Acclamations, ringing of bells, and incessant waving of white-yellow flags of Vatican City welcomed jubilantly Pope Francis’ pastoral visit on Sunday, March 12, 2017, to the local parish of Santa Maddalena di Canossa, in the Ottavia Suburb in the north-west periphery of Rome.
As usual, before celebrating the Sunday Mass, the Holy Father paused with the faithful to converse with some of their groups. He greeted the elderly and the sick, volunteers, the nuns of the district and catechists, thanking the latter in as much as they are “pillars in the life of a parish,” he said.
In addition, the Pontiff heard the Confession of a few penitents inside the church. Instead, outside, in the parish’s sports field, he met with children and youngsters who frequent the catechism courses and answered some of their questions.
“Jesus always waits,” said the Pope to the little ones, inviting them to always trust Him. “He has patience. Jesus always waits,” he repeated. “We come close to Jesus, but we discover that He came close to us first. He was there, waiting for us. And He waits, and He speaks to us. And again, “He forgives you. If you are sorry, He forgives you. But it is always Jesus who comes close to us first.”
Responding then to someone who asked him if it was better to be Pope or priest, Francis answered: “Both, what God wills,” adding: “What God gives you is good, because when the Lord gives you a task to do, a job, to be Pastor of a parish, or of a diocese, or to be Pope, Pastor there, He gives you a task.”
The Bishop of Rome then explained to the young people of the parish that the Pope’s main task is “to bring love,” hence, to be a sort of guarantor of peace. So he invited them “to make peace before the end of the day.” Solicited then by the intervention of a child, he reflected on altercations that fuel quarrels. “O, blasphemies, blasphemies are worse. Bad words aren’t good, they are somewhat less, but they’re not good! But blasphemies – never a blasphemy! Never, never! Bad words are awful, but not as serious as blasphemy.”
The Pontiff also invited the children to be wary of the storytellers that brag about healings or fortunes through alleged magical powers. He asked the children: “When you hear that a lady says: ‘No, I go to the witch because I have an illness [ailment], and she will do three or four things to me and will cure me’ . . . What is this called? The little ones answered “Fib” and the Pope added: “Fib. Lie. Ah yes, it’s called a stupid thing, because witches have no power.”
Therefore, more than “witches” who “have no power,” Francis said he feared the “evil of people,” adding “I am also scared when in a family, in a district, in a place of work, in a parish, also in the Vatican, there is gossip – this scares me.”
Moreover, gossip has the capacity to destroy,” he said. It can destroy a family, a district, a parish, everything. “But, above all, gossip destroys your heart, because if your heart is capable of throwing a bomb, you are a terrorist, you do evil in a hidden way and your heart becomes corrupt.”
The Pope then talked about technologies, beginning with the TV, which he said he did not like. “Have you seen that TV changes your face? — were his words to a child. It makes you somewhat . . .not as you are . . . No, I like things directly, he stressed.
Also in regard to smartphones, the Holy Father was diffident. He stressed that they are instruments that enable one to communicate, but which very much impede “concrete” dialogue. He explained that by communicating with the phone one risks not listening “to those who are close to one,: therefore, “you don’t dialogue, you are in communication with another, which, perhaps, isn’t true communication, it’s not dialogue: I say something, you say something else, but it’s all virtual.” So this, then, was his invitation: “we must arrive at concrete dialogue, and I say it to you, young people. And how does one begin to dialogue? With the ear — unblock the ears. Have open ears to hear what is happening.”