It was an intense and unforgettable afternoon for Saint Mary’s parish at Setteville of Guidonia, gladdened yesterday by Pope Francis’ visit. On his arrival at 3:40 pm, the Holy Father first greeted the assistant parish priest, Father Giuseppe Bernardino, 50, suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. After a brief conversation and a silent prayer, the Pontiff administered to the priest the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
In the next two hours, the Pope met the different pastoral realities of the parish, among which were 30 elderly and sick, including three children suffering from Down’s Syndrome; the youngsters of catechesis, including many young people of the after Confirmation course and a group of Scouts, with whom he chatted for over half an hour, answering several questions.
Then Francis greeted 45 infants, baptized in the course of 2016, and he reminded their parents of the importance of the family. Then a meeting was held with some one hundred faithful who help the parish priest, Father Luigi Tedoldi, in his pastoral work. The Pontiff gave them some advice, pausing on the value of the mission.
After greeting the priests and five seminarians of the parish, the Holy Father went to the sacristy to hear the confessions of four penitents: a young couple, that look after the Assistant Parish Priest, a young person of the course following Confirmation, and the father of a sick child.
At 5:40 pm, the celebration of the Mass began, during which the Pontiff gave an off-the-cuff homily, reflecting in particular on the danger of “gossip” and of tittle-tattle, especially in the parish environment.
Shortly before taking leave of the parish community of Setteville of Guidonia, Francis greeted numerous faithful gathered in front of the church since midday, who followed the visit on giant screens set up for the occasion.
On the occasion of his meeting with recently confirmed young people, the Pope thanked them for the designs he received and reflected on a recurrent problem in parishes: Confirmation as the “good-bye Sacrament,” after which many youngsters stop frequenting the Oratories.
“’Post-Confirmation,’ if you will, is a problem. And the fact that you are here, is a grace of the Lord. The Lord has given you this grace to not make Confirmation the “good-bye” Sacrament until the wedding day. So many years without a community … And you have been chosen by the Lord to be a community. And this is great,” commented Francis.
Another point addressed during the conversation with youngsters was “Christian witness,” which, as such, implies “talking about the Lord with joy,” where many tend to do so “with a certain sadness.” Moreover, he added, it makes no sense to go “every Sunday to Mass,” when then “I don’t talk to my parents, I’m not interested in the elderly, I don’t help the poor, I don’t go to visit the sick.” That is, it’s not enough to witness with the “word,” the “heart” and “hands” are also necessary or – as a girl said, intervening in the discourse – “giving oneself,” “opening oneself to the other,” accepting him “as he is” and exercising “humility, “forgiveness” and the “works of mercy.”
Once again, the Holy Father warned about the risks of “proselytism,” understood as an attitude to “convince” someone who doesn’t believe, and taking the first initiative. Instead, it is opportune to “live in such a way that it is he or she who asks me: ‘Why do you live like this? Why did you do that?” and then yes, do explain.” Therefore, it is important first to give example and witness, so “the Holy Spirit enters the heart, makes it restless with the testimony of Christians.”
Speaking of “forgiveness,” Francis acknowledged that “it’s difficult but it can be done,” because although often “the wound can heal […] the scar remains.” And he reminded that forgiveness is certainly not “alms” but “is born in the heart and one begins to treat that person as if nothing had happened … <with> a smile and, slowly, forgiveness comes. Forgiveness is not done by decree: we must engage in an interior journey to forgive.”
Answering a question on what is the greatest gift God has given us,” the Pontiff replied: it’s a great gift to live in a family. And once again, he made use of the occasion to refer to the role of grandparents, with whom – noted the Pope – many youngsters speak more readily than with their parents. Hence this advice: “talk with your grandparents; ask your grandparents questions. Grandparents are the memory of life, they are the wisdom of life.”
The conversation then moved to the difficult challenge of “never losing the faith through the highs and lows of life.” Moments can happen, said the Pontiff, based on his personal experience, that in certain circumstances the faith can be “lost altogether or in part, but then in time you rediscover it.” “There are dark days, everything is dark … I also went through such days in my life,” confided Bergoglio, suggesting that one must “not get scared” but “pray and have patience, and then the Lord makes Himself seen, He makes us grow in the faith and go forward.”
In this context, Francis spoke about his meeting on Saturday, during which he baptized 13 children affected by the earthquake, with a desperate father who lost his wife in the quake of last August 24.
“One thinks: can this man have faith after this tragedy?” wondered the Pope.
“Respect that darkness of the soul,” Pope Francis suggested, “then it will be up to the Lord to reawaken the faith. Faith is a gift of the Lord. It is for us only to protect it … One doesn’t study to have faith; faith is received as a gift.”