This past January 4, 2018, the Holy Father Francis received in audience a group of Romanian youngsters, guests of an orphanage, aided by the NGO “FDP Protagonists in Education,” which has been operating in Romania for years.
Here is a ZENIT translation of the transcription of the Pope’s answers to the youngsters’ questions.
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The Holy Father’s Answers
Dear Youngsters, dear Brothers and Sisters,
I thank you for this meeting and for the confidence with which you addressed your questions to me, in which the reality of your life is felt. I have your questions here, which I’ve already read. However, before answering you, I would like to thank the Lord with you for your being here, because He, with the collaboration of so many friends, has helped you to go ahead and to grow. And, together, we remember the many children and youngsters that have gone to Heaven: we pray for them, and we pray for those that live in situations of great difficulty in Romania and in other countries of the world. We entrust to God and to the Virgin Mother all the children, the boys and girls that suffer from sicknesses, wars and today’s slaveries.
And now I would like to answer your questions. I’ll do so if I can, because one can never answer completely a question that comes from the heart. In these questions the word you used most is “why?” There are many “whys?” I can give an answer to some of these “whys,” but not to others. Only God can give it. There are so many “why’s” in life, which we can’t answer. We can only look, feel, suffer and weep.
First question: Why is life so difficult and why do we quarrel so often among ourselves? And we cheat? You priests tell us to go to church; however, no sooner we leave we err and commit sins. So, why did I go into the church? If I believe that God is in my soul, why is it important to go to church?
Pope Francis: Your “why’s” have an answer: it’s sin, human egoism, that is why, as you say, we often quarrel,” we hurt one another, we cheat.” You yourself acknowledged it, that even if we go to church, we then err again; we always remain sinners.
And then you rightly ask: of what use is it to go to church? It is useful to put ourselves before God as we are, without putting on “makeup,” just as we are before God, without makeup. And to say: “Here I am, Lord, I’m a sinner and I ask you to forgive me. Have mercy on me.” If I go to church to feign that I’m a good person, this is futile. If I go to church because I like to hear the music or because I feel well, it’s futile. It’s useful if, when I enter the church, I can say: “Here I am, Lord. You love me and I’m a sinner. Have mercy on us. Jesus says to us that if we do this, we return home forgiven. Caressed by Him, more loved by Him, feeling this caress, this love. Thus, little by little, God transforms our heart with His mercy, and He also transforms our life. We don’t remain the same always, but we are “worked on.” God works on our heart. It’s He, and we are worked on as the clay in the hands of the potter, and God’s love take the place of our egoism. See why I think it’s important to go to church: not only to look at God, but to let oneself be looked at by Him. This is what I think. Thank you.
Second question: Why are there parents that love healthy children and not those that are sick or that have problems?
Pope Francis: Your question concerns parents, their attitude towards healthy children or towards those that are sick. I’ll say this to you: in face of others’ fragility, such as sicknesses, there are some adults that are weaker; they don’t have sufficient strength to endure fragilities. And this <is so> because they themselves are fragile. If I have a large rock, I can’t put it in a cardboard box, because the rock will crush the carton. There are parents that are fragile. Don’t be afraid to say this, to think this. There are parents that are fragile. There are parents that are fragile, because there are always men and women with their limitations, their sins and the fragilities they bear inside and, perhaps, they didn’t have the good fortune to be helped when they were small. And so they go on in life with those fragilities because they weren’t helped, they didn’t have the opportunity that we had to find a friendly person, who took us by the hand and taught us to grow and become strong to overcome that fragility. It’s difficult to get help from fragile parents and, sometimes, it’s we who must help them. Instead of lamenting life because it’s given me fragile parents and I’m not that fragile, why not change things and say thank you to God, thank you to life, because I can help a parent’s fragility so that the rock doesn’t crush the cardboard box. Do you agree? Thank you.
Third question: Last year, one of our friends, who stayed in the orphanage, died. He died during Holy Week, on Holy Thursday. An Orthodox priest said to us that he died a sinner and, therefore, would not go to Paradise. I don’t think that’s true.
Pope Francis: Perhaps that priest didn’t know what he was saying; perhaps that day that priest wasn’t well; he had something in his heart that made him answer that way. None of us can say that a person hasn’t gone to Heaven. I’ll tell you something that, perhaps, will astound you: we can’t even say or write it about Judas. You recalled your friend who died, and you remembered that he died on Holy Thursday. It seems very strange to me that what you heard is what that priest said; one would need to understand better, perhaps he wasn’t understood well. In any case, I say to you that God wants to take us all to Paradise, no one excluded, and that, in fact, we celebrate this during Holy Week: the Passion of Jesus, who, as a Good Shepherd, gave His life for us, who are His sheep. And if a sheep is lost, He goes to look for it until He finds it. It’s so. God doesn’t stay seated. As the Gospel makes us see, He goes; He is always on the way to find that sheep, and is not frightened when He finds us, even if we are in a state of great fragility, if we are soiled with sins, if we are abandoned by all and by life. He embraces us and kisses us. He could not have come, but the Good Shepherd came for us. And if a sheep is lost, when he finds it He puts it on His shoulders and, full of joy, takes it home. I can say something to you: Knowing Jesus, I’m sure, I’m sure that this is what the Lord did that Holy Week with your friend.
Fourth question: Why didn’t we have this good fortune? Why? What does it mean?
Pope Francis: You know, there are “whys” that don’t have an answer. For instance: why do children suffer? Who can answer this? No one. Your “why?” is one of those that doesn’t have a human answer but only a divine <answer>. I don’t know why you had “this fortune.” We don’t know the “why” in the sense of the motive. What did I do wrong to have this fortune? We don’t know. However, we know the “why” in the sense of the end that God wants to give your fate, and the end is healing — the Lord always heals – healing and life. Jesus says it in the Gospel when he meets the blind man from birth. And no doubt He asked himself this: “Why was I born blind?” The disciples asked Jesus: “”Why is he <blind>? Was it his or his parents fault?” And Jesus answers: “No, it’s not his fault or his parents’, but he is thus so that God’s works are manifested in him” (Cf. John 9:1-3). It means that, in face of so many awful situations in which we can find ourselves since we were small, God wants to heal them, restore them; He wants to bring life where there is death. Jesus does this, and Christians who are truly united to Jesus also do this. You have experienced it. The “why” is an encounter that heals the pain, the sickness, the suffering and gives a healing embrace. However, it’s a “why” for the after <life>; at the beginning it can’t be known. I don’t know the “why,” I can’t even think of it. I know that those “whys?” have no answer. However, if you have experienced the encounter with the Lord, with Jesus who heals, who heals with an embrace, with caresses, with love, then, after all the hurt you could have lived, at the end you found this. See “why.”
Fifth question: It so happens that I feel alone and I don’t know what meaning my life has. My child is in foster care and some people judge me as not being a good mother. Instead, I believe my daughter is well and that I made the right decision, also because we see one another often.
Pope Francis: I’m in agreement with you that foster care can be a help in certain difficult situations. What is important is that it all be done with love, with care for persons, with great respect. I understand that you often feel alone. I advise you not to close yourself, to seek the company of the Christian community: Jesus came to form a new family, His family, where no one is alone and we are all brothers and sisters, children of our Father in Heaven and of the Mother that Jesus gave us, the Virgin Mary. And we can all meet in the family of the Church, curing our wounds and overcoming the voids of love that are often in our human families. You yourself said that you think your daughter is well in the Family House, also because you know that they have the child there, and you too. And then you said: “We see one another often.” Sometimes a community of Christian brothers and sisters helps this way, entrusting ourselves to one another, not only the children. When one feels something in the heart, one entrusts oneself to a friend, and makes that pain come out of the heart. To entrust ourselves fraternally to one another, this is very beautiful and Jesus taught this. Thank you.
Sixth question: When I as two months old, my mother left me in an orphanage. I looked for my mother at 21, and stayed with her for two weeks, but she didn’t behave well with me, and so I left. My father is dead. What is my fault if she doesn’t love me? Why doesn’t she accept me?
Pope Francis: I understood this question well because you said it in Italian. I want to be honest with you. When I read your question, before giving the instructions to write the discourse, I wept. I was close to you with a couple of tears. Because I don’t know; you’ve given me so much; the others also, but you caught me, perhaps, with my defenses down. When one talks of a mother there is always something . . . and at that moment you made me cry. Your “why?” is like the second question, on parents. It’s not a question of fault; it’s a question of adults’ great fragility, due in your case to so much poverty, so many social injustices that crush little ones and the poor, and also <due> to so much spiritual poverty. Yes, spiritual poverty hardens hearts and causes what seems impossible, that a mother abandon her child. This is the fruit of material and spiritual poverty; fruit of an erroneous, inhuman social system, which hardens hearts, which makes us err so that we don’t find the right way. However, know that this will require time: you have sought something more profound in her heart. Your mother loves you but doesn’t know how to do it, how to express it. She can’t because life is hard; it’s unjust. And she doesn’t know how to express that love that is within her, or how to caress you. I promise you that I will pray so that one day you will see that love. Don’t be skeptical; have hope.
Simona Carobene (responsible for the initiative): I was struck by the Message on the occasion of the Day of the Poor. It jolted me because I asked myself: “how do I look at my youngsters?” Sometimes I realize that I’m prey to doing, and I forget why Jesus has put us together. So I must undertake a journey of conversion, and this journey is continuous and can never be taken for granted. Therefore, I continue to follow my youngsters because they are “my saints.” And I remain glued to Holy Mother Church through the charism of Father Giussani, which is the concrete way that made me love Jesus. However, at the same time, the appeal of your Message was very concrete. You spoke of true sharing. I began to ask myself if, perhaps, the moment had arrived to take a further step in my life, of hospitality and sharing. It’s a desire that’s being born in my heart and that I would like to verify in the next period, What are the signs to look for to understand what is the plan for me? What does it mean to live to the utmost the vocation of poverty?
Pope Francis: Simona, thank you for your testimony. Yes, our life is always a journey, a journey behind the Lord Jesus, who with patient and faithful love never ends educating us, to make us grow according to His plan. And sometimes He gives us surprises, to break our schemes. Your desire to grow in sharing and in evangelical poverty comes from the Holy Spirit: this can’t be purchased, rented, only the Spirit is able to do this, and He will help you to go forward on this path, in which you and our friends have done so much good. You have helped the Lord to carry out his works for these youngsters.
Thank you, again, to all of you. It has done me good to meet with you. I keep you in my prayers. And don’t forget, you also pray for me, because I need it. Thank you!
[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]