Vatican City, 10 November 2015 (VIS) – Pope Francis arrived shortly before 8 a.m. at the Lungobisenzio Stadium in the Italian city of Prato, the first brief stop in his visit to the Tuscany region. From there, he transferred the cathedral square where he was awaited by thousands of faithful, some of whom had spent the night there to be able to greet the Pope. Many of them were workers, to whom he addressed a discourse on the dignity of work, in which he condemned exploitation. He also referred to the members of the Chinese community resident in the city who died last year in a fire in a textile factory where they worked and lived illegally.
Francis affirmed that he was passing through the city as part of a larger pilgrimage: “It is little, but at least the intention is there”, and remarked that he would like to spend longer in this “city of Mary”. He began by quoting the biblical passage on the liberation of Israel, when the Lord asked the Jews to celebrate the Passover with “girded loins”.
“To 'gird the loins', to wear the cloak belted at the waist, meant being ready, preparing oneself to leave, to go out to be on one's way”, he said, explaining that today this means being ready “to share the joy of having met the Lord and also the toil of walking His path. We are required to go out towards the men and women of our time. Going out, certainly, means taking risks, but there is no faith without risk. A faith that thinks of itself and is closed in on itself is not faithful to the invitation of the Lord, Who asks His people to take the initiative and to commit themselves fearlessly. Confronted with the often vertiginous transformations of recent years, there is the danger of succumbing to the whirlwind of events, losing the courage to seek out the way. … But the Lord, Who wishes to reach those who do not yet love Him, spurs us on. … He asks the Church, His bride, to walk today's rough paths, to accompany those who have lost their way and to pitch tents of hope, to welcome those who are wounded and expect nothing more from life”.
“For a disciple of Jesus, no closeness can turn into distance. Rather, there exist none who are too far away, only neighbours to be reached”, affirmed Francis, thanking the citizens of Prato for their continuing efforts to integrate all people and to resist the throwaway culture of indifference. “In times distinguished by uncertainty and fear, your initiatives in favour of the weakest and families, that you are also committed to adopting, are praiseworthy. As you seek the best concrete solutions for inclusion, do not be discouraged by difficulties. Do not resign yourselves when faced with what appear to be difficult situations of coexistence; always be encouraged by the wish to establish genuine “neighbourly pacts”.
Finally, the Holy Father recalled that St. Paul invited Christians to wear a particular armour, that of God. “We must gird ourselves with truth. Nothing good can be based on lies or the lack of transparency. Always seeking and choosing the truth is not easy; however it is a vital decision, that must profoundly mark the existence of each person and of society, so that it may be more just and more honest. The sacred nature of every human being requires respect, welcome and dignified work for all. Dignified work! If I may, I would like to remember the five men and two women, Chinese nationals, who died two years ago as a result of a fire in the industrial zone of Prato. They lived and slept inside the same industrial building where they worked: in one area, a small dormitory had been fashioned in cardboard and plasterboard, with bunk beds to make use of the height of the structure. It is a tragedy of exploitation and of inhumane conditions of life. And this is not dignified work! The life of every community demands that we fight the cancer of corruption all the way; the cancer of the exploitation of human beings and labour, and the poison of illegality. Among us and along with others, we must never tire of fighting for truth and justice”.