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Servant of the Gospel

We have seen it many times now. Especially during the Pope’s first journeys, from that first painful and powerful visit to Lampedusa and Assisi is yet another confirmation: Pope Francis attracts because he lays himself open personally and his words resplendently reveal a life rooted in the contemplation of the Lord. To the many thousands of young people seated before him like the first friars around Francis, he concluded: “Always preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words! But how? Is it possible to preach the Gospel without words? Yes! By your witness! First comes witness, then come words!”. Shortly before that, while meeting with various components of the diocese, he repeated yet again that the Church does not grow by proselytizing but by attracting.

On the feast of St Francis (4 October) the Bishop of Rome, the Primate of Italy, wished to travel with his cardinal advisers to the places made famous by the man who imitated Christ to so great a degree that he received in his own body the signs of His passion, and whom Italy has proclaimed its patron. Certainly it was his heart's desire to make this visit — no other Pope has taken the name of Assisi's saint, not even the Franciscan ones — however, he made the journey primarily to proclaim the Gospel. His presence and his words, as simple as they were effective, remain etched in his listeners: in priests called to give short and passionate sermons, in parents called to be the first witnesses of Christ for their children, in those who read Scripture but don't hear Jesus.

In his first public words after the election in the conclave Pope Francis underlined the fundamental relationship between a bishop and his people. In Assisi he wished to speak again about that journey “with our people, sometimes in front, sometimes behind and sometimes in the middle: in front in order to guide the community, in the middle in order to encourage and support; and behind in order to keep it united,” that none should be left too far behind. He confirmed his trust in the sensus fidei of the Christian people, but first and foremost he included himself in a very informal way: “I am thinking again of you priests, and allow me to count myself among you”.

Opening with simplicity to those before him — “But perhaps some of you are thinking: what a great bishop! We asked him questions and he has answers all ready prepared and written down. I received these questions a few days ago. That is why I am familiar with them,” he explained to the young people. Pope Francis is not a dispenser of novelties, but he does know how to proclaim the one truth, the Gospel of Christ. “I haven’t given you any new recipes. I don't have any, and don't believe anyone who says he does: they don’t exist”, he said in the Cathedral, as if wanting to dispel the doubts that come every now and then, repeating once again that we can only bear witness to Jesus to those who are far away “only if we carry the Word of God in our hearts and if we walk with the Church, like St Francis”.

In Assisi — he confided summarizing the meaning of his visit — “I seem to hear the voice of St Francis repeating: the Gospel, the Gospel! He also says it to me, indeed, first to me: Pope Francis, be a servant of the Gospel! If I do not succeed in being a servant of the Gospel, my life is worth nothing!”. And he added immediately after that the Gospel regards the human being as a whole.

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St. Peter’s Square

Aug. 20, 2019

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