Bologna, Italy, Oct 1, 2017 / 12:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday, Pope Francis made a pastoral visit to the cities of Cesena and Bologna, meeting with people from every area of society and encouraging them to give witness to the Gospel in word and deed and sustained by prayer.
“Jesus’ sores remain visible in so many men and women living on the margins of society – even children, marked by suffering, discomfort, abandonment, and poverty,” the Pope said Oct. 1.
“People wounded by the harsh trials of life, who are humiliated, who are in prison or the hospital. By joining together and treating these wounds with tenderness, often not only corporal but also spiritual, we are purified and transformed by the mercy of God.”
But to fulfill this mission, we must reserve adequate time and space for prayer and meditation on the Word of God, he said. As seen in the example of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “prayer is the strength of our mission,” he said.
“The constant encounter with the Lord in prayer becomes indispensable both for priests and for consecrated persons, and for pastoral workers, called to leave their ‘little vegetable garden’ and go to the existential peripheries.”
In his day-long visit to the two cities, Francis met with people from all walks of life, including migrants and refugees, workers and the unemployed, priests and religious, and laity.
He also met with those involved in academia in Bologna, both students and teachers.
After meeting with citizens and priests and religious of Cesena in the morning, the Pope’s first stop in Bologna was to the city’s regional hub for welcoming migrants.
There Francis spent around one hour greeting around 1,000 migrants, each one individually. In solidarity, he also wore on his wrist the same yellow identification bracelet worn by migrants at the center.
In the encounter, Francis spoke about the fear many people have toward the stranger. “Many do not know you and are afraid. This makes them feel right to judge and to be able to do it with hardness and coldness,” he explained.
These people believe they see well, but “it is not so,” he continued. You can see well when you look with the gaze of mercy. “Without this, the other is a stranger, even an enemy, and cannot be my neighbor.”
From afar we can say and think anything, he stated, something we can do easily when writing on the internet. But if we look upon our neighbor without mercy, not realizing his suffering, his problems, we run the risk that “God also looks at us without mercy.”
“I am in the midst of you because I want to carry your eyes in mine…in my heart, your heart,” he said.
“I want to bring with me your faces that ask to be remembered, to be helped, I would say ‘adopted,’ because in the end you search for someone who will wager on you, who will give you confidence, who will help you to find that future whose hope has made you come here.”
You are the “fighters of hope!” Francis encouraged, saying that he wants to carry their fears, difficulties and uncertainties in his heart.
During the encounter, Francis also asked for a moment of silence to pray for all those who have not survived the journey to a new land: “Men do not remember them, but God knows their names and welcomes them to himself,” he said.
Francis then met with workers, the unemployed and union representatives. “Seeking a more just society is not a dream of the past but a commitment, a job that everyone needs today,” he said.
We cannot get used to the numbers of unemployed in our communities as if they are just a number or a statistic, he said, but must help the poor and struggling around us to find work, thus restoring their dignity.
We must dethrone profit, instead placing the human being and the common good at the center, as it should be. But to put this into action, “it is necessary to increase the opportunities for decent work,” he said.
“This is a task that belongs to the whole society,” he said. “At this stage in particular, the whole social body, in its various components, is called upon to make every effort, because work, which is the primary factor of dignity, is a central concern.”
The Poor, Imprisoned and Refugees
For lunch, Pope Francis dined with the poor, imprisoned and refugees in a “Lunch of Solidarity” held at the Basilica di San Petronio, reminding those present that the Church is for everyone, but especially the poor, and that we are all only invited because of grace, a mystery of God’s love for us.
“We are all travelers, beggars of love and hope, and we need this God who comes near and reveals himself in the breaking of bread,” he said. And this “bread of love” that we share today we can also bring to others in need of sympathy and friendship.
“It’s the commitment we can all have,” he explained, pointing out that “our life is always precious and we all have something to give to others.”
At the end of this meal you will be given the most precious food, however, the Pope said: “the Gospel, the Word of that God we all carry in our hearts.”
“It is for you! It is just for those who need it! Take it all and bring it as a sign, a personal seal of God’s friendship.”
Today, just as the “Our Father” says, “we can share our daily bread,” he concluded.
Priests and religious
Pope Francis met with priests, consecrated men and women, and laity involved in the Church in both Cesena and Bologna Sunday.
To priests he stressed the importance of meeting daily with Christ and of having joy in their ministry. “So many times people find sad priests,” he said. Sometimes I want to ask priests what they had for breakfast, he joked: a cup of coffee or vinegar?
“Do not lose joy. The joy of being priests, of being called upon by the Lord to follow him to bring his word, his forgiveness, his love, his grace.”
Youth and Families
The family, Francis said, is facing a difficult time, both as an institution – the most basic building-block of society – and within particular families.
Because of this, we are called in a particular way at this moment to teach the world to love, he said. And among those who most need to experience the love of Jesus are young people.
“Thanks to God, young people are a living part of the Church – the next meeting of the Synod of Bishops involves them directly – and they can communicate to their peers their testimony,” he said.
He pointed out that the Church has a lot of young people, a valuable source of gifts for the Church for “their attitude towards the good, towards the beautiful, towards authentic freedom, and towards justice.”
They need to be helped to discover the gifts God has given them though, he said, and “encouraged not to fear the great challenges of the present moment.”
Meet with them, listen to them, encourage them, the Pope urged. Help them to meet Christ and his love.
Students and academics
Later in the day, Pope Francis met with students and academics from the University of Bologna, telling them that the key to success in studies is “the search for good.”
“Love is the ingredient that gives flavor to the treasures of knowledge and, in particular, to the rights of man and people,” he said, listing three rights he considers relevant to the student today: the right to culture, the right to hope, and the right to peace.
“In front of so much lament and clamor that surrounds us, today we do not need someone who is screaming, but who promotes good culture,” he stressed. “We need words that reach minds and put hearts in order, not scream straight to the stomach.”
We should not be content, he continued, to follow “the theatricals of indignation” which are often hiding large egos and self-centeredness, but should devote ourselves to “with passion to education, that is, to ‘draw out’ the best of each person for the good of all.”
In the midst of a culture that “reduces man to waste, research to interest and science to technique,” we should assert a “culture of humanity,” he said, and a research “that recognizes merits and rewards sacrifices.”
About university classrooms, the Pope said it would be nice if they could be havens of hope, places where people work for a better future and learn to be responsible for themselves and for the world.
“Sometimes fear prevails. But today we are experiencing a crisis which is also a great opportunity, a challenge to the intelligence and freedom of each, a challenge to be embraced, to be artisans of hope,” he said.
The right to peace, Francis explained is also “a right and a duty, inscribed on the heart of humanity. Because ‘unity prevails over conflict’ (Evangelii gaudium, 226).”
“Do not believe who tells you that fighting for this is useless and that nothing will change! Do not settle for small dreams, but dream big,” he urged.