Sunday afternoon, March 12, 2017, the Second Sunday of Lent, the Holy Father Francis went on a pastoral visit to the parish of Santa Maddalena di Canossa, in the Ottavia suburb of Rome.
Upon his arrival, around 3:50 p.m., the Pope met with children and catechism youngsters in the parish sports field. Then, the Holy Father greeted the elderly and the sick in the crypt and, in the parish theater, he met with spouses who baptized their children in 2016. In addition, he greeted briefly the ministers, the priests of the 36th Prefecture, which belongs to the parish, and some Sisters Daughters of Charity (Canossians), accompanied by their Superior General. Finally, the Holy Father heard the confession of some penitents.
At 6:00 p.m., he presided over the Holy Mass in the parish church. After the proclamation of the Gospel, the Pope gave an off-the-cuff homily. At the end of the visit, the Holy Father returned to the Vatican around 7:45 p.m.
Here is a Zenit working translation of the spontaneous words the Pontiff spoke in the course of several meetings in the parish:
Meeting with the Children and Catechism Youngsters
Elisabetta: My name is Elisabetta. Dear Pope Francis, when did your first encounter with Jesus begin?
Patrizio: My name is Patrizio. Dear Pope Francis, are you happy to be Pope? Or would you have preferred to be a simple priest in a small parish?
Sara: My name is Sara. Dear Pope Francis, is there something that scares you or makes you afraid?
Edoardo: My name is Edoardo. Dear Pope Francis, what have been the most beautiful moments of your life?
Parish Priest: She is one of the post-Confirmation group of adolescents:
Camilla: My name is Camilla. Dear Pope, we realize that sometimes we use our smartphone too much, or we are always in front of the television. But we also like to go out with friends; however, sometimes we are unable to listen to others and to listen to ourselves. How can we resolve this problem?
Pope Francis: The first question was: when did you get close to Jesus? It was that one, no? Instead, I will ask a question: every time you get close to Jesus why do you realize that He came close to you first? If we can come close to Jesus, it’s because He has come close to us first. He always takes the first step. Do you understand this? Does Jesus refuse to be with us? I ask you . . .
Pope Francis: See, does Jesus wait for us? Does He wait for us or does He not wait for us?
Pope Francis: But does He wait for us, or does He do something else? [Some one says: “He comes to meet us”] He comes to meet us! Well said! Who said this? But you are good! Good! Jesus always comes to meet us. And if you see Jesus coming from this side, and you are a bit silly and look the other way, does Jesus go away?
Children: No! He helps you!
Pope Francis: Louder!
Pope Francis: You, what does Jesus do? You said it well . . .
Children: He helps you!
Pope Francis: He takes you by the ear and does this to you? [He does the gesture]
Children: No! He makes you understand where you were mistaken.
Pope Francis: See. He speaks to your heart; He makes you understand things of love. And you don’t want to hear Him, what does He do? Does He go away?
Pope Francis: He stays. He stays. He has patience. Jesus always waits. And this is the answer to your question. We get close to Jesus, but we discover that He came close to us first. It was there that He waited for us. And He waits. And He speaks to us, but He is always there, He is always there, always there. And if you’ve done something bad, does He throw you out?
Pope Francis: No?
Children: He forgives you.
Pope Francis: Ah … this is a beautiful word, what you said . . .
Children: He forgives you!
Pope Francis: And if you . . . You must tell Him that you were unhappy to do these things, no?
Pope Francis: And He forgives you. You are sorry and He forgives you, but it is always Jesus who comes close to us first.
A child: He is always in our hearts.
Pope Francis: Louder, I didn’t hear . . .
The child: He is always in our hearts.
Pope Francis: He is always in our hearts. He never abandons us. He is always with us. Is He with us in good moments, when we play, when we are happy? . . . Louder!
Pope Francis: And also in the bad moments of life?
Children: Yes. He consoles us, He is close to us and consoles us.
Pope Francis: See: He consoles us. It’s true, Jesus is like this. Thank you, a good answer, good answer. Thank you for the question! The second <question> was . .
Parish Priest: Pope or parish priest in a small parish . . .
Pope Francis: But . . . you know that one doesn’t study to be Pope. Does one study or not?
Pope Francis: No! Also this question: does one pay to become Pope?
Pope Francis: One doesn’t pay? If you have a pile of money and go there, and give it to the Cardinals, will they make you Pope because of this?
Pope Francis: No. But if one doesn’t study and doesn’t pay, who makes one Pope?
Pope Francis: God. And tell me, all of you, tell me: who was the first Pope, what was his name?
Pope Francis: Peter was a saint, no?
Pope Francis: Was he always a saint?
Pope Francis: No? Did he do something bad?
Pope Francis: What did he do — the worst thing? . . .
Children: He said he didn’t know Jesus!
Pope Francis: He said he didn’t know Jesus, he denied Jesus – a bad, bad sin! And how did they make this sinner Pope? Jesus chose whom He wanted to be Pope at that time; at another time, He chooses another, and another, and another . . . But the question: to me, who was chosen to do this work, do I like it or not? I like it, and I also liked it when I was parish priest in a parish, Rector of the Faculty and also parish priest, both: I liked it so much. I also liked to do the school of catechesis, Mass for children … I liked <that>. To be a priest is something that I have always liked so much. So, what is more beautiful, to be Pope or to be a priest? Think well, what is more beautiful?
Children: Pope . . .
Pope Francis: Didn’t you understand?
Children: Both . . .
Pope Francis: Both: what God wills. What God wills. What the Lord gives you is good, because when the Lord gives you a task to do, a job, to be the Pastor of a parish, or of a diocese or to be Pope, a Pastor, there, He gives you a task. And what does the Lord ask you when He makes you a parish priest or a Bishop? What does He ask you? To do what?
Children: To bring peace.
Pope Francis: To bring peace. More <than that> . . .
Children: To bring the Word . . .
Pope Francis: To teach the World of god, to do the catechesis . . . what else? You, louder! [Someone says: “to love”] To love, to love, to make communities of love, that all love one another.
Children: To help one’s neighbor . . . to bring peace to the world. . .
Pope Francis: To bring peace to the world: but this, must the Pope do this alone or must we all do it?
Pope Francis: All! And how does one begin to bring peace to the world? In the family, in the school, with one’s companion, when one plays with others … always peace. And when one gets angry with a companion, or a school companion, is this to bring peace?
Pope Francis: What must you do if you get angry?
A child: In no case <must you get angry>, if you get angry with your friend, make peace and everything ends there!
Pope Francis: But good! In no case, if you get angry with your friend, as he said, make peace and go forward. You are good! Thank you. Agreed? The third question . . . But before moving to the third, something on peace. When spouses quarrel . . . Sometimes you have heard dad and mother quarrel about something: this is normal, this happens, There are always things to quarrel about, no? But what must they do afterwards?
Children: They must make peace!
Pope Francis: Make peace. And you, [what ]do you say to your parents . . .
A child: . . . that they must not quarrel any more.
Pope Francis: No. “If you quarrel, make peace before the day ends.” Agreed? This is advice you must give your parents. Let’s see if you learnt it well: what was the advice? If you quarrel . . .
Children: . . . make peace before the day ends!
Pope Francis: Before the day ends.
A child: Also because it’s bad to quarrel.
Pope Francis: It’s bad, it’s bad … what’s bad?
Children: To quarrel.
Pope Francis: It’s bad to quarrel, but it happens, it happens, always, because we’re all sinners, no? But . . .
A child: . . . to say bad words and to blaspheme . . .
Pope Francis: Ugh, blasphemies, blasphemies are worse. Bad words aren’t nice, but it’s somewhat less, but they’re not nice! But blasphemies: never a blasphemy! Never, never! Bad words are awful, but not as serious as a blasphemy. And when quarreling, what is the advice? . . . All together: [together with the children] To make peace before the day ends. Agreed?
Pope Francis: The third question: if there is something that scares me or makes me afraid . . . And when you – Sara – asked me the question, she came close to me and said: “But do you know? I am scared of witches!” . . . [He laughs, they laugh] But are there witches?
Children: No – Yes . . .
Pope Francis: Really? And when you hear that I 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?
Pope Francis: Lie, Fib. O yes, it’s called a stupid thing, because witches have no power. Agreed? I said this [for that} “witches scare me.” What scars me or makes me afraid? I’m scared when a person is evil: the evil of people. However, when a person — because all of us have seeds of evil, inside, because it is sin that leads one to this – but when a person chooses to be evil, this scares me very much, because an evil person can do so much harm; and it also scares me when there is gossip in a family, a neighborhood, a place of work, a parish, also in the Vatican, this scares me. I’ll tell you something, listen well. Have you heard or seen on television what terrorists do? They throw a bomb and escape, they do this, one of the things <they do>. Gossip is like this: it’s to throw a bomb and go away. And gossip destroys; it destroys. It destroys a family, it destroys a neighborhood, it destroys a parish, it destroys everything, but, above all, gossip destroys one’s 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, never gossip. Do you agree or not?
Pope Francis: Be afraid of gossip! Never! “But I would like to say something about this . . . Bite your tongue! Bite your tongue before saying it. “But it hurts me!” Yes, it will hurt you, but it won’t hurt the other! Understood? Really, I’m scared of the capacity for destruction that gossip has, this talking about the other but in a hidden way; to destroy him, in a hidden way. And this is very bad. This, yes, is to “be a witch”: it’s as if one is a witch. One is a terrorist, agreed?
Parish Priest: The most beautiful moments of your life, Holy Father . . .
Pope Francis: But, there were so many, so many beautiful moments . . . A beautiful moment of my life was when as a child I went to the stadium with my father; my mother also came sometimes, to see a game. At that time there were no problems at the stadium, and this was very beautiful. On Sundays, after midday, after lunch, to go to the stadium and then return home . . . It was very beautiful, very beautiful. It was a beautiful moment. Another beautiful moment of my life is . . .
A child: To hear you on TV . . .
Pope Francis: No, I don’t like it: the TV upsets me! [He laughs, they laugh] Have you seen that TV changes your face? It makes you somewhat . . . not as you are . . . I like things directly. I don’t like that; it’s to waste time. Another beautiful moment of life is to meet with friends. Before coming to Rome, every two months ten friends would meet, school companions, who finished “middle” school together; we finished at 17, and continue to get together, yes, each one with his family … It was very beautiful – a beautiful moment. And a very beautiful moment for me – which I like so much – is when I can pray in silence, read the Word of God: it does me good, I like it so much. There are so many beautiful moments, so many . . . I don’t know . . . What other beautiful moments can I say, but there are so many, so many in my life . . . And I thank the Lord — and you also have beautiful moments, no?
Children: Yes . . .
Pope Francis: Yes . . . It seems you’re not convinced . . . Do you have beautiful moments or not?
Pope Francis: Yes, for example, one . . .
Pope Francis: Before moving to the question of the young girl . . . The parish priest spoke of the catechists. Catechists, raise your hand . . . I thank you so much. What would the Church be without you? You are pillars in the life of a parish, in the life of a diocese. A diocese, a parish cannot be conceived without catechists. And this since the early times, from the time after the Resurrection of Jesus: it was the women who went to help their friends and were the catechists. It’s a very beautiful vocation; it’s a very beautiful vocation. .It’s not easy to be a catechist, because not only does the catechist have to teach “things,” he must teach attitudes, he must teach values, so many things, how one should live . . . It’s a difficult work. I thank you so much, women and men catechists, for your work. Thank you so much, thank you.
Parish Priest: [He recalls the young girl’s question] So much technology, which enables one to communicate, but so much difficulty of dialogue . . .
Pope Francis: This is good, because today we can communicate everywhere, but dialogue is lacking. Think about this . . . Close your eyes, imagine this: at table, mother, father, myself, my brother, my sister, each one with his own phone talking . . . They all talk but they talk outside: they don’t talk among themselves. This is the problem; this is the problem, the lack of dialogue, and the lack of listening. Yesterday I had a meeting – a good group came to the Vatican – they were 400 more or less – who belonged to the “Help Line” Association have you heard talk of this? It is an Association that is ready to listen: if you are sad, if you are depressed or have a problem or a doubt, you can call and there is always a person there willing to listen. Listening is the first step of dialogue, and I believe this is a problem we must resolve. One of the worst sicknesses of today is the little capacity to listen . . .Yes, “I am communicating with the phone,” but you don’t listen to those who are close to you, you don’t dialogue, you are in communication with another which perhaps is not a true communication, it’s not dialogue: I say something, you say something else, but everything is virtual. We must attain concrete dialogue, and I say it to you, young people. And how does one begin to dialogue? — with the ear. Unblock the ears. Open ears to hear what is happening. For instance: I go to visit a sick person and I begin to speak: “Don’t worry, you’ll soon be cured, blablablabla …, good-bye, may God bless you.” But he was in need of being heard! When you go to visit a sick person, be quiet. Give him a kiss, caress him, <ask> a question: “How are you?” and let him speak. He needs to confide, he needs to complain, he also needs to say nothing but to feel looked at and heard. The tongue <must go> to the second place. What should be in the first place?
Children: The ear.
Pope Francis: I didn’t hear . . .
Children: The ears!
Pope Francis: And in what place is the tongue? — in the second <place>, always — to listen, and from, listening to dialogue. And also concrete dialogue, because what is done with the phone is virtual, it’s “liquid,” it’s not concrete – the concreteness of dialogue. This is very important. Have you understood?
Parish Priest: Holy Father, just here in front, is the little group from which this question came: these here.
Pope Francis: Good, do this: learn to ask questions: O, how are you?” – “Well . . . – “What did you do yesterday? . . . Ask a question and make the other speak. And so dialogue begins. But the other one should always speak first, and you must listen well. This is called “apostolate of the ear.” Understood? Dialogue goes like this. In our <country> it is said that many times priests should “speak to the daughter-in-law so that she will hear her mother-in-law”; and I say these things to children, so that the grownups also hear! We are all in need of learning these things.
Parish Priest: Holy Father, this is the book that contains all the questions, the letters and drawings that the children and youngsters have done for you.
Pope Francis: I thank you for this, because I know that everyone of you did it with the heart, with love. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. And I thank these carriers who brought it: this has so much value for me, because this is in fact a bridge of dialogue, because dialogue is always a bridge. Take . . . there, thank you. In the post, there is always the last one: this is the last one to arrive. It arrived late, but it’s ok.
I thank you so much. Now, all together, I invite you to pray to our Mother in Heaven, Mary. “Hail Mary . . .[Blessing] [Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]