Monday, January 06, 2014

From Buenos Aires to Rome: The "Good Shepherd's" pastoral work in the peripheries continues

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 Gospel. 

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 Porta cemetery.

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 Di Tora.

“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. 

He 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 for children.

“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 hour-and-a-half-long visit. 

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.

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