Saturday, March 17, 2018

Papal visit to San Giovanni Rotondo

This morning, at 9:30am (4:30am EDT), the helicopter carrying the Holy Father, Pope Francis from Pietrelcina, arrived at the Antonio Massa sports field in San Giovanni Rotondo.

Upon his arrival, the Pope was welcomed by the Archbishop of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo, His Excellency, Michele Castoro, and by the Mayor, Doctor Costanzo Cascavilla.

Before departing from the sports field, the Holy Father blessed a plaque located along the Pilgims' Way which leads to the Shrine of Saint Michael, which the Mayor has placed along the Via Francigena.  The Holy Father then went to the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza Hospital and from the square outside the hospital, Pope Francis greeted and blessed those who are sick.

At 10:00am (5:00am EDT), the Pope arrived at the John Paul II Polyclinic where he was welcomed by Doctor Domenico Crupi, the Director General of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza.  His Holiness then visited with the 21 children who are currently resident in the department of Paediatric Oncohematology and in the Paritaria Hospital School, which were founded by Padre Pio.  He also greeted the volunteers who are working with Clowntherapy.

At the conclusion of his visit, the Holy Father went to the Shrine of Saint Mary of Grace where he was welcomed by the Minister Provincial of the Capuchins, Father Maurizio Placentino; by the Guardian, Father Carlo Labordo; and by the Rector, Father Francesco Dileo.  Inside the Shrine, the Pope greeted the community of Capuchins, venerated the body of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina and the Crucifix he used to carry, and left a stole for Exposition as a gift.  His Holiness then met and greeted the sick Brothers before finally visiting Saint Pio's cell (the room where he lived).

At 11:30am (6:30am EDT), outside the Church of Saint Pio, the Eucharistic Celebration took place.  At the conclusion of the Mass, the Archbishop of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo, His Excellency, Michele Castoro offered greetings to Pope Francis and His Holiness greeted some of the Authorities who were present as well as a representative group of the faithful.

The Holy Father then made his way to the Antonio Massa sports field, and departed (at 1:50pm - 8:50am EDT) for the return flight to Rome.

Homily of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the Eucharistic Celebration
at San Giovanni Rotondo

From the biblical readings that we have just heard, I want to gather three words: prayer, smallness, wisdom.

Prayer.  Today's gospel presents Jesus who is at prayer.  From his heart flow the words: I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth ... (Mt 11:25).  For Jesus, prayer flowed spontaneously, but it was not an option: he would go away to deserted places to pray (cf Mk 1:35); his dialogue with the Father was of primary importance.  And naturally, the disciples discovered this importance of prayer, so much so that one day they asked Jesus: Lord, teach us to pray (Lk 11:1).  If we want to imitate Jesus, we too must begin where he began, with prayer.

We can ask ourselves: we Christians, do we pray enough?  At times, in moments of prayer, there are so many excuses that enter our minds, many things that urgently need to be done ... Then, sometimes, we put our prayer aside because we are preoccupied with something else that has to be done, and we forget the better part (Lk 10:42), we forget that without him we can do nothing (cf Jn 15:5) - and we leave prayer behind.  Fifty years after his departure for heaven, Saint Pio helps us: he wanted to leave us his prayer.  He would recommend to everyone: Pray a lot, my sons, pray always, don't ever get tired of praying (Words spoken at the 2nd International Conference of prayer groups, 5 May 1966).

In the gospel, Jesus also shows us how to pray.  First of all he says: Give praise to the Father; don't begin by saying I need this or that, but rather, say I praise you.  We cannot know the Father without opening our hearts to praise, without dedicating some time to Him alone, without adoring.  How we have forgotten to pray through adoration, through offering praise!  We need to begin again.  Every one of us can ask ourselves: how do I adore?  When do I adore?  When do I offer praise to God?  We can begin again to pray through adoration and offering praise.  This is the way we enter into personal contact with God, placing ourselves in silence before the Lord: this is the secret to entering more and more into communion with Him.  Prayer can begin as a request, or even with a prompt intervention, but it matures in praise and in adoration.  Prayer matures.  Then it truly becomes personal, like it was for Jesus, who then could speak freely with his Father: Yes, O Father, for this is what you have decided in your goodness (Mt 11:26).  And then, in free and trusting dialogue, prayer is characterized by everything in life and places it before God.

And so we ask ourselves: do our prayers resemble Jesus' prayers or are they reduced to occasional emergency calls only?  I need this, and so I run away to pray.  And when I don't need anything, what do I do?  Or do we think of prayers like tranquilizers to be taken in regular dosages, to find some relief from stress?  No, prayer is a gesture of love; it is spending time with God, bringing him the life of the world: it is an indispensable work of spiritual mercy.  And if we don't entrust our brothers and sisters, our situations to the Lord, who will do it?  Who will intercede, who will bother to knock at the heart of God to open the door of his mercy for humanity that is so in need?  This is why Padre Pio left us the prayer group.  To them, he said: It is prayer, this united strength of all the good souls, that moves people, that renews their consciences ... that heals the wounded, that sanctifies work, that elevates health care, that gives moral strength ... that spreads God's smile and blessing over every sorrow and weakness (Words spoken at the 2nd International Conference of prayer groups, 5 May 1966).  Let us keep these words and let us repeat them to ourselves: Do I pray? And when I pray, do I offer praise, do I adore, do I give my life and the lives of all people to God?

The second word: smallness.  In the gospel, Jesus praises the Father because he has revealed the mysteries of his kingdom to little ones.  Who are these little ones who know how to welcome the secrets of God?  The little ones are those who need great ones, who are not self-reliant, who do not think only about themselves.  The little ones are those who have humble and open hearts, poor and needy, who feel the need to pray, to entrust themselves and to allow themselves to be accompanied.  The hearts of these little ones are like antennae: they capture the signals of God, immediately, they are immediately aware of him.  Because God wants to be in contact with everyone, but those who make themselves great create great interference, they do not develop a desire for God: when we are full of ourselves, there is no space for God.  For this reason, He prefers the little ones, he reveals himself to them, and the way to encounter him is to make ourselves small, to make ourselves small from within, to be aware of our own need.  The mystery of Jesus Christ is the mystery of smallness: He made himself small, he surrendered himself.  The mystery of Jesus, as we see in the Host at every Mass, is the mystery of smallness, of humble love, and it can only be understood by making ourselves small and spending time among the little ones.

And now, we can ask ourselves: do we know how to look for God where he can be found?  Here, we have a special shrine where he is present, because we also find many little ones here who are his beloved.  Saint Pio called this a temple of prayer and science, where everyone is called to be reserves of love for others (Speech for the first anniversary of the inauguration, 5 May 1957): this House of Relief for the Suffering.  In the sick, we find Jesus, and in lovingly caring for those who are sick, in bending down over those who are wounded, we find the way to meet Jesus.  Whoever cares for the little ones is on the side of God and triumphs over the culture of waste, which on the contrary, favours the powerful and considers the poor to be useless.  Those who favour the poor proclaim a prophecy of life against the prophecy of death that has existed throughout time and even continues today when people are cast aside, when children are cast out, when the elderly are ignored because they are considered useless.  When I was a child in school, they taught us about the history of the Spartans.  I was always struck by what the teacher told us, that when a child was born or when a child was malformed, they took him to the top of a mountain and threw him down because they were no longer worthy to live.  We children would say: How cruel!  Brothers and sisters, we are doing the same thing, with more cruelty, in a more scientific way.  Those who are no longer useful, those who can no longer produce are discarded.  This is the culture of waste, the little ones are no longer wanted today.  And for this reason, Jesus was ostracized.

Finally the third word.  In the first reading, God says: Let not the one who is filled with his own wisdom boast, let him not boast of his own strength (Jer 9:22).  True wisdom is not a matter of possessing great qualities, nor is it a matter of power.  Those who show themselves to be strong and those who respond to evil with evil are not among the wise.  The only wise and invincible armour is charity enlivened by faith, for it has the potential to disarm the forces of evil.  Saint Pio fought against evil all his life and he fought wisely, like the Lord: with humility, with obedience, with the cross, offering his suffering out of love.  Many people may admire us, but very few will want to imitate us.  Many speak well, but how many of them do we seek to imitate?  Many are willing to put a like on the pages that we written by the great saints, but who is willing to do as they do?  The Christian life is not a matter of likes; it is a matter of offering myself as a gift.  Life leaves a perfume when it is offered as a gift; but it becomes uninspiring when it is kept for itself.

And in the first reading, God also explains where we can find the wisdom of life: Those who want to boast, boast ... in knowing me (Jer 11:23). To know him, which is to say to meet him as God who saves and forgives: this is a life of wisdom.  In the gospel, Jesus reaffirms: Come to me, all you who are weary and oppressed (Mt 11:28).  Who among us can feel excluded from this invitation?  Who can say: I don't need it ?  Saint Pio offered his life and innumerable sufferings in order to help his brothers to meet the Lord.  And the decisive means for this encounter was in Confession, the sacrament of Reconciliation.  There, we begin a life of wisdom again and again, where we can encounter Christ's love and forgiveness; there, our hearts begin to heal.  Father Pio was an apostle of the confessional.  Even today, he invites us to go there; he says to us: Where are you going?  To Jesus or to your own sadness?  Where are you coming back to?  To the one who saves you or toward your own torture in the midst of your regrets and your sins?  Come, come, the Lord is waiting.  Have courage, there is no reason too serious to cause him to exclude you from his mercy.

Prayer groups, the sick in the Casa Sollievo, the confessional: three visible signs, that remind us of three precious legacies: prayer, smallness and the wisdom of life.  Let us ask for the grace to cultivate these gifts every day.

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