The scene is different from that of October 4, 2016, when Pope Francis, in silence and bowed head, walked in the red area of Amatrice amid the ruins and gutted buildings of which mattresses, furniture and other object of daily life protruded.
In the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, where he met today with families and groups affected by the earthquake of Central Italy, Bergoglio entered smiling because these people themselves greeted him first smiling, welcoming him with songs and applause and asking him to bless their children and babies. It was a joyful meeting albeit in the sadness of a Christmas and New Year spent away form their homes, without dead relatives after the terrible shocks.
In his off-the-cuff address, the Pope spoke of “reconstructing hearts, even before reconstructing homes,” taking his cue from the testimony of Raffaele, who came with his wife Jole and two children to talk about the harsh experience of the night of August 24. “The house of our dreams was destroyed, but our lives were saved. We must rebuild hearts before homes,” said the man.
It is an expression that the Pontiff repeats more and more, because – he stressed – “these things have touched my heart. Therefore, I wanted to take your words and make them my own, because in your situation the worst thing that can be done is a sermon.”
The worst is also to limit oneself to mere optimism. No, stressed Francis, “what you need today is hope.” “Optimism is an attitude that helps for a moment and takes you forward, but it has no substance. To rebuild hearts is not a ‘tomorrow it will be better,’ there is no place for optimism, but yes for hope.”
Pope Francis reconnected, therefore, with the second testimony, that of Luciano Avenati, for over 40 years parish priest of the diocese of Spoleto-Norcia, who said he was proud of the “virtues” of his people in this drama: strength of spirit, courage, tenacity, patience, solidarity. “This is said to be ‘well-born,’” commented the Holy Father and he added he was “proud” especially of the “parish priests who did not leave the land.” “This is good, to have shepherds who don’t flee when they see the wolf.”
To them, the Bishop of Rome expressed all his gratitude, as well as to the Fire Fighters – “so good” – to the volunteers, the gendarmes and the Mayors. Then he repeated the “refrain” of the day: “To reconstruct …” “To reconstruct the social and human fabric, the ecclesial community … There comes to mind that man I met, I don’t remember in what of the areas visited, who said to me: ‘I will begin to build my home for the third time. To begin again, not let things be, to say: ‘I’ve lost everything,’ to fret …”
“The grief is great,” added the Pontiff. There are “wounds of the heart” and life will no longer be the same. “It’s true we came out saved but we have lost so many things,” said the Pope again quoting Raffaele’s words. “Saved but defeated. This way of life is something new. The wounds will heal, but the scars will remain for life and will be the memory of this moment of grief. It will be a life with another scar, not the same as before.”
Beside the grief, however, the many positive experiences will remain. Such as those of reconciliation amid the rubble recounted by Father Luciano: “We lost, yes, we lost so many things but we have become a great family.”
“If we leave behind old stories, and rediscover ourselves together in another situation,’ noted the Holy Father, “rediscover ourselves, with a kiss, with mutual help. Also with weeping: it’s good to weep on one’s own, it is an expression before ourselves and God, but it is better to weep together, we rediscover ourselves weeping together.”
“Closeness” therefore, is fundamental: “It makes us more human, more persons of goodness, more courageous. It is one thing to go alone on the path of life, and another to go by the hand of another. And you experienced this closeness,” said Francis.
It is symbolized by “hands.” Raffaele’s “hands,” who took children to pull them out of a house that was about to collapse, to then leave them in the “hands” of who knows whom to help relatives and neighbors to free themselves from the rubble. The hands of firemen, of volunteers, of those who excavated, of those who said: “I give my best,” of those “who helped people to come out of this nightmare.” The hands of nurses and doctors that cured, the hands of God who “as an craftsman made the world.”
“It is necessary to have a heart and hands to reconstruct, the hands of all,” stressed Pope Francis. In other words, concrete gestures, not vacuous words, are necessary. “Do not wound more what is already wounded and do not wound so often with empty words, or with news that lacks respect, tenderness in face of grief,” Bergoglio recommended. Better have “silence, caresses, tenderness of heart”: this “helps one not to wound and to also work miracles in moments of sorrow.”
The Pope ended the audience on a personal note. “That morning, just awake, I found a note that spoke of two shocks. And I felt two things: the first was that ‘I must go there’; then I felt grief, much grief, and with this grief I went to celebrate Mass that day.”
“Thank you for coming – today and to the audiences of the last months,” he added. “Thank you for all that you did to reconstruct hearts, homes, the social fabric, and also to reconstruct with your example the egoism in the heart of those of us who did not suffer this.”