Vatican City, 4 October 2013 (VIS) – The Pope began his pastoral visit to Assisi to celebrate the feast of St. Francis, patron of Italy. The Pope's helicopter landed a quarter of an hour ahead of schedule – at 7.30 a.m. - in the sports field of the Seraphic Institute of Assisi, where he greeted a group of sick and disabled children. The Holy Father was accompanied by the eight members of the Council of Cardinals, who concluded their first meeting in the Vatican yesterday afternoon. Upon his arrival, the Pope was received by Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino, bishop of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino, the president of the Italian Senate, Pietro Grasso, and the president of the Region of Umbria, Catiuscia Marini.
Francis warmly embraced the children from the Institute and, commenting on the address given by the director of the Institute, Francesca Maiolo, he said, “We are among the wounds of Christ … wounds that need to be acknowledged. … It reminds me of when the Lord Jesus was walking with the two sad disciples. The Lord Jesus, in the end, showed them His wounds, and they recognised Him. … And here Jesus is hidden among these children, in these people. … They need to be listened to. Perhaps not in the newspapers, as news items: that is a form of attention that lasts for one, two, three days, and then another piece of news comes along, and another... They need to be heard by those who declare themselves Christians”.
“But”, he added, “when He was resurrected, Jesus was beautiful. His body bore no bruises, no wounds... Nothing! He was more beautiful! But he wished to conserve His wounds and to carry them to Heaven. The wounds of Christ are here and are in Heaven, before the Father”.
The Holy Father then delivered to Archbishop Sorrentino the address he had prepared, to be considered as read, and a summary of which we offer here below.
“My visit is above all a pilgrimage of love, to pray at the tomb of a man who, divested of himself, redressed himself in Christ and, following Christ's example, offered his love to all, especially the poorest and most abandoned; he loved God's creation with wonder and simplicity. Arriving here in Assisi, at the city gates, we find this Institute, which is indeed named 'Seraphic', a name used to describe Francis. It was founded by a great Franciscan, Blessed Ludovico of Casoria. And it is right to begin here. St. Francis, who said, in his testament, 'The Lord granted me, Brother Francis, to begin to do penance in this way: While I was in sin, it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I had mercy upon them”.
“Society, unfortunately, is contaminated by a throwaway culture, which is the opposite of the culture of welcome. And the victims of throwaway culture are precisely the weakest, the most fragile. In this House, I see instead the culture of welcome in action. … Thank you for this sign of love that you offer: this is a sign of true civilisation, human and Christian! Placing the most disadvantaged people at the centre of social and political attention! At times, instead, families find they have to take on the responsibility of caring for them alone. What can we do? Here, where we see real love, I say to all: let us multiply the action of this culture of welcome, of works inspired above all by deep Christian love, love for Christ Crucified, for the flesh of Christ, works which unite professionalism, qualified and justly remunerated work with that of volunteers, a most valuable treasure”.
“To serve those most in need of assistance enables us to grow in humanity, because these are true resources of humanity. St. Francis was a young rich man, with ideals of glory, but Jesus, in the person of the leper, spoke to him in silence and changed him, making him understand what was truly of value in life: not wealth, the strength of arms, earthly glory, but humility, mercy, forgiveness”.
At the end of the visit, the Pope proceeded to the Church of St. Damian to pray privately. This was the place where, in 1205, while praying before the cross, heard Jesus speak to him, asking him to repair His house. Here, too, in the later years of his life, the 'Poverello' composed his “Canticle of the Creatures”. On arrival the pontiff was received by Fr. Michael A. Perry, minister general of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor and by the religious community of the convent. After praying, the Pope proceeded to the bishop's residence in Assisi, to the room where St. Francis despoiled himself of the garments given to him by his father, in order to meet with the poor assisted by Caritas.