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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pope Francis visits Don Lorenzo Milani

This morning, at approximately 11:10am, the helicopter carrying the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who wished to visit the tomb of Don Lorenzo Milani, landed at the church of Barbiana (Florence).

Upon his arrival, the Pope was welcomed by the Archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Giuseppe Betori; and by the Mayor of Vicchio, Roberto Izzo.  He then immediately travelled to the cemetery to pay a private visit  there and to pray at the tomb of Father Milani.  The Holy Father then went by car to the church and, upon his arrival, in the square outside the church and inside the church, he greeted some of the disciples and former followers of the Florentine priest.

After a moment of personal prayer in the church, Pope Francis visited the locations of the Cathedral Canons and the school.  Then, on the adjacent lawn, introduced by greetings offered by Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, the Holy Father shared the following speech.

Speech of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
at the church of Barbiana

Dear brothers and sisters, I have come to Barbiana to pay homage to the memory of a priest who witnessed how in the gift of self to Christ one finds brothers in need and serves them there, so that their dignity as persons is defended and promoted, with the same gift of self that Jesus showed us to the cross.

I rejoice to meet with those who were at the time pupils of Father Lorenzo Milani, some in the popular school of Saint Donato at Calenzano, others here in the school of Barbiana. You are witnesses of how a priest lived his mission, in places where the Church called him, with full fidelity to the Gospel and, precisely because of this, in full fidelity to each one of you, whom the Lord had entrusted to him. And you are witnesses of his educational passion, of his attempt to reawaken the human dimension in people in order to open them to the divine.

Hence his complete dedication to the school, with an option that he would carry out here in Barbiana in an even more radical way. For Father Lorenzo, the school was not something different from his priest’s mission, but the concrete way in which to carry out that mission, giving it a solid foundation and capable of raising it to Heaven. And when the Bishop’s decision led him from Calenzano to here, among the youngsters of Barbiana, he understood immediately that the Lord had permitted him that detachment to give him new children to help grow and to love. To give back the word to the poor, because without the word there is no dignity and therefore neither freedom nor justice: Father Milani taught this. And it is the word that is able to open the way to full citizenship in the society, through work, and to full membership in the Church, with a conscious faith. This is also true in its own way for our times, in which only by possessing the word is one able to discern among the many and often confusing messages that rain on us, and to give expression to the profound yearnings of one’s heart, as well as to the expectations of justice of so many brothers and sisters that expect justice. Also forming part of that humanization that we claim for every person on this earth, next to bread, house, work and family, is the possession of the word as an instrument of freedom and fraternity.

Here, there are also some youngsters and young people, who represent for us the many youngsters and young people who today are in need of someone to accompany them in the course of their growth. I know that you, like so many others in the world, live in situations of marginalization, and that someone is beside you to not leave you alone and to point out a possible way out, a future that opens more positive horizons. From here I would like to thank all the educators, all those who put themselves at the service of promoting the growth of the new generations, in particular those who find themselves in situations of hardship. Yours is a mission full of obstacles but also joys. But it is, above all, a mission. A mission of love, because one cannot teach without loving and without the awareness that what is given is only a right that is recognized, that of learning. And there are so many things to be taught, but the essential is the growth of a free conscience, capable of confronting reality and being oriented in it by love, by the will to commit oneself to others, by taking charge of their toils and wounds, by fleeing from every form of egoism in order to serve the common good. We find written in a Letter to a Professor: I have learned that others’ problems are the same as mine. It is for politics to sort them all together. To sort them out based on one’s own is avarice. This is an appeal to responsibility. An appeal that concerns you, dear young people, but first of all us, adults, called to live freedom of conscience in an authentic way, seeking what is true, beautiful and good, ready to pay the price that it entails — and all this without compromises.

Last but not least, I turn to you priests whom I wanted beside me here at Barbiana. I see among you elderly priests, who have shared with Father Lorenzo Milani the seminary years or the ministry in nearby places; and also young priests, who represent the future of the Florentine and Italian clergy. Some of you, therefore, are witnesses of the human and priestly adventure of Father Lorenzo, others are heirs. I wish to remind you all that Father Lorenzo Milani’s priestly dimension is at the root of all that has been recalled up to now about him. The priestly dimension is at the root of all that he did. Everything was born out of his being a priest. But, in turn, his being a priest had an even more profound root: his faith. It was a totalizing faith, which became complete self-giving to the Lord and that which is found in the priestly ministry its full and completed form for the converted youth. Noted are the words of his spiritual guide, Father Raffaele Bensi, who attracted in those years the highest figures of Florentine Catholicism, so he was alive around the middle of the last century, under the paternal ministry of the Venerable Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa. Father Bensi said: Come to me to save your soul. From that August day until the autumn, he literally gorged himself with the Gospel and with Christ. That youngster left immediately for the absolute, without middle ways. He wanted to be saved and to save at any cost. Transparent and hard as a diamond, he would soon be wounded and he would wound” (Nazzareno Fabbretti, Interview with Monsignor Raffaele Bensi, Domenica del Corriere, June 27, 1971). To be a priest is the way in which to live the Absolute. His mother Alice said: My son was in search of the Absolute. He found it in religion and in the priestly vocation. Without this thirst for the Absolute we can be good functionaries of the sacred, but we cannot be priests, true priests, capable of becoming servants of Christ in brothers. Dear priests, with God’s grace, let us seek to be men of faith, a forthright faith, not wishy washy, and men of charity, pastoral charity to all those who the Lord entrusts to us as brothers and children. Father Lorenzo teaches us also to love the Church, as he loved her, with the forthrightness and truth that can also create tensions, but never fractures, abandonments. Let us love the Church, dear fellow priests, and make her loved, showing her as a solicitous Mother of all, especially the poor and most frail, be it in their social life be it in their personal and religious life. The Church that Father Milani showed the world has this maternal and solicitous face, inclined to give all the possibility of encountering God and therefore of giving consistency to their own person in all its dignity.

Before concluding, I cannot be silent about the gesture I carried out today, which is intended to be an answer to that request made many times by Father Lorenzo to his Bishop, and what was recognized and understood in his fidelity to the Gospel and in the rectitude of his pastoral action. In a letter to the Bishop, he wrote: If you do not honour me today with a solemn act, all my apostolate will appear as a private event . . .  Beginning with Cardinal Silvano Piovanelli, of blessed memory, all the Archbishops of Florence have given this recognition to Father Lorenzo on different occasions. Today the Bishop of Rome does so. This does not cancel the bitterness that accompanied Father Milani’s life – it is not about cancelling or denying history but, rather of understanding the circumstances and humanity in play –, however, it says that the Church recognizes in that life an exemplary way of serving the Gospel, the poor and the Church herself. With my presence at Barbiana, with the prayer at the tomb of Father Lorenzo Milani I believe that I have an answer to all that his mother hoped for: I would like above all that the priest be known, that the truth be known, that honour be rendered to the Church also for what he was in the Church and that the Church render honour to him . . . that Church, which made him suffer so much but which gave him the priesthood, and the strength of that faith that remains, for me, the most profound mystery of my son . . . If we do not really understood the kind of priest that Father Lorenzo was, it will be difficult to understand all the rest about him. For instance, his profound balance between hardness and charity (Nazareno Fabbretti, Meeting with the Mother of the Parish Priest of Barbiana Three Years after His Death, Il Resto del Carlino, Bologna, July 8, 1970. The priest transparent and hard as a diamond continues to transmit God’s light on the path of the Church. Take the torch and carry it forward! Thank you.

Hail Mary ...


Thank you very much once again! Pray for me - don’t forget - that I may also follow the example of this good priest! Thank you for your presence. May the Lord bless you. And you priests, all of you — because there is no retirement in the priesthood! – all of you go forward and with courage! Thank you.

At the conclusion of the encounter, the Pope went to the esplanade below the church and, at 12:30pm, departed from Barbiana for the return flight to Rome.  His expected arrival at the Vatican heliport was scheduled for 1:15pm local time.
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