parish for 12 years as parish priest. I am happy. I have had many difficulties but also many joys. I must say that these brethren have witnessed — not only they but also others – the faith, they have given their life and they have reinforced my vocation. When I was in crisis in these years, it was they – it moves me – who supported me, because I think I should not be here. Therefore, I thank God, I am grateful to be a presbyter, to be a priest and to serve the Church of Rome. And, first of all is obedience to you, as Successor of Peter.
One of you said that if the Way is in this parish, it is thanks to this person [the parish priest]. But it’s something good: he didn’t say: “if the Way or this parish is strong, if we have so many children, if we have such a community and also missionaries, it is because we have had missionary priests, no. [He said that] you were the missionaries. Because the grace of mission comes from Baptism: it is Baptism that gives us the strength for the mission, and the lay people, who are baptized, are those who must be missionaries, then us, the priests, the Sisters, the Bishops also, all. But the lay people must go ahead. This is what the parish priest said: the fact of visiting families, of listening to them . . . This isn’t in Canon Law, but it’s very important: the “apostolate of the ear”: to listen. “But Father, much time is lost . . .” No, it’s gained! You listen, then, at a certain moment you will say a word and that word will germinate, it will be a seed, it will go on. However, [first it is necessary] to listen. Today people have the need to be heard. All speak, they speak of everything . . . But let us think . . . I’ll tell you a personal experience – I can also give a personal testimony: you like testimonies, no? [He laughs, they laugh] –: how many times I’ve heard people who have come to me to ask for advice, and I have remained silent, I’ve let them talk, talk, talk . . . and then they have said: “Yes, it’s true, you are right,” <and> I had not spoken! But it was the Holy Spirit that they had within, who spoke and they found the way. But they had need of an ear, and all of you have had this experience. And if one begins to speak, don’t say: “No, but this . . .” Don’t explain anything, until the moment the Spirit tells you: “Speak.” Recall the Apostle Philip: he was baptizing, evangelizing and the Spirit said to him: “Go, on that road . . .” And he found a carriage there, where there was a gentleman, Minister of the Economy of the Queen of Ethiopia. However, he was a Jew and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And Philip didn’t say a word; he only approached the carriage and <the gentleman> looked at him and Philip asked him: “Tell me, do you understand this?” “How can I understand it if no one explains it to me?” He was the one who asked. Philip was silent. <The Minister> made him get into the carriage, and <Philip> explained to him . . . And <the Minister>, when they found some water in the desert, <said> . . . “Why can’t I be baptized?” Listening. Initially they listened and then they said a word. But if you go to a house, knock on the door , and they open the door and you say: “I come to proclaim the Gospel to you, Christ’s salvation,” they will throw you out and ruin the work of the Holy Spirit. Listen. Then, while you listen, pray: “Lord, give me the right word.” This does so much good in visits to families: to let the right word fall. But after the outburst, after they have explained themselves well. And then go ahead, in community, bring people close, so that they feel well . . . The mission done this way. One of the most beautiful images that Jesus uses for the mission is that of the sower: to sow. The seed of the Word is scattered … And in a passage the Gospel states: “Then the sower goes to sleep and doesn’t know what’s happening, but it is the Lord who makes it grow.” Always work with the Lord, always. Please, don’t be proselytizers, but evangelizers. It’s awful to go to a family to add one more member to this ecclesiastical list: it’s not <about> this. Proselytism doesn’t work. Pope Benedict said a phrase that we must not forget: “The Church does not grow by proselytism but by attraction,” namely, by witness, by service. Be servants of all and thus things are good.
Then, there are the moments of crisis – the parish priest spoke of his, which he had. But I would like to ask you – I won’t do so! –: let him who has not had a crisis raise his hand. All had had one. All. And the Lord has always put someone by our side who has helped us. And when you are in crisis, let yourself be helped. Ask for help. Don’t shut yourself in; ask for help. Ask for the alms of grace, and the latter always comes through a brother, a sister, always, because the Gospel is like this. Angels do not preach: Angels praise God and guard us, but who should preach? We should. All of us, and this is the way.
I thank you for what you do. You are courageous. And also these jewels that are here, your children, are a promise for the future of the Church. Make them grow up to be good Christians. and I like the way you sing. Before giving you a blessing, you can sing a song to Our Lady . . . When I came in, you were singing one . . . If you know another . . .
Thank you. Now I’ll give you the blessing.
Please, pray for me: don’t forget![Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]