Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pope visits refugee soup kitchen, calls society to examination of conscience Francis on Tuesday called diversity a "gift" and differences among people of diverse race, origin or religion a “richness to welcome, not fear.”

During a private visit to a Rome soup kitchen and shelter run by the Jesuit Refugee Services, the Centro Astalli, Pope Francis thanked the staff and volunteers for their generosity and time in helping the some 21,000 refugees who pass through their doors each year, and for “recognizing them as people,” and working “to find concrete answers to their needs.”

In Rome, JRS runs three shelters, an Italian language school, and a health facility which provides special attention for victims of torture, and legal counseling services.

The Pope said Rome, “our city” is often the second stop for many refugees who first make their way to the island of Lampedusa at Italy’s southern most tip. The Pope described their passage from North Africa as “difficult and exhausting ” and said he thinks “above all about the women, the mothers who endure these hardships in order to ensure a future for their children… and a different life for themselves and their families.”

“How many times,” he wondered, “have many people with '(under) international protection’ written on their sojourn permits - here and in other places - been forced to live in impoverished conditions, at times degrading, without the possibility of beginning a dignified life, to think about a new future!”

Reflecting on the components of Jesuit mission, Pope Francis said to “Serve” means “welcoming the person who arrives, with care; it means "bending over” those in need and "offering a hand” without “calculations,” or fear, but with tenderness and understanding.

Another part of mission, “Solidarity,” he said, is a word that generates “fear (in) the developed world.” A word that people are loathe to say, as if it were “a bad word. But it is our word,” he emphasized.

Then, the Pope asked that his visit reach out to all the people living in the Rome diocese and he asked them to reflect on how they have responded to Christ’s call to serve others in need: do you look into the eyes of those who seek justice or do you turn away?

“Accompaniment,” the third part of mission, the Pope said, means not simply providing charity, like giving a sandwich to a poor man. Rather, it means helping him get back on his feet.

Real mercy, Francis said, demands justice and demands that “the Church, the city of Rome and institutions ensure that no one ever has to go to a soup kitchen, shelter or seek legal assistance to recognize his right to live and work and fully be a person.” Integration in society, he stressed, is “also a right.”

He underscored that defense of the dignity and rights of the underprivileged is an essential part of the Church’s mission.

He also called on religious sisters whose convents are “empty” to “generously” and “courageously” open them to refugees, observing that the Church does not need “empty convents to be transformed into hotels (to) earn money.”

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