Pope Francis opened up about his faith crisis, the hardships of forgiveness and the importance of family while speaking to a group of recently confirmed youths during his visit on Sunday, Jan. 15th to a parish on the outskirts of Rome.
“I heard that here in Rome confirmation is the ‘goodbye sacrament’,” the pope told the young group, referring to the fact that many abandon the Catholic community after being confirmed.
Pope Francis started visiting the churches and parishes of Rome after a one-year hiatus during the Jubilee of Mercy. He began his comeback to the Roman parochial scenery in the peripheries, at the Santa Maria Parish in Setteville.
Father Giuseppe Berardino, who served the community for 14 years, suffers from ALS and the pope met with him first to give him comfort and the sacrament of Extreme Unction.
The pope then spoke to members of the parish, including 30 elderly and infirm people, several recently confirmed youths and a group of Scouts with whom he spoke for more than half-an-hour.
Francis asked several questions and encouraged the shy group to speak up. “This is the secret: talk about the Lord with joy. This is what Christian witness is,” the pope said.
“Christian witness is not only talking about the Lord with joy but also with the joy of your own life.”
The pope warned against parrot-Christians who only talk about faith and never act. “From here only words, words, words,” Francis said while pointing to his mouth. “Christian witness is done with words, with the heart and with your hands.”
When asked how to explain why faith is important, the pope once again encouraged the young men and women to turn their lives into an example.
Explaining why faith is important is not enough, the pope said, “that is proselytism and we Christians should not do proselytism.” We must instead turn our lives into proof of the importance of faith.
Francis stressed the importance of forgiveness and listening to others. “Forgiveness cannot be given by decree,” the pope said. “We must undergo a personal interior journey in order to forgive. It’s not easy…but it is possible to do.”
A young man asked the pope what he thinks the greatest gift from God is, to which Francis replied candidly. “The greatest gift is faith,” he said. “But I feel that a great gift from God is my family.”
He then encouraged the small gathering to listen and talk to their grandparents who are the “memory of life, the wisdom of life.”
A girl then asked how the pope managed to keep his faith during the ups and downs of life.
“Looking back at some moments my faith diminished to the point that I could not find it and I lived as if I did not have faith,” the pope said. “The ups and downs of life can shake you up at times and cause you to loose a little faith, but with time you may find it again.”
The pope continued to explain how some days may be dark and that in his life he walked though times like these but added that you must not be afraid; pray and be patient, for the Lord will eventually grow your faith and help you.
Francis mentioned a man who had lost his wife during the earthquakes that crippled central Italy last year. “I lost my love,” the man told the pope.
How can a man who has suffered so much have faith after this tragedy, the pope asked the small congregation. “Be quiet. Be close to him. Respect the darkness in his soul. The Lord will rekindle his faith,” Francis answered.
Pope Francis blessed the group after jokingly encouraging them to speak up. Before leaving he gave one last reminder: “Before I leave, one question: what must we do with our grandparents?”
“Talk to them,” the group replied in unison.