Here is a translation of the question-and-answer session with Francis held Saturday evening, the vigil of Pentecost, with ecclesial movements and communities.
After the greeting of the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, the icon of Mary, Salus Populi Romani, was enthroned, and then taken in procession from the center of the Square, accompanied by a group of youths representing the movements and associations.
After a moment of songs and readings, followed by two testimonies, Pope Francis answered four questions, which were addressed to him by some representatives of the groups present. He did not have a prepared text, but answered the questions extemporaneously.
Then, after the profession of faith and the sending-out prayers, the vigil ended with the singing of the Regina Caeli.
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QUESTIONS ADDRESSED TO THE POPE
“Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it answers the profound need of human existence, proclaiming in a convincing way that Christ is the only Savior of the whole man and of all men.” Holy Father, these words of yours have had a profound effect on us: they express in a direct and radical way the experience that each of us wishes to live above all in the Year of Faith and in this pilgrimage that has brought us here this evening. We are before you to renew our faith, to confirm it and to reinforce it. We know that the faith cannot be
Holiness, in your life, how were you able to arrive at certainty about the faith?
And what path do you indicate to us so that each one of us can overcome the fragility of our faith?[Next question]
Holy Father, mine is the experience of daily life as that of so many. I try to live the faith in the realm of work, in contact with others, as a sincere testimony of the good received in my encounter with the Lord. I am, we are “thoughts of God,” invested with a mysterious Love that has given us life. I teach in a school, and this awareness gives me the motive to be attentive to my youngsters and also my colleagues. I often see that many seek happiness in so many individual ways in which life and its great demands are often reduced to the materialism of the one who wants to have everything and is always dissatisfied, or to nihilism in the one for whom nothing makes sense. I wonder how the proposal of the faith, which is that of a personal encounter, of a community, of a people, can reach the heart of the man and woman of our time. We are made for the infinite — bet your life for great things! — you said recently, and yet everything around us and around our young people seems to say that we must be content with immediate, mediocre answers, and that man must adapt himself to the finite without seeking anything else.
Sometimes we are intimidated, as the disciples on the eve of Pentecost.
The Church invites us to the New Evangelization. I think that all of us here feel this challenge strongly, which is at the heart of our experiences. Because of this, I would like to ask you, Holy Father, to help me and all of us to understand how we should live this challenge in our time. What is, for you, the most important things that all our Movements, Associations and Communities must look at to carry out the task to which we have been called? How can we communicate the faith in an effective way today?[Third question]
Holy Father, I listened with emotion to the words you said at the audience with journalists after your election: “How much I would like a poor Church for the poor.” Many of us are engaged in works of charity and justice: we are an active part of that presence of the Church where man suffers. I am committed, I have my family and, to the degree that I can, I involve myself personally in closeness and help to the poor. But I don’t feel good because of this. I would like to say with Mother Teresa: everything is for Christ. The great help in living this experience are the brothers and sisters of my community who are committed to the same purpose. And in this commitment we are sustained by faith and prayer. The need is great. You have reminded us of it: “How many poor there are still in the world and how much suffering these persons have.” And the crisis has aggravated everything. I think of the poverty that afflicts so many countries — which has also appeared in the well-off world — of the lack of work, of mass migratory movements, new slaveries, the abandonment and loneliness of so many families, of so many elderly and of so many persons that have no home or work.
I would like to ask you, Holy Father, how I and all of us can live a poor Church for the poor? In what way is a suffering man a question for our faith? All of us, as lay Movements and Associations, what concrete and effective contribution can we make to the Church and to society to address this grave crisis that touches public ethics, the model of development, politics, in sum a new way of being men and women?[Fourth question]
Walk, build, confess. This is you “program” for a Church-movement, at least this is how I understood it on hearing one of your homilies at the beginning of the Pontificate, you comforted and motivated us. Comforted us because we find ourselves in a profound unity with friends of the Christian community and with the whole universal Church. Motivated, because in a certain sense you have exhorted us to remove the dust of time and of the superficiality of our adherence to Christ. But I must say that I am unable to overcome the sense of disturbance that one of these words causes me: confess. Confess, that is, witness the faith. We think of so many of our brothers who suffer because of [the faith], as we heard a short while ago. One who on Sunday morning must decide to go to Mass because he knows that by going to Mass he risks his life. One who feels fenced in and discriminated because of his Christian faith in so many, in too many parts of the world. In face of these situations, it seems that my confession — our witness — is timid and hindered. We want to do more, but what? And how can we help these, our brothers? How can we alleviate their suffering without being able to do anything, or very little, to change their political and social context?
THE HOLY FATHER’S ANSWERS
Good evening to you all!
I am happy to meet with you and that we are all meeting in this Square to pray, to be united and to await the gift of the Spirit. I know your questions and I have thought of you – this, then, is not without knowledge! First, the truth. I have them here, written.
The first – “in your life, how have you been able to arrive at certainty about the faith; and what way do you indicate so that each one of us will be able to overcome the fragility of our faith?” – It is an historical question because it relates to my history, to the story of my life!
I had the grace to grow up in a family in which the faith was lived in a simple and concrete way; but it was above all my grandmother, my father’s mother, who marked my way of faith. She was a woman who explained to us, who spoke to us of Jesus, who taught us the Catechism. I remember that on Good Friday she would take us to the candle procession and, at the end of this procession, the “dead Christ” would arrive, and our grandmother would have us children kneel and said to us: “Look , He is dead, but tomorrow He will rise.” I received the first Christian proclamation from this woman, from my grandmother! And this is most beautiful! The first proclamation at home, with the family! And this makes me think of the love of so many mothers and so many grandmothers in the transmission of the faith. They are the ones who transmit the faith. This happened also in the first times, because Saint Paul said to Timothy: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother” (cf. 2 Timothy 1:5). All mothers who are here, all grandmothers, think of this! To transmit the faith, because God puts us next to persons that help us on our journey of faith. We don’t find faith in the abstract. No! It is always a person who preaches, who tells us who Jesus is, who transmits the faith to us, who gives us the first proclamation. And thus was the first experience of faith that I had.
However, there is a day that was very important for me: Sept. 21, 1953. I was almost 17. It was the “Day of the Student,” for us the day of Spring – for you the day of Autumn. Before going to the party, I went to the parish I frequented, I met a priest whom I did not know, and felt the need to go to Confession. This was for me an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. But I don’t know what happened, I don’t remember, I don’t know in fact why that priest was there, whom I didn’t know, why I felt this desire to go to Confession, but the truth is that someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After Confession, I felt something had changed. I wasn’t the same. In fact I heard something like a voice, a call: I was convinced I had to become a priest. This experience in faith is important. We say that we must seek God, go to Him to ask Him for forgiveness, but when we go, He is waiting for us, He is first! In Spanish we have a word that explains this well: “The Lord always ‘primerea’ us,” is first, is waiting for us! And this is, in fact, a great grace: to find someone who is waiting for you. You go as a sinner, but He is waiting for you to forgive you. This is the experience that the Prophets of Israel described saying that the Lord is like the flower of the almond tree, the first flower of Spring (cf. Jeremiah 1:11-12). He is there, before the other flowers come out. He who waits. The Lord waits for us. And when we seek Him, we find this reality: that He is waiting for us to receive us, to give us His love. And this brings to your heart such astonishment that you don’t believe it, and so faith grows! — with the encounter with a person, with the encounter with the Lord. Someone will say: “No, I prefer to study the faith in books!” It’s important to study it but look, this alone is not enough!
The important thing is the encounter with Jesus, the encounter with Him, and this gives you faith, because it is precisely He who gives it to you! You also spoke of the fragility of faith, what can be done to overcome it. The enemy that is greater than fragility – it’s curious, no? – is fear. But don’t be afraid! We are fragile, and we know it. But He is stronger! If you go with Him, there’s no problem! A child is very fragile – I have seen so many today — but he is with his father, with his mother, he is safe! We are safe with the Lord. Faith grows with the Lord, in fact, from the hand of the Lord; this makes us grow and makes us strong. But if we think we can arrange ourselves on our own … Let us think what happened to Peter: “Lord, I will never fall away!” (cf. Matthew 26:33-35); and then the cock crowed and he had denied Him three times! (cf. vv. 69-75). Let us think: when we have too much confidence in ourselves, we are more fragile, more fragile. Always with the Lord! And to say with the Lord means to say with the Eucharist, with the Bible, with prayer … but also in the family, also with our mother, also with her, because she is the one who takes us to the Lord; it is the mother, the one who knows everything. Hence pray also to Our Lady and ask her that, as Mother, she make me strong. This is what I think about fragility, at least it’s my experience. One thing that makes me strong every day is to pray the Rosary to Our Lady. I feel such great strength because I go to her and I feel strong.
Let’s go to the second question.
“I think that all of us here present feel the challenge strongly, the challenge of evangelization, which is at the heart of our experiences. Because of this I would like to ask you, Holy Father, to help me and all of us to understand how we must live this challenge in our time, what do you think is the most important thing that all our Movements, Associations and Communities must look at to do the task to which we have been called. How can we communicate the faith today in an effective way?”
I will say only three words.
The first: Jesus. What is the most important thing? Jesus. If we go ahead with organization, with other things, with beautiful things but without Jesus, we don’t go forward, it doesn’t work. Jesus is most important. Now I would like to make a small reproach, but fraternally, among us. All of you cried out in the Square: “Francis, Francis, Pope Francis.” But, where was Jesus? I would have liked you to shout: “Jesus, Jesus is the Lord, and He is in fact in our midst! Henceforth, no “Francis” but “Jesus”!
The second word is: prayer. To look at God’s face but, above all – and this is linked to what I said first – to feel oneself looked upon. The Lord looks at us: He looks at us first. My experience is what I experience before the Tabernacle when I go to pray, in the evening, before the Lord. Sometimes I fall asleep a little; this is true, because the exhaustion of the day makes you fall asleep a bit. But He understands me. And I feel so much comfort when I think He is looking at me. We think that we must pray, talk, talk, talk … No! Let the Lord look at you. When He looks at us, He gives us strength and helps us to witness Him – because the question was about witnessing the faith, no? First “Jesus,” then “prayer” – we feel God is holding us by the hand. I stress now the importance of this: let yourself be guided by Him. This is more important than any calculation. We are true evangelizers by allowing ourselves to be guided by Him. We think of Peter; perhaps he was having a siesta, after lunch, and had a vision, the vision of the sheet with all the animals, and he felt that Jesus was saying something to him, but he didn’t understand. At that moment, some non-Jews came to call him to go to a house, and he saw how the Holy Spirit was over there. Peter allowed himself to be guided by Jesus to achieve that first evangelization to the Gentiles, who were not Jews: something unimaginable at that time (cf. Acts 10:9-33). And so, the whole story, the whole story! — to allow oneself to be guided by Jesus. He is in fact the leader; Jesus is our leader.
The third: witness. Jesus, prayer – pray, allowing oneself to be guided by Him – and then witness. But I would like to add something. This allowing of oneself to be guided by Jesus leads you to Jesus’ surprises. One can think that we must plan evangelization at the table, thinking of strategies, making plans. But these are instruments, small instruments. What is important is Jesus and allowing oneself to be guided by Him. Then we can do the strategies, but this is secondary.
In fine, witness: communication of the faith can only be done with witness, and this is love. Not with our ideas, but with the Gospel lived in one’s own life and which the Holy Spirit makes us live within ourselves. It is like a synergy between us and the Holy Spirit, and this leads to witness. The church is taken forward by the Saints, who are, in fact, those who give this witness. As John Paul II and also Benedict XVI said, the world today has such need of witnesses. Not so much of teachers but of witnesses — not so much talking but to speak with one’s whole life: consistency of life, in fact, consistency of life! A consistency of life which is to live Christianity as an encounter with Jesus, who takes me to others, and not as a social event. We are so socially, we are Christians, shut in on ourselves. No, not this! Witness!
The third question: “I would like to ask, Holy Father, how I and all of us can live a poor Church for the poor. In what way is the suffering man a question for our faith? All of us, as Movements, as lay Associations, what concrete and effective contribution can we make to the Church and to society to address this grave crisis that touches public ethics” – this is important! – the model of development, politics, in sum a new way of being men and women?
I take up witness again. First of all, the main contribution we can give is to live the Gospel. The Church is not a political movement, or a well-organized structure: she isn’t this. We’re not an NGO, and when the Church becomes an NGO she loses salt, has no flavor, is only an empty organization. And in this you must be shrewd, because the devil deceives us, because there is the danger of efficiency. It is one thing to preach Jesus, and another to be efficient. No, that is another value. The Church is salt of the earth, she is light of the world, she is called to render present in society the leaven of the Kingdom of God and she does so first of all with her testimony, the testimony of fraternal love, of solidarity, of sharing. When we hear some say that solidarity isn’t a value, but that it is a “primary attitude” that must disappear … this is not on! They are thinking only of a worldly effectiveness. The moments of crisis, such as the ones we are living – but you said before that “we are in a world of lies” — this moment of crisis, let’s pay attention, does not consist solely of an economic crisis; no, it’s a cultural crisis. It’s a crisis of man: what is in crisis is man! And what can be destroyed is man! But man is the image of God! Because of this it is a profound crisis! In this moment of crisis we can’t be concerned only about ourselves, shut ourselves in solitude, in discouragement, in the sense of impotence in face of the problems. Don’t shut yourselves in, please! This is a danger: if we shut ourselves in in the parish, with friends, in the movement, with those with whom we think the same things … do you know what happens? When the Church becomes closed, she gets sick, she gets sick. Think of a closed room for a year; when you go in, there’s a smell of dampness, there are so many things that are not on. A closed Church is the same thing: it is a sick Church. The Church must come out of herself. Where? To the existential peripheries, whatever they are, but go out. Jesus says to us: “Go into all the world! Go! Preach! Give witness of the Gospel!” (cf. Mark 16:15). But what happens when one comes out of oneself? What can happen is what might happen to all those who leave home and go out to the street: an accident. But I say to you: I prefer a thousand times an ‘incidentata’ Church, involved in an accident, than a sick Church because she is closed! Go outside, go out! Think also of what Revelation says. It says a beautiful thing: that Jesus is at the door and knocks, he knocks to come in to our heart (cf. Revelation 3:20). This is the meaning of Revelation. But ask yourselves this question: how many times is Jesus inside and knocks on the door to go out, to go outside, and we don’t let Him go out, because of our securities, because so many times we are in obsolete structures, which only serve to make us slaves, and not free children of God? In this “exit” it is important to go to the encounter; this word is very important for me: encounter with others. Why? Because the faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do the same thing that Jesus does: encounter others. We live a culture of clash, a culture of fragmentation, a culture in which what isn’t of use to me I throw away, the culture of rejection! But we should go to an encounter and with our faith we must create a “culture of encounter,” a culture of friendship, a culture where we find brothers, where we can speak also with those who don’t think like we do, also with those who have another faith, who don’t have the same faith. All have something in common with us: they are images of God, they are children of God. We must go out to meet everyone, without negotiating our membership.
And another point is important: with the poor. If we come out of ourselves, we find poverty. Today – it pains the heart to say it – today, to find a homeless person dead from cold isn’t news. Today news, perhaps, is a scandal. A scandal: ah, that is news! Today, to think that so many children have nothing to eat isn’t news. This is grave, this is grave! We cannot remain calm! But … things are like this. We cannot become stiff Christians, those Christians who are too educated, who speak of theological things while having tea, calm Christians. No! We must become courageous Christians and go to seek those who are in fact Christ’s flesh, those who are the flesh of Christ! When I go to hear confessions – now I can’t because to go out to hear confessions … one cannot go out of here, but this is another problem – when I went to hear confessions in my previous diocese, some came and I always asked this question: “But do you give alms?” – “Yes, Father!” “Ah, good, good.” And then I would ask two more: “Tell me, when you give alms do you look into the eyes of the man or woman to whom you give alms?” “Ah, I don’t know, I don’t remember.” Second question: “And when you give alms, do you touch the hand of the one to whom you give alms, or do you toss the coin?” This is the problem — Christ’s flesh, to touch the flesh of Christ, to take on ourselves this pain for the poor. For us Christians, poverty is not a sociological, philosophical or cultural category. No, it is a theological category. I would say, perhaps the first category, because God, the Son of God, abased Himself, made Himself poor to walk with us on the road. And this is our poverty: the poverty of the flesh of Christ, the poverty that the Son of God brought us with His Incarnation. A poor Church for the poor begins by going to the flesh of Christ. If we go to the flesh of Christ, we begin to understand something, to understand what this poverty is, the poverty of the Lord. And this isn’t easy. But there is a problem that does no good to Christians: the spirit of the world, the worldly spirit, spiritual worldliness. This leads us to a sufficiency, to live the spirit of the world and not that of Jesus. The question you asked: how should one live to address this crisis that touches public ethics, the model of development, politics. As this is a crisis of man, a crisis that destroys man, it is a crisis that robs man of ethics.
If there is no ethics in public life, in political life, an ethics of reference, everything is possible and everything can be done. And when we read the newspapers we see how the lack of ethics in public life does so much harm to the whole of humanity.
I would like to tell you a story. I’ve done so twice already this week, but I’ll do it a third time with you. It is the story told by a biblical midrash of a Rabbi of the 12th century. He tells the story of the building of the Tower of Babel and says that to build the tower of Babel it was necessary to make bricks. What does this mean? To go, to knead the mud, to carry the straw, do everything … then, to the oven. And when the brick was made, it had to be taken up, for the construction of the Tower of Babel. A brick was a treasure, for all the work entailed to make it. When a brick fell, it was a national tragedy and the guilty worker was punished; a brick was so precious that if it fell it was a tragedy. However, if a worker fell, nothing happened, it was something else. This happens today: if investments in the banks fall somewhat … tragedy … what to do? But if people die of hunger, if they have nothing to eat, if they don’t have health, it doesn’t matter! This is our crisis of today! And the testimony of a poor Church for the poor goes against this mentality.
The fourth question: “In face of these situations, it seems to me that my confession, my witness is timid and hindered. I would like to do more, but what? And how should we help these our brothers, how should we alleviate their suffering, not being able to do anything or very little to change their political-social context?”
Two virtues are necessary to proclaim the Gospel: courage and patience. They [Christians who suffer] are in the Church of patience. They suffer and there are more martyrs today than in the first centuries of the Church – more martyrs! — brothers and sisters of ours. They suffer! They lead their faith to the point of martyrdom. But martyrdom is never a defeat; martyrdom is the highest degree of witness that we must give. We are on the way to martyrdom, of little martyrs: to renounce this, to do this … but we are on the way. And they, poor little ones, give their life, but they give it – as we heard the situation in Pakistan – for love of Jesus, witnessing to Jesus. A Christian must always have this attitude of meekness, of humility, in fact the attitude they have, trusting in Jesus, entrusting themselves to Jesus. It is necessary to specify that so many times these conflicts do not have a religious origin; often there are other causes, of a social or political type and, unfortunately, religious membership is used as fuel on the fire. A Christian must always be able to respond to evil with goodness, even if often it is difficult. We try to make these, our brothers and sisters, feel that we are profoundly united with them – profoundly united! – with their situation; that we know they are Christians who have “entered into patience.” When Jesus goes to meet His Passion, he enters into patience. They have entered into patience: make them know this, but also make it known to the Lord. I ask the question: do you pray for these brothers and sisters? Do you pray for them In your everyday prayer? I won’t ask the one who prays to raise his hand now: no. I will not ask him now. But think about it. In our prayer every day we say to Jesus: “Lord, look at this brother, look at this sister who suffers so much, who suffers so much! They experience the limit, in fact the limit between life and death. And for us also, this experience should lead us to promote religious freedom for all, for all! Every man and every woman must be free in his/her religious confession, no matter what it is. Why? Because that man and that woman are children of God.
And so, I believe I said something on your questions; I am sorry if I was too long. Thank you so much! Thank you, and don’t forget: never a closed Church, but a Church that goes out, to the peripheries of existence. May the Lord guide us down here. Thank you.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]