“You transform the deserts into forests”, said Pope Francis putting aside his prepared speech for the occasion, arousing enthusiasm and emotion in the thousands of people who watched the Holy Father’s car driving into the “Earth Village” for a surprise visit on the afternoon of Sunday, April 24th. The event was organised by the Focolare Movement in the heart of Rome at the green centre of the capital: the Villa Borghese Racing Track.
The Pope showed up unexpectedly and was warmly greeted by families, young people and people of all ages who have been taking part in the events being held at the “Village” focusing on themes of the Earth, Legality, Interreligious Dialogue and Solidarity.
Donato Falmi and Antonia Testa who are responsible for the Focolare Movement in Rome, and Pierluigi Sassi, President of Earth Day Italy, welcomed the Holy Father on stage at the “Village” and described the spirit of the event. Falmi introduced the Pope into the experience of Mariapolis 2016, which is titled “Living together in the city”, with special emphasis on three main words that are often repeated by Francis and were chosen as the inspiration for the event: “mercy”, “tenderness” and “diversity as an enrichment.” Antonia Testa described the collaboration between the Focolare Movement and Earth Day Italy and explained how the Mariapolis wished to turn its gaze on the city of Rome, on its poverty – but especially on the “great good” that is quietly but incisively being carried out every day across the social fabric.
Pierluigi Sassi then explained to Pope Francis how the path to this “Village” began from the proclamation of Laudato Si’ and by “March for the Earth” which Earth Day Italy had organised and engaged 130 organisations in view of the COP21 climate agreement.
Pope Francis listened to the intense testimonies of several Mariapolis participants: some of them heart-wrenching experiences of solidarity in the criminal justice system and with immigrants; projects by young people promoting disarmament; legality and the campaign against gambling. Pierluigi concluded by stressing the significance of the football match which will be played on Monday at the “Village” between the Liberi Nantes – the football team entirely comprised by asylum seekers and political refugees – and the university students from the LUISS.
“Don’t be afraid of conflict that contains within it both risk and opportunity,” Francis said. “Knowledge is a risk for me and for the person I draw near to. But never, never turn away so that you won’t have to see. Draw near to others, take their hand, go to dry their many tears… this is how a smile can be born in the desert.” “I’ll give you an assignment to do at home,” the Pope concluded. “When you go down the street, you see that tenderness is missing. Each person is enclosed in him and herself. Friendship is lacking. Money is at the centre of today’s world, but ‘gratuity’ is the keyword for this desert to become a forest. How do you do that? Always from within an awareness of our own need to be forgiven… working together, respecting each other – this is how the miracle happens in the desert that becomes a forest. Thank you for all that you do.”
Before the final goodbye a young boy gave Francis the “Earth Cube”, an educational toy used for teaching children the principles for safeguarding Creation.
See Flickr photostream by Thomas Klann