The Seraphic Institute of Assisi, a center with a particular mission at the service of the weakest. This can best describe the institute for sick and disabled children that Pope Francis visited this morning.
This afternoon, ZENIT visited the center and had the opportunity to speak with the first people who received the Holy Father in the birthplace of St. Francis. One can still feel the emotions of the experience lived earlier in the day, including one worker who said that if she had to tell her experience of today’s meeting with the Pope, she would cry.
Members of the Institute have know for some time of the Pope’s visit to Assisi. Several employees and children were given the chance in June to meet with the Pope during his weekly General Audience. Many still recall with great emotion that first meeting with Pope Francis.
Silvia Barabani, a teacher at the center, told us the experience of Ivan, one of the young children in her group, that touched her immensely.. “Upon just seeing the Pope, he asked him to pray for his uncle and then gave him a big hug; it was a paternal hug,” Barabani recalled. Another child, who is deaf and mute, grabbed the Pope’s hand strongly throughout the entire meeting and looked at him with so much love. For Leonardi, Barabani told ZENIT, it wasn’t new as he was one of the children who met the Holy Father during the general audience in June. “Although he was calm and serene, he was still very emotional. He didn’t even want to eat breakfast,” she said of Leonardo.
Another teacher, Juri Antonelli, told ZENIT that what impressed him most was the energy the Pope had upon entering the Church. “Once Pope Francis entered, I felt something truly strong. Everyone’s eyes brightened up,” he said. “The Pope approached everyone and greeted them personally. We saw him as a very special person and he conquered us all,” Antonelli says emotionally. He also recalled how the Holy Father caressed a child that one teacher held in her arms. The young teacher said that the most emotional moment for him in this morning’s meeting was to see the faces of the youngest children.
Today the Pope spoke on the dignity of human life, something that Institute lives by every day. The educators at the Seraphic Institute say they are aware of the dignity of these children and attend to their needs. They seek to do the best for them, to place the person at the center. The workers of the center don’t wish to speak of the kids as “users” of their services, but rather as “sons and daughters”; for them, they are all family, since many of them are orphaned.
All the teachers had the opportunity to greet the Pope. Barabani said that the Pope had asked them what time they woke up today. They responded that they woke up very early, to which he responded, “I am very sorry.”
Francesca Fiacca, another worker at the Institute, told ZENIT that the Holy Father entered the Church as “one of us”, stopping to greet each one. “Just like the children are in the center of our lives, the Holy Father put them at the center,” she said.
Fiacca, who has worked at the Seraphic Institute since 2002, recalled that when she first started working there, she began the job with a lot of passion, But as time went on, she realized that her work was not just any job. While she still retains her passion, she realized that having a job wasn’t the most important thing.
Love, she said, is the most important thing we give these children and the love they give us in return.
“An important aspect of Pope Francis is his simplicity, his ingenuity, his giving without expecting anything in return,” Fiacco said.
The children, she continued, “although they don’t realize it because of their disabilities, have a very different perception of the world than us, but they know a lot about love.” It is precisely this that pushes the teachers to continue their work.