The Pope’s visit to the church of Sant’Alfonso Maria de’Liguori, in the Giustiniana neighbourhood in northern Rome, was an informal affair.
No protocol, just direct contact with the faithful who waited to greet
him at the church. The Pope came here to see the living Nativity Scene
composed of more than 200 people.
But the Pope’s main reason for
visiting was to hear the voices of those who are suffering, as he did on
his visit to Rome’s Tor Sapienza area.
Like a parish priest, Francis
celebrated children’s favourite feast of the year with them and just
like the Good Shepherd in the Gospel, he took a lamb into his arms and
rested it on his shoulders.
During the visit which was marked by smiles and all sorts of
heart-warming gestures, this troubled neighbourhood collectively
embraced the Pope who has drawn the focus back to the social aspect of
The Pope greeted each of the visibly moved characters of the
living Nativity scene one by one. Some asked to hug and kiss him and he
showed no sign of hesitation. Some gave the Pope drawings done by their
children, sweets and chocolates.
All these gifts were passed discreetly
to Domenico Giani, the Vatican police chief, who followed close behind,
while his men, along with police agents of the Inspectorate for Public
Security and of the Italian military police kept a close eye whilst
attempting to keep a low profile behind the barrels, sheds and sheep
pens used to recreate Bethlehem just a stone’s throw away from the Prima
Five shepherd boys were there to welcome the Pope when he arrived in
the Giustiniana neighbourhood just after 4 pm this afternoon, in the
usual Ford Focus. Francis was presented with a bunch of white roses and a
stocking full of sweets and chocolates, after which he shook hands with
Vicar General Cardinal Agostino Vallini and Auxiliary Bishop Guerrino
“We wrote to the Pope and he wanted to be present at this community
event,” said the local parish priest, Fr. Dario Criscuoli. “Aware of the
fact that this was a popular family event, he called us after the
letter we sent, saying he would come and take part in this parish
event,” Fr. Dario added.
With this visit Francis has proven once again that the peripheries
are at the centre of his mission, as they were when he was archbishop of
Buenos Aires. Back then, he chose twenty of his best priests and sent
them among the poor in the villas miserias, the local slums.
himself also spent the most important feasts, such as Holy Thursday 2010
with the poor.
At the end of May, Francis visited the outer Roman
periphery of Valle Muricana, home to 15, 000 souls who do not often have
chances to get together. These visits are indicative of a pastoral care
programme that is aimed at encouraging contact with faithful and
inspiring priests working in underprivileged areas to turn parish spaces
into meeting places for adults and young people, especially oratories
“Let us pray for children, for children that are about to be born and
let us pray for grandparents who offer wisdom,” the Pope said.
“Christmas is over and the new year has arrived but Jesus is still with
us. Do you believe this?” the Pope asked the children from the local
parish, to which they answered “yes!” “Does God defeat the devil?” the
Pope then asked. Again, the children’s answer was affirmative and the
Pope praised the catechists.
Francis then thanked the parish community
for their warm “welcome”, their “Christian fervour” and the “beautiful
living Nativity Scene” they created. “Hurrah for Jesus! Hurrah for
Joseph! Hurrah for Mary!” Francis shouted at the end of his
At around 4.15 pm the Pope went round the
various stands and after a moment of private prayer he greeted the
faithful standing behind the crowd-control barriers. Children were at
the front, including sick and disabled children.
At around 5.40 pm
Francis reassured the crowds saying that “Jesus is always with us.”
Finally, Francis invoked Jesus, Joseph and Mary, referring to the living
Nativity Scene, before returning to the Vatican.
“You must be crazy organizing all of this but that’s good: God loves
certain kinds of craziness,” Francis told Fr. Dario, the energetic
parish priest of the church of Sant’Alfonso Maria Liguori, after his
visit to the Nativity Scene.