Sunday, January 24, 2016

To Accompany, Serve, & Advocate: A visit with Pope Francis

Photo from L'Osservatore Romano

Posted by: Jora Atienza

On Wednesday, January 13, Pope Francis held his first General Audience of the New Year, welcoming hundreds of pilgrims for an intimate address at the Vatican. This day included our group from USF, along with representatives from other universities, parishes, and other individuals from across the globe. His address was translated to multiple languages including Spanish, French, English, Portuguese and Arabic.  During his talk, Pope Francis spoke about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, a special time for Catholics around the world to “find the joy rediscovering and rendering… God’s mercy, with which [they] are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman.”  Thrilled by this opportunity, I joined a small group of USF students to get to the Vatican early; we also stayed until after the audience to be blessed and get a chance to meet Pope Francis.

As a Roman Catholic, I was profoundly moved by the Pope’s words about mercy, compassion, and love.  I was particularly struck by the following quote:

La parola “amore”, qui utilizzata, indica l’affetto, la grazia, la bontà. Non è l’amore da telenovela... È l’amore che fa il primo passo, che non dipende dai meriti umani ma da un’immensa gratuità.

The word love, used here, means love, grace, and goodness. It is not the love of the telenovela. It is love that takes the first step, that does not depend on human merit but by an immense generosity.

This idea of generous, active love connected with speakers that had met with our group in the days leading up to the Papal Audience.  Representatives from Jesuit Refugee Service International and Centro Astalli Foundation had all spoken about the core values of their work of accompanying, serving and advocating for refugees, asylum seekers, and other displaced people around the world. The idea of accompaniment struck me in particular, as each of our classroom speakers spoke extensively about being present and building deep connections with refugees and other displaced people.  That it is each person’s right to have his or her human dignity acknowledged in a meaningful way. 

As I watched Pope Francis – a Jesuit himself – greet the crowd that remained after his address, I marveled and was moved at how he modeled this value of accompaniment.  He greeted dozens of people one by one, unhurried and present for each person, taking almost an hour to move out of the room.  I thought about the various stories I have read about the Pope visiting with those in need, whether incarcerated youth or his first Papal visit to Lampedusa, where he held mass for refugees, and felt that his vocal support of refugees and displaced peoples in Europe and around the world has helped pushed organizations and governments to respond to this crisis in a more substantial and meaningful way.