LISBON – Setting aside his prepared text during a visit to a charitable center in Lisbon Friday morning, Pope Francis said that “there is no such thing as an abstract love, it doesn’t exist,” and that real love “gets its hands dirty” in the concrete circumstances of people’s lives.
During the brief encounter, Francis succeeded in delivering the first couple paragraphs of his prepared speech but then told the small gathering that the lighting made it hard for him to read, and, promising that the text would be made public, set it aside and went off the cuff.
“All of us can ask, the love I feel for all those who are here, is it concrete or abstract?” the pope said, urging his listeners not to focus on “things that exist in my fantasies, but not reality.”
The comments came during a visit to a charitable center that assists those facing hardship as well as the elderly and disabled, called the Centro Paroquial de Serafina attached to the local parish of St. Vincent de Paul.
The parish and social center are located between two rough neighborhoods on the outskirts of the Portuguese capital, called Serafina and Liberdade.
Former Cardinal patriarch of Lisbon Manuel Gonçalves Cerejeira established the parish and social center in March 1959, entrusting them to the Consolata Fathers. The center employs roughly 170 people and offers various services, including a nursery and various youth activities, as well as assistance for the elderly, disabled, and single mothers and their children.
“Here is a reality that leaves traces,” he said, referring to the center’s work serving the neediest people in Portuguese society. “It’s done so for many years, and it gives inspiration to others,” Francis said.
The pontiff is in Lisbon to celebrate World Youth Day, the massive gathering of Catholic youth from around the world held every two or three years that’s sometimes been dubbed the “Catholic Woodstock.”
“There can’t be a World Youth Day without this [contact with] reality,” the pope said. “It has to continually generate new life.”
“This [contact with] reality, this [concern for] the misery of the others, is generating life, and for this I thank you so much,” the pope said.
Speaking from his wheelchair, Francis closed by saying, “Now, I’d like a glass of water, and let’s keep going.”
Later today, Pope Francis is scheduled to lunch with 10 young people representing various nations at the residence of the papal ambassador in Lisbon, and tonight he will preside over a massive Stations of the Cross rite to be staged in Lisbon’s Parque Eduardo VII.