Pope Francis’ itinerary on Saturday, which will take him to Asti, his family’s place of origin, can be measured not only in kilometres but in years. The trip will take him not only north of Rome but also back in time. With his cousin’s 90th birthday as the focus, the visit will be largely private, so as to respect the family dimension. Nevertheless, we do not perceive this low-profile visit as a distant event. That community in Piedmont, like the activities of the Bergoglio family — one of many Italian families who emigrated in the last century — in some way belongs to us. The Pope has talked about this many times. He has “invited” us to be guests in his home, and especially to meet Nonna Rosa, a key figure in his personal formation who first communicated the Christian message to him “in dialect”.
Yes, because faith, he has recalled many times, is communicated in the language spoken within the family; it is absorbed together with the air one breathes at home, where the Gospel tastes like home. The Pope still remembers that dialect of Piedmont, which he learned in Buenos Aires, thousands of kilometres from where it is spoken, and in some situations — like in Scampia, when he denounced corruption that “spuzza” (“smells bad” in dialect) — it spontaneously resurfaces from the casket of the past and comes back to life. Many times in these nearly 10 years of his Pontificate, the Pope has stressed the importance of roots, of “returning home”, even simply with one’s heart if doing so physically isn’t possible. He has done so by sharing personal anecdotes and memories, sometimes intertwining them with poems he has found especially striking. Like the poem by Hölderlin dedicated to his grandmother on her birthday (“Benedici ancora una volta il nipote, che l’uomo mantenga ciò che il bambino promise” [Bless the child once again, may the man keep what the child promised]) or the one by Argentinian poet Bernárdez (“Quello che l’albero ha di fiorito, viene da quello che ha sotterrato” [That which the tree has visibly in bloom, thrives on what is buried beneath]).
Memory, the Pope has always told us, is not a veneration of ashes, but a safeguarding of the fire. The wisdom of the time cannot be separated from the momentum towards tomorrow. In that regard, a singular coincidence in this visit to Asti is striking: while the hallmark of Saturday will be memory, that of the following day will be the future. In fact, the Mass which Pope Francis will celebrate in the Cathedral of Asti on the Solemnity of Christ the King coincides (in keeping with the Pope’s wishes) with World Youth Day at the Diocesan level. Many young people therefore will participate in the celebration for this “long-awaited meeting”, as the motto of the trip reads.
The young and the elderly. At his first WYD, which took place in Rio de Janeiro a few months after his election as Peter’s successor, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of the encounter between generations, especially within the family, and he said he was certain that children and elderly people together build the future. It is the Prophecy of Joel, which the Pope often refers to as “the prophecy of our times”: “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions”. Fundamentally, and we see it also in this dramatic epochal change, the advancement of a society can be “weighed” by the way in which it cares for its young and elderly people. This “private” visit therefore carries universal meaning, because it speaks to us about dialogue among generations, among grandparents and grandchildren. Starting with the story of a grandmother who, strong in her faith in Jesus, knew how to fight for her family and “dream dreams” for that grandson who was to one day become Pope.