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Pope’s Off-the-Cuff Remarks at Earth Day

“I give you a task to do ‘at home’: one day look at people’s faces when you go on the street …”

Pope Francis attended an event at Rome’s Villa Borghese on Sunday evening to mark Earth Day.

The initiative, titled “Earth Village. Living the City Together. Rome in Mariapolis,” is sponsored by  Earth Day Italia, Connect 4 Climate and the Focolare Movement of Rome.

According to the Focolare Movement, “the idea is to create a temporary village within the city, with the involvement of numerous initiatives which daily work to make the capital a better place in which to live, where each citizen or tourist, no matter their age, social class or culture, can experience their own irreplaceable contribution to the life of the city.”

Here is a ZENIT translation of the Pope’s address:

Hearing you speak, two images came to my mind: the desert and the forest. I thought: these people, all of you, take the desert to transform it into a forest. You go where the desert is, where there is no hope, and do things that are going to make this desert into a forest. The forest is full of trees, it’s full of greenery, but too disordered, but life is like that. And to pass from a desert to a forest is the good work that you do. You transform deserts into forests! And seen then is how certain things of the forest can be regulated. But there is life there, not here: there is death in the desert.

There are so many deserts in the cities, so many deserts in the life of persons who don’t have a future, because there always is – and I stress a word said here – there are always prejudices, fears. And these people must live and die in the desert, in the city. You do a miracle with your work of changing the desert into a forest: go ahead. But what is your plan of work? I don’t know. We come close to you and see what we can do. And this is life! Because life must be taken as it comes. It is like the goalkeeper in soccer: he picks up the ball where it’s thrown … it comes from here, from there … but there musn’t be fear of life, fear of conflicts. Once someone said to me – I don’t know if it’s true, anyone who wishes can verify it, I haven’t verified it – that the word conflict in Chinese is made up of two signs: a sign that says “risk,” and another sign that says “opportunity.” Conflict, it’s true, is a risk but it’s also an opportunity.

We can take conflict as something we must remove ourselves from: “No, there is a conflict there, I’ll stay far away.” We, Christians, know what the Levite did, what the priest did, with the poor man who fell on the street. They crossed the street not to see, not to get close to him (cf. Luke 10:30-37). He who does not risk, can never come close to the reality: to know the reality, but also to know it with the heart, it is necessary to get close. And to get close is a risk, but also an opportunity: for me and for the person I approach; for me and for the community I approach. I am thinking of the testimonies you have given, for instance, in the prison, with all your work. Conflict: never, never turn away in order not to see a conflict. Conflicts must be assumed, evils must be assumed to resolve them.

The desert is ugly, be it what is in the heart of all of us, be it that which is in the city, in the peripheries, it’s something ugly. Also the desert that is in protected districts … It’s ugly, the desert is also there. However, we must not be afraid to go into the desert to transform it into a forest: exuberant life is there, and one can go to dry so many tears so that all can smile. It makes me think so much of that Psalm of the people of Israel when they were in prison in Babylon and said: “We cannot sing our songs, because we are in a foreign land.” They had instruments there with them, but they had no joy because they were hostages in a foreign land. But when they were liberated, says the Psalm, “they couldn’t believe us, our mouth was full of laughter” (cf. Psalm 137). And so in this transit from the desert to the forest, to life, there is laughter.

I give you a task to do “at home”: one day look at people’s faces when you go on the street: they are preoccupied, everyone is shut in on himself, smiles are lacking, tenderness is lacking, in other words, social friendships, social friendship is lacking. Where there is no social friendship there is always hatred, war. We are living piecemeal everywhere a third world war. Look at the geographic map of the world and you’ll see this. Instead, social friendship, which so often must be made with forgiveness – the first word – with forgiveness, which so often it is made by coming close: I approach that problem, that conflict, that difficulty, as we have heard these courageous boys and girls do in places where there is gambling and so many people lose everything there, everything, everything. I have seen elderly women in Buenos Aires go to the bank to withdraw their pension and then go immediately to the casino, immediately! Get close to the place of conflict. And these  [youngsters] go, they approach, they get close.

And there is also another thing that has to do with play, with sport and also with art: it is gratuitousness. Social friendship is made in gratuitousness, and this wisdom of gratuitousness is learned, it’s learned: with play, with sport, with art, with the joy of being together, with getting close. Gratuitousness is a word not to be forgotten in this world, where it seems that if one doesn’t pay, one can’t live, where the person, the man and the woman, that God created in fact at the center of the world, to be also at the center of the economy, has been thrown out and we have at the center a lovely god, the god of money. Today the god of money is at the center of the world and those who can come close to adore this god get close, and those who can’t end in hunger, sicknesses, exploitation. Think of the exploitation of children, of young people.

Gratuitousness is the key word, gratuitousness, which is such that I give my life as it is, to go with others and make this desert become a forest. Gratuitousness, this is something beautiful!

And forgiveness, forgiveness also, because with forgiveness rancour, resentment goes away and then, always build, do not destroy, build.

See, these are the things that come to my mind. And how is this done? Simply in the awareness that we all have something in common: we are all human. And we come close in this humanity to work together. “But I’m of this religion, of that one …” It doesn’t matter! All go forward to work together.. <and> respect one another, respect one another! And so we will see this miracle: the miracle of a desert that becomes a forest.

Thank you so much for all that you do! Thank you.

[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by ZENIT]

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