Assisi: what the pope would have said


The Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) (Nov. 2007)

VATICAN CITY — We all know how the pope likes to set aside his prepared text and speak heart-to-heart to his audience. It looks like he will be doing a bit of the same during his Oct. 4 trip to Assisi.

While the things he says off-the-cuff will grab the headlines, probably not much  coverage will be given to what he had prepared on paper to say.

The Vatican says the pope’s prepared texts are still valid and can be published as if they had been delivered, so we’ll update this blog throughout the day with “What the pope would have said” with some excerpts from his written speeches.

8 a.m. visit to the Serafico Institute to visit disabled children and young people:

“My visit is above all a pilgrimage of love, to pray at the tomb of a man who stripped off his own self and put on Christ.”

The pope explains he wanted his visit to begin with the disabled and marginalized because that’s how St. Francis began his journey of conversion. He quoted St. Francis:

“‘When I lived in sin, it was very painful to me to see lepers, but God himself led me into their midst, and I remained there a little while. When I left them, that which had seemed to me bitter had become sweet and easy.'”

Pope Francis lamented today’s throwaway culture that targets the weakest and thanked the men and women who work hard to help others lead a more dignified life:

“Thank you for this sign of love that you offer us: this is the sign of a real civilization, humane and Christian! Put people who are most disadvantaged at the center of attention for society and political policy. … Let’s multiply works of a culture of welcoming, works animated most of all by a deep Christian love, love for the crucified Christ.”

“To serve with love and tenderness people who need lots of help makes us grow in humanity because these are the true resources of humanity. … (St. Francis, who had been rich and thought he knew what glory was) changed, (Jesus) let him understand what really matters in life — not riches, the power of weapons, earthly glory, but humility, mercy and forgiveness.”

In his written text, the pope tells a story about a letter he received from 16-year-old Nicolas who lives in Buenos Aires. Nicolas has been severely disabled since birth and because he can’t write or talk, he had his parents jot down what was on his mind. Nicolas says:

“Every night, ever since you asked me to, I ask my Guardian Angel, whose name is Eusebio and is very patient, to watch over me and help me.  You can be sure that he is very good for me because he takes care of me and keeps me company every day. Oh! And when I can’t sleep he comes to play with me.”

The pope said this letter reveals that:

“in this boy’s heart there is beauty, love and the poetry of God. God reveals himself to whom has a simple heart: children, the humble, those we often consider to be the least.”

CNS translation from Italian


A barefooted pilgrim walks on his hands and knees to the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, in this 2011 photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

9:30 a.m. Bishop’s residence, meeting with poor in room where St. Francis stripped himself of all worldly possessions:

In his prepared text, the pope talked about St. Francis’ decision to be poor and trust completely in God:

“Francis made a choice: the choice to be poor. It wasn’t a sociological, ideological choice, it was a choice to be like Jesus, to imitate him, to follow him all the way.”

St. Francis’ act of stripping down to nothing is simply what the Gospel teaches:

“Following Christ means putting him in first place, stripping ourselves of the many things we have and that suffocate our hearts, to deny ourselves, to take up the cross and carry it with Jesus. To strip oneself of a proud ego and detach oneself from the craving to have and from money, which is an idol that possesses.”

“I’m not here to ‘make news,’ but to show that this is the Christian way, this path St. Francis took.”

In his text, the pope then looked at what the church must strip from itself:

“To strip itself from every spiritual worldliness, which is a temptation for everyone; to strip itself of every action that is not for God and is not of God; from the fear of opening doors and going out to encounter everyone, especially the poorest, the most in need, the estranged, without waiting.”

Going out into the world isn’t about losing oneself in the world, the pope wrote:

It is “certainly not to lose itself in the ruins of the world, but to bring with courage the light of Christ, the light of the Gospel, in the darkness, too, where you can’t see, where you might stumble.”

The church must also look at:

“stripping itself of the apparent tranquility that its structures give, which are surely necessary and important, but must never overshadow the one true strength that it holds, the power of God. He is our strength. To strip itself of that which is not essential because the reference point is Christ; the church belongs to Christ.”

In his written text, the pope offered an answer to the world’s woes:

“If we want to save ourselves from ruin, it is necessary to follow the path of poverty, which is not the misery of extreme poverty — this must be fought, but it is knowing how to share, to be in solidarity with those in need, to trust more in God and less in our human powers.”

CNS translation from Italian

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