Rome (AsiaNews) - The "enemy attacks the family so much. The devil does not want it. He tries to destroy it, to prevent love from becoming free," said Pope Francis in responding to a family present at the National Convocation of the Renewal in the Spirit, who told their story to the Pope along with a priest, a young man and a young disabled woman.
The venue was Rome's Olympic Stadium before a gathering of some 52,000 people from more than 50 countries. Here, before the Pope addressed the crowd, the people representing four groups related their stories, followed by the pope's response (translation from the Italian by AsiaNews).
"Most Holy Father," said the priest, "as you can see I am one of the younger priests. Today we are here to praise the Lord, more than a thousand priests. Through Renewal, I discovered how to love the Lord. God gave me an opportunity to live the life of the Gospel with greater eagerness. I rediscovered community life, interaction with the laity and the promotion of their charisms. This way, I made my ecclesial ministry more effective.
"We want to be the young and merciful face of Christ's bride. Please, bless our labours and our joys, confirm the faith in all of us and pray for us, so that the fire of the missionary Gospel may always be lit in our hearts. Humbly, we shall remember you in our prayers on the altar. Thank you!"
"With you priests," said the pope in his response to the young priest, "only one word comes to mind: closeness. Closeness to Jesus Christ, in prayer and worship. Closeness to the Lord, and to the people, the people of God that has been entrusted to you. Love your people; be close to the people! What I ask of you is to be close twice, to Jesus and to the people."
When it was time for the young man to speak, he said, "Dear pope, I am one of thousands of young people present. The outpouring of the Spirit has changed our life. Praise is not just raising our hands heavenward; it is the experience with the living Jesus in our midst. Our life has changed - it has not been made any easier but it is happier. And we are happy to tell you that this new love wants to be a pledge to everyone. We ask you to pray and confirm us in our faith; pray for all of us young people so that we may become faithful to the Lord in our intentions. We are praying for you."
Francis responded by saying, "It would be sad for a young person to keep his youth locked up in a safe. This way, youth ages, in the worst sense of the word. It becomes a rag, with no use at all. Youth is for risk taking, taking good risks, with hope. It is for betting it, on great things. Youth is to be given, so that others may learn about the Lord. Do not save your youth for yourselves; go forward!"
The family came next: mother, father and three children. "We are here with our children and so many good hopes. For us, Renewal means rediscovering the beauty of creating a family, a joyful experience. It is possible to talk to each other, listen to each other, support each other but above all exchange with each other. A new love leads us to educate our children to the faith in Jesus. Every day we need the faith that comes from the other, the force that helps us reach the grace of unity in the family. May it confirm us in our faith and bring upon all the families of the world, especially those in difficulty, the graces we expect. We pledge you our prayers."
After listening, the pope stood and embraced the members of this family. Addressing them, he said, "Families are the home Church where Jesus grows. He grows in the spouses' love and in the children's lives. For this reason, the enemy attacks the family so much. The devil does not want it. He tries to destroy it, to prevent love from becoming free. Families are the home church. But married people are sinners like everyone else, they do not want to go in faith, in its fertility, in children and the faith of their children. May the Lord bless the family, and make it strong in the face of the crisis by which the devil wants to destroy it."
A young disabled woman was the last person to come forward. "I am a blind person," she said, "but I would like to tell everyone that Jesus is my light! [Applause from the stadium]. Like many people here, despite my handicap and suffering, I have felt for many years a deep joy that the light of Jesus shines in my heart and illuminates all darkness, healing every physical and spiritual illness I have. Yes, it is true; I cannot see, but Jesus walks with me and for me, and in Renewal I have discovered that I am never alone. How great is the sense of brotherhood we experience! Holy Father, please confirm us sick and disabled in the faith, pray for us so that we can with strength bear witness to Jesus' victory over all evil and every disease! Our prayers constantly rise to heaven for you." After she spoke, Salvatore Martinez, national president of Renewal in the Spirit, led the young woman to the Pope, who embraced and blessed her.
After a few words with the young woman, Francis said to her. Our "brothers and sisters who are suffering, who have an illness, who are disabled, are brothers and sisters anointed by the suffering of Jesus Christ. They imitate Jesus at the difficult moment in his life on his cross. They carry forward the anointing of the suffering on behalf of the whole Church. Thank you brothers and sisters, for accepting to be anointed by suffering! Thanks you for the hope to which you bear witness. Such hope leads us forward, as we seek Jesus's embrace."
Before ending this exchange, the Pope went on to say, "I was telling Salvatore (Martinez) that one group was missing, perhaps the most important one: the grandparents, the elderly. Old people guarantee our faith! Look! When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, there were two. On four if not five occasions, the Gospel says they were guided by the Holy Spirit. Mary and Joseph say that they were guided by the Law. Young people must fulfil the Law.
"Like good wine, the elderly have the freedom of the Holy Spirit. That is how it is! Take Simeon, who was brave. He invented a liturgy and praised God. The Spirit pushed him to do this. The elderly are our wisdom, the wisdom of the Church, the elderly whom we discard many times. Grandparents, the elderly. One grandma, Anna, did an extraordinary thing in the Church; she canonised gossip - instead of going to chitchat here and there, she said that 'this is what will save us'. Grandmothers and grandfathers are our strength and wisdom. May the Lord always give us wise old people, who give us the Church's memory? The Letter to the Hebrews calls it a sense of joy. It says the elderly greeted the promises from afar, which is what they teach us."