Pope Francis hears parishioners' confessions
On a Trinity Sunday visit to a small parish in a Rome suburb, the pope again showed his ability to surprise
The visit of Pope Francis, on Trinity Sunday, to the parish of Saints Elizabeth and Zechariah to the far north of the city, the first of a series of his visits to Roman parishes, immediately distinguished itself by several original characteristics.
The pope arrived early in the morning, before the time announced, and the first thing he wanted to do was to meet one-on-one the children baptized in the past year, about fifty of them, together with their parents.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio is highly sensitive about the baptism of children. On the previous day, in the morning homily at Saint Martha's, he had cited the example of a teenage mother who had asked to have her child baptized and was refused. “The child is in no way at fault for the marital status of his parents” - this has been his principle since he was a bishop in Argentina - and in fact baptism “often becomes for the parents a new beginning.” Woe to those who set up a “pastoral customs agency" in front of this gate of entry into the Christian life: “So many times we are supervisors of the faith, instead of becoming facilitators of the faith of the people.”
The second novelty of the visit took place shortly afterward. The pope entered the sacristy, closed the door, and before celebrating Mass he heard the confession, one after another, of eight parishioners chosen at random. There were supposed to have been five, but three were added unexpectedly. The reporter from “L'Osservatore Romano” wrote: “When that door opened there came out a radiant face, most of the time furrowed with tears.”
Before him, John Paul II and Benedict XVI had heard confessions at St. Peter's during Holy Week. Pope Joseph Ratzinger had also heard confessions at World Youth Day in Madrid, in 2011.
Francis, however, wanted to hear confessions in the parish, right before Mass. He gave a good example to priests and faithful. He wanted to make visible the connection between confession and communion, which must be received only when one is “in the grace of God.”
A third innovation, less unexpected this time, took place during the homily. The pope set aside the pages with the text provided and improvised completely, cobbling together with the children present in the first rows a dialogue of question and answer, in the style of the classic catechism, on the theme of that day's feast, the Trinity.
The text of his homily, transcribed word for word, is on the website of the Vatican and is presented in its entirety further below. But a simple reading of it is not enough to make it comprehensible. One must above all see and hear how Francis conducted the dialogue with his little listeners and the faithful crowded into the space in front of the church. And this is possible thanks to the video recording that the Vatican television center has made available on the internet.
Fourth. Communion. Pope Bergoglio usually does not give it to anyone. He does not wish - and he has said so - that persons should present themselves before him to receive it who are seeking publicity, or worse, from an unclear position with respect to the doctrine and morality of the Church. He does not wish, that is, that there should happen with the pope what for example happened a few hours before, on Saturday, May 25 in Genoa, during the funeral for Fr. Andrea Gallo, when to receive communion from the hands of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco came the famous transvestite Vladimir Luxuria, and the photo ended up in the newspapers.
But this time Francis did give out communion. To the sixteen boys and girls who received it from him for the first time, and to the dozens of other children who had made their first communion in the parish during the previous months. He gave it only to them, who were the emblem of the pure heart with which one must approach the sacrament. They received it standing, not kneeling as with Benedict XVI. In any case Francis clearly wanted to highlight the sanctity of this culminating moment of Christian initiation.
Fifth. At the end of the Mass, the sixteen children who shortly before had received their first communion gathered around the pope (see the photo) and sang for him the blessing of St. Francis of Assisi. And he, Pope Francis, listened to the singing of the children with his head bowed and hands clasped, accepting the blessing with profound devotion, as he had done on the very evening of his election, on the loggia of the basilica of Saint Peter, when he asked for and received the blessing beseeched by the people. In both cases closing with: "I thank you for this.”
At the end of this morning spent “on the periphery,” Francis returned to the Vatican, where he was awaited for the midday Angelus, with a crowded St. Peter's Square .
But it is likely that his upcoming visits to other Roman parishes will last longer and will bring more innovations.
The following, then, is the complete transcription of the homily of May 26, 2013, the video of which is also available on the internet:
When at a certain point, dialoguing with the children, the pope says that the one who is able to answer the question “wins the derby," he is alluding to the soccer game scheduled for the afternoon of that same day between the two teams of the capital, Roma and Lazio, with the winner receiving the Coppa Italia.
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