“Through your daily services you become artisans of encounter, bringing the warmth of Jesus’ kindness to those who enter Saint Peter’s Basilica, to those who need guidance, to those who need a smile to feel at home”. With these words, Pope Francis summed up the meaning of the mission of the Saints Peter and Paul Association, whose members he received in Audience in the Paul vi Hall on Saturday, 8 January. During the Audience, the Pope was given an icon of the Virgo Fidelis, Patron of the Association, and a donation for the Missionaries of Charity, to assist in the aid of 14 Afghani children who were welcomed in their house in Rome’s Tor Bella Monica suburb. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s message which he delivered in Italian.
Dear friends of the Saints
Peter and Paul Association!
I join with you in thanking the Lord for the 50 years of your association, reborn thanks to the farsighted intuition of Saint Paul vi .
I greet the President, Dr Stefano Milli, and I thank him for his words; I greet the spiritual assistant, Msgr Joseph Murphy, and the other leaders, and all the members with their families.
It is good to see that, in this half century of life, you have gone from being “Guards of Honour at the palace” to the honour of being “in the service” of pilgrim humanity, thus bearing special witness to Christian life, the apostolate, and fidelity to the Apostolic See.
What do your 50 years of history represent? We can answer this question with the title of your journal: “Incontro” (Encounter). Indeed, your history is made up of continual “encounters”.
There is always movement in an encounter. If we all stand still, we will never meet. “Life, for all its confrontations, is the art of encounter” (Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti, 215). But life is this: the art of encounter. Encounter is like the oxygen of life. This is why we need a culture of encounter, because “we, as a people, should be passionate about meeting others, seeking points of contact, building bridges, planning a project that includes everyone” (ibid., 216). This is the criterion that gives meaning to your daily commitment — and I thank you very much! Through your daily services you become artisans of encounter, bringing the warmth of Jesus’ kindness to those who enter Saint Peter’s Basilica, to those who need guidance, to those who need a smile to feel at home. Thank you for this style of smiling; I think it is somewhat your spirituality. Always a smile, which promotes encounter. The smile is a bridge.
The words of Saint John xxiii come to mind: “I put my eyes in your eyes, I put my heart close to your heart”. This expression conveys well the Christian meaning of encounter.
And now I would like to leave you with a few points for the future, so that your valuable service may continue to be a witness to those you meet, in a context that still feels the effects of the pandemic. I will summarise them in this exhortation: “Let us begin again with more humanity, looking to Jesus, with hope in our hearts”. This is a kind of task that I give to you: something of a “task to do at home”, I think it can inspire you.
Let us begin again. Certainly, by treasuring what we have experienced, bearing in mind that we have all changed a little and, I hope, improved, but always ready to serve according to the motto of your Association: “Fide constamus avita”: “Let us firmly persevere in keeping with the fidelity of our fathers”.
With more humanity. If we have all changed a little, it is because we have realised, through what we have experienced, that what really counts in life is human relationships. We all feel the need to love one another, to live more united, to hear good and encouraging words spoken to us and, in turn, to give them with a lifestyle that is filled with hope. I encourage you to continue to show this face, with more humanity.
And looking at Jesus. Your Association has always proposed Jesus’ life as a way of life that is wholly human, the point of reference and the foundation for people of all times, and therefore also for the people of today. But even more so now, we want to bear witness to our faith by proclaiming that our concrete life finds its roots in the humanity of Jesus. Thus, knowing him better, knowing how he led his life, what he said, how he related to others, is the foundation for discovering how to live in a humane way today. Looking at him, we feel called ever more to a daily service made of welcoming, sharing, fraternal listening, human closeness. I believe that in this way we can show, with facts, the beauty and strength of the Gospel.
And finally: With hope in our hearts. Dear brothers and sisters, hope must never be lacking in the believer’s journey, that hope that does not disappoint, that never disappoints. We belong to Christ, we are joined to him through Baptism; there is his presence in us, there is his light, there is his life. Let us therefore walk sustained by his Word: it is the Word of life. Let us walk with joy and hope, knowing that the Lord will never cease to support our commitment to good. I say this in a special way to young people: I encourage you to give your energies to those in need, and to become adults capable of true and sincere encounters.
I entrust to Mary, Virgo Fidelis, you dear Members, your families — from whom you take time out of your busy schedules to devote it generously to the Holy See — and all your loved ones. May the Blessed Virgin with her maternal love watch over each of you.
Therefore, before the blessing, let us recite together the Prayer of the Association:
Holy Virgin and our most tender Mother, you who were always faithful to God in the heroic fulfilment of your sublime mission, we pray to you that, following your example we too may be faithful to our Christian vocation and to the signs of divine grace in all our life’s events. We have made sacrosanct commitments to our God: you ask that our faith, undermined and fought against on every side, may never waver. We are children of the Church: grant that, steadfast in our ardent love for the Church herself and in devout obedience to her visible Head, may it be our glory to work hard and suffer generously. Thus, with your help, O Virgin Mary, having fulfilled our earthly day, we shall deserve the immortal crown in heaven. Amen.
Virgo Fidelis, ora pro nobis.
And now I give you the Blessing, which I extend to your families, remembering especially the children and the sick. And I ask you, please, to pray for me. Thank you.