The testimonies of a Romanian mother, Abdul from Afghanistan, Yurek from Poland, Sebastian from Spain, Marco from Italy, and a French family, among others, moved the Pope in Assisi (Italy). Some of them are guests of the Papa Francesco House, an old building in Montedison, later converted into a hotel, a few kilometers from the Basilica and separated from it by an old oven.
Since 1998 it has been a welcome center run by volunteers, and since 2014 the Franciscans have taken over, following the mandate of the Pope who, on his first visit to Assisi on October 4, 2013, asked them to continue the mission of St. Francis to welcome and help people in need.
The Holy Father thanked the people who gave their testimony, for their "courage and sincerity", and alluded in his speech to "those whose bodies are here and whose hearts are there", referring to the Afghan refugees who have their family or part of it there. He thanked "the great sense of hope" that they have transmitted, and encouraged them to "resist".
"What does it mean to resist?" he wondered. "To have the strength to keep going no matter what. Resistance is not a passive action. On the contrary, it requires the courage to embark on a new path, knowing that it will bear fruit. Resisting means finding reasons not to give up in the face of difficulties, knowing that we do not experience them alone, but together, and that only together can we overcome them. Resisting every temptation to give up and fall into loneliness or sadness. Let us ask the Lord to help us to always find serenity and joy.".
"Here, at the Porziuncola, St. Francis teaches us the joy of looking at those around us as a fellow traveler who understands and supports us, as we do with him or her," the Holy Father told them. "May this encounter open the hearts of all of us to place ourselves at the disposal of others, to make our weakness a strength that helps us to continue on the path of life, to transform our poverty into wealth to be shared, and thus to improve the world."
Spaniard Sebastian gave one of the testimonies. He had fallen into drugs, was in prison, and was left alone and unemployed. He was taken care of by a parish priest from Mora de Toledo, Santiago Conde, and according to Sebastián himself, he begged for a living, and now "I am a beggar of God's mercy," he said emotionally, after having been accompanied to a center for the homeless.
Abdul, who is in Italy with his wife Salima, thanked the Italian government "for saving us. Here, in Foligno, we are fine and we thank Caritas for helping us with the documents. Thank you for the welcome, for the house and for everything we need. Thanks to the operators and all the Caritas staff who are at our side. We are especially grateful to them because they treat us as their parents and us as their children. We are very worried about a part of our family that remains in Afghanistan and a refugee son in Turkey and we would like you to help us save them too," he said.
Yurek, collected by the Bishop of Assisi
Monsignor Domenico Sorrentino, Bishop of Assisi, picked Yurek up off the street, literally. A 60-year-old Pole, the bishop found him one Christmas night, lying on the ground, drunk, in the cold. "Tireless worker", he is described by the friars at the shelter, who also help him rehabilitate from his alcohol addiction: "A leaf cannot fall to the ground when he has already picked it up", they say.
Yurek had come to Italy to work, leaving his wife and two daughters in Poland, but due to a series of circumstances he found himself living on the street and soon fell into the spiral of addiction. Bishop Sorrentino entrusted him to the Franciscans around 2014, making him one of the first guests of this charity, reports the official Vatican agency. Yurek still does not know Italian, but he squints blue eyes when he manages to understand some words describing his story or when people talk about the Pope, to whom he is "very devoted."
"Assisi is not a city like any other."
After the testimonies, Pope Francis began his address by speaking about St. Francis of Assisi. "If we are here today, it is precisely to learn from what St. Francis did. He liked to spend a lot of time in this little church praying. He would gather here in silence and listen to the Lord, to what God wanted of him. We too have come here for this: we want to ask the Lord to hear our cry and come to our aid. Let us not forget that the first marginalization suffered by the poor is spiritual," the Holy Father said in his address, which took place in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels.
"For example, many people and young people find time to help the poor and bring them food and hot drinks. This is very good and I thank God for their generosity. But most of all, I am happy to know that these volunteers stay for a while to talk to people, and sometimes pray with them. Even being here, at the Porziuncola, reminds us of the company of the Lord, who never leaves us alone, always accompanies us in every moment of our lives," the Pope added at the meeting, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Francis gave thanks for "accepting my invitation to celebrate here in Assisi, the city of St. Francis, the fifth World Day of the Poor, which will be celebrated the day after tomorrow. Assisi is not a city like any other: Assisi bears the face of St. Francis. To think that among these streets he lived his restless youth, received the call to live the Gospel to the letter, is a fundamental lesson for us".
"Of course, in a certain way his holiness makes us tremble, because it seems impossible to imitate him. But then, when we remember certain moments of his life, those "fioretti" that were collected to show the beauty of his vocation, we are attracted by this simplicity of heart and life: it is the very attractiveness of Christ, of the Gospel. These are facts of life that are more worthwhile than sermons," he said.
There is another important fact," the Pope pointed out, completing the idea he had just expressed with the expression of welcome. "Here, in the Porziuncola, St. Francis welcomed St. Clare, the first friars and many poor people who came to him. With simplicity he received them as brothers and sisters, sharing everything with them. This is the most evangelical expression that we are called to make our own: welcome. To welcome means to open the door, the door of the house and of the heart, and to let those who knock enter. And let them feel at ease, not astonished".
"Where there is a true sense of fraternity," he continued, "there is also a sincere experience of welcome. Where, on the other hand, there is fear of the other, where there is fear of others, contempt for their lives, then rejection is born. Welcoming generates a sense of community; rejection, on the contrary, blocks on the contrary, closes in one's own selfishness".
The Pope then recalled "Mother Teresa, who made her life a service of hospitality, liked to say: 'What is the best welcome? A smile. Sharing a smile with someone in need is good for both me and for the other. The smile as an expression of sympathy, of tenderness."
"Feeling of hope."
Previously, the Roman Pontiff thanked the testimonies, "because you have come here from so many different countries to live this experience of encounter and faith. The encounter is the first thing, that is, to go towards the other with an open heart and an outstretched hand. We know that each of us needs the other, and even weakness, if we experience it together, can become a strength that improves the world.
"Often the presence of the poor is viewed with annoyance and tolerated; sometimes we hear that it is the poor who are responsible for poverty! It is time for the poor to have a voice again, because for too long their demands have gone unheard, unnoticed," Francis denounced.
The Pope acknowledged "some things that I particularly liked, which I would like to summarize in some way, to make them even more my own and to let them settle in my heart. First of all, I have captured a great sense of hope. Life has not always been kind to you, indeed, it has often shown you a cruel face. Marginalization, the suffering of sickness and loneliness, the lack of many necessary means, have not prevented you from looking with eyes full of gratitude for the little things that have allowed you to resist".
Jobs, no to violence
"It is time," the Pope finally cried out, "to roll up our sleeves to regain dignity by creating jobs. It is time to be outraged by the reality of children who are starving, enslaved, thrown into slavery, tossed about in shipwrecked waters, innocent victims of all kinds of violence. It is time for violence against women to stop and for them to be respected and not treated as commodities. It is time to break the circle of indifference and discover the beauty of encounter and dialogue".
At some points, the Holy Father improvised, as is his custom. For example, he praised Cardinal Barbarin, or when he recalled that "this is the teaching that St. Francis gives us: to know how to be content with the little we have and to share it with others". The poor attending the Day were welcomed to lunch by Bishop Sorrentino of Assisi.
The Fifth World Day of the Poor will take place this Sunday, November 14, for which the Holy Father has written the following Message. The Pope exhorts to "go out to meet the poor, wherever they are", summarize the Spanish bishops, as you can see here.