· Vatican City ·

During his hospitalization the Pope and the faithful united in prayer and affection

That bond of love invisible to the eye

This photo taken and issued as a handout by the Vatican media on June 15, 2023 shows Pope Francis ...
23 June 2023

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”. This famous quote from the book, “The Little Prince”, well describes the events that unfolded after Pope Francis was admitted to Gemelli Hospital last 7 June. In the days before the Pope’s return to the Vatican on Friday, 17 June, the faithful were unable to see the Bishop of Rome at his usual public events, but this did not mean that the pastor and his people were far from each other. Actually, in a certain sense — going back to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry — Pope Francis and the people who love him were even more united thanks to the prayer that arose from their heart, and it didn’t need to be visible in order to be expressed. A prayer that is like the “oxygen of life”, to take up his words from one of his catecheses in November 2020, during the dark period of the pandemic.

In retrospect, it is significant that shortly before being admitted to hospital, everyone was able to see a Pope who — at the beginning of the General Audience in Saint Peter’s Square on 7 June — withdrew in prayer before the relics of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux to whom he is so devoted. The people did not know then that the Pope was to undergo surgery soon thereafter, nor could they know what Pope Francis was praying for in that moment. Yet again, “the essential” was “invisible to the eye”. A precious experience and teaching, all the more so in today’s world, where it seems that everything must be shown, “revealed”, in order to have value.

Prayer — the Pope reminds us — has an invisible strength that even shifts the path of history. This is why he does not tire of praying (also asking us to do so) for peace in the world. He also did so during his hospitalization. His thoughts always go there, no matter where he is: to the people of Ukraine as to all people who suffer because of violence and war. Praying, Pope Francis shows us, is fundamentally the most effective act which a Christian can perform because it is dialogue with the Lord, a request to be listened to, a proposal of help. It is speaking with the heart to the greatest Heart, the one that embraces each of us.

We all remember the “Good evening” with which Jorge Mario Bergoglio introduced himself from the central Loggia of the Petrine Basilica that 13 March of 10 years ago. Not everyone remembers however, that shortly after that greeting — as much ordinary as it was jarring, coming from a newly elected Pope — he asked to pray an Our Father, a Hail Mary and a Glory Be. The prayer of a pastor with his people which, from that moment onwards, was never again interrupted, and it becomes more intense in moments of difficulty and suffering. “Pray for me!”: precisely a few weeks ago, in an interview with the TV channel, “Telemundo”, Pope Francis used an effective image to explain why he repeats the exhortation so often. “People”, he said, “do not realize the power they have in praying for their pastors”. And he added that “any pastor, whether a parish priest or a bishop, is as if protected, covered, in armour, by the prayer of the faithful”. An armour of love that does not burden but supports. Armour that is invisible to the eye, but visible to the heart. ( a.g. )

Alessandro Gisotti