ROME— Pope Francis urged the young not to keep the elderly “in the closet” and instead to talk with them, because inter-generational dialogue is the key to the future.
Dialogue between the young and old, the pope said on Monday, comes easily once youth make the effort of engaging their grandparents, or visit the elderly at their retirement homes. Once it starts, Francis said, “young people don’t want to leave. Because from the elderly there’s wisdom, a wisdom that reaches the heart of young ones and pushes them forth.”
The pope also acknowledged that he’s said similar things before, but said that he’s going to continue repeating them until they make an impact.
“Your grandparents have the wisdom, and furthermore, they have the need for you to knock on the door of their hearts to share their wisdom,” Francis said. “That dialogue is a promise for the future, it’s what’s going to help us move forth.”
Francis’s words came as he was addressing some 3,000 members of the Brazilian-born movement “Shalom”.
During the 45-minute meeting, the pope took four questions, including one from a young man named Juan Jose, a Chilean missionary who today lives in Brazil. He told the pope about having led a “godless life, with no meaning,” and that he’d finally found it through encountering God though prayer. He asked the pope for advice in helping others experience the same encounter.
Francis invited him to continue “going out of himself,” to encounter God and fraternity, and to evangelize, to “give the good news, that of mercy in a world marked by hopelessness and indifference.”
Mercy, the pope continued, is “an absolute,” that has to be witnessed, not “simply spoken about.”
“Our God has a special predilection for sinners, especially the pure-blooded, those who are the worst. He’s there, waiting for us,” Francis said. “I suggest you keep going out of yourself to tell others that there is a God waiting to welcome us as soon as we take the first step.”
Members of the Shalom community, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary, are in the Eternal City for a Sept. 3-9 pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. Though most of the group- 2,500 in all – come from Brazil, the rest come from 26 other countries. Their trip began with a Mass celebrated by Italian Archbishop Salvatore “Rino” Fisichella, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for New Evangelization.
American Cardinal Kevin Farrell, appointed by Francis as head of the dicastery for Family, Laity and Life, said Mass for the group on Monday. While in Assisi, on Thursday, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, will lead the group’s meditation in the land of St. Francis.
The pilgrimage’s closing Mass will be led by Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who heads the Vatican’s Synod office.
Officially registered as the Shalom Catholic Community, this movement was born, literally in a pizza shop with an annexed library in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza. The group’s founder, Moysés Louro de Azevedo Filho and about a dozen young lay men and women, with the support of the local archbishop, opened the restaurant with the goal, according to the Pontifical Council for the Laity’s website, to “welcome and evangelize young people.”
This pizza shop was the first Shalom Center, and eventually the movement spread to families, children and people from all socio-cultural backgrounds. The Vatican gave them official recognition as an international association of the faithful in 2007.
“I can honestly say that I had no idea where God was leading me,” de Azevedo told the pope on Monday. He also shared that he’d decided to “offer his life for Christ, in Christ and with Christ, in favor of all those who suffer for not knowing His love” as a “gift” to Pope John Paul II after his visit to Fortaleza, back in 1980.
Answering to the question posed to him by a young French woman, who spoke about being Baptized during the Holy Year of Mercy, Francis told her that it was on that occasion that she found God and “he allowed you to strip you of yourself.”
This process, he told Justin, involved going from living a life “centered on yourself,” to going “outside to the joy of living for God and for others,” he said, adding that “one of the characteristics of youth and of the eternal youth of God is joy.”
Here, he also warned against selfishness and narcissism: “This culture that we live in, which is very selfish, (constantly) looking at yourself, has a very strong dose of narcissism, of contemplating oneself and ignoring others.”
Narcissism, Francis said, “produces sadness, because you live worried about ‘dressing up’ your soul everyday to appear better than you are, contemplating to see if you are more beautiful than others.”
This he said, is the “sickness of the mirror,” and encourage the group to “break” the mirror and to look outside. “If one day you want to look at yourself in the mirror,” the pope said, do so “to laugh at yourself.”
Francis was visibly in a good mood, taking his time to greet many of the 3,000 trying to get his attention while entering, particularly a girl, who had a sign saying “today is my birthday,” and two kids who kept pulling on the pope’s cassock.
Initially when Francis asked the group to react to what he was saying, “we have to give freely what we’ve freely received,” meaning the faith, the group only gave a tepid response. The pope joked about it, saying that it seemed that instead of encouraging them, he was giving them a sedative. The Paul VI Hall, where the audience took place, roared.
He even brought up a long-standing argument between soccer fans in Brazil and the pope’s Argentina: Who was a better player, the Brazilian Pele or the Argentinian Diego Maradona. The 22-year old Brazilian, who’d spoken to Francis about his history of drug abuse and finding hope in God through the help of missionaries who didn’t give up on him, was unequivocal in answering, “Pele.”