12 November 2021 | Address of His Holiness


Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels (Assisi)

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
I thank you for accepting my invitation — I was the guest! — to celebrate here in
Assisi, the city of Saint Francis, the fifth World Day of the Poor that will be
celebrated the day after tomorrow. It is an idea that came from you, it grew, and
we have now reached the fifth edition. Assisi is not just like any other city: Assisi
bears the imprint of the face of Saint Francis. To think that he lived his restless
youth along these streets, he received the call to live the Gospel to the letter, is
a fundamental lesson for us. Certainly, in some ways, his holiness makes us
quiver because it seems impossible to imitate him. But then, when we remember
some moments of his life, those “little flowers” that were collected to show the
beauty of his vocation, we feel attracted by his simplicity of heart and simplicity
of life: it is the very attraction to Christ, to the Gospel. These are actual facts of
his life that are worth more than preaching.
I would like to recall one of them that expresses well the personality of the
Poverello (cf. Little Flowers, chapter 13: Fonti Francescane, 1841-1842). He and
Brother Masseo had embarked on a journey to go to France, but they had not
taken any provisions with them. At a certain point, they had to begin to ask for
charity. Francis went in one direction and Brother Masseo in another. But, as the
Little Flowers recount, Francis was small of stature and those who did not know
him took him to be a “tramp”; instead, Brother Masseo “was a tall and
handsome man”. Thus it was that Saint Francis succeeded in obtaining some
pieces of stale and hard bread, while Brother Masseo was given some beautiful
pieces of bread.
When the two found themselves together again, they sat down on the ground
and placed what they had collected on a rock. Seeing the pieces of bread his
brother had collected, Francis said: “Brother Masseo, we are not worthy of this
great treasure”. The brother, marveling, responded: “Father Francis, how can
you speak of a treasure where there is such poverty and even what is necessary
is lacking?” Francis replied: “It is precisely this that I consider a great treasure,
that there is nothing, but what we have has been given by Providence who has
given us this bread”. This is the teaching that Saint Francis gives us: knowing
how to be content with the little we have and to share it with others.
We are here at the Portiuncula, one of the small churches that Saint Francis
thought of restoring after Jesus had asked him to “repair his house”. At that
time, he would never have thought that the Lord was asking him to give his life
to renew not the church made of stone, but the one made of persons, of men
and women who are the living stones of the Church. And if we are here today, it
is precisely to learn from what Saint Francis did. He liked to stay to pray for long
periods in this little church. He would recollect himself here in silence and put
himself in an attitude of listening, listening to what God wanted of him. We too
have come here for this: we want to ask the Lord to hear our cry, to hear our cry
and to come to our aid. Let us not forget that the first marginalisation the poor
suffer from is spiritual marginalization. For example, many people and many
young people find a bit of time to help the poor and bring them food and hot
beverages. This is very good and I thank God for their generosity. But I
especially rejoice when I hear that these volunteers stop a bit and speak with
the people, and sometimes pray together with them… So, even our being here at
the Portiuncula, reminds us of the Lord’s company, that He never leaves us
alone, he always accompanies us in every moment of our lives. The Lord today is
with us. He accompanies us, in listening, in prayer and in the testimonies given:
it is He, with us.
There is another important fact: here at the Portiuncula, Saint Francis welcomed
Saint Clare, the first brothers, and many poor people who came to him. He
received them simply as brothers and sisters, sharing everything with them. This
is the most evangelical expression we are called to make our own: hospitality.
Hospitality means to open the door, the door of our house and the door of our
heart, and to allow the person who knocks to come in. And that they may feel
welcome, not ashamed, no, at ease, free. Where there is a true sense of
fraternity, a sincere experience of hospitality is also lived there. Instead, where
there is fear of the other, contempt for their lives, then rejection is born, or
worse, indifference: looking the other way. Hospitality generates a sense of
community; rejection, on the contrary, closes in on one’s own egoism. Mother
Teresa, who made hospitable service her life, used to love to say: “what is the
best welcome? A smile”. A smile. To share a smile with someone in need does
good to both people – to me and the other person. A smile as an expression of
sympathy, of tenderness. And then, a smile engages you, and you cannot turn
away from a person who has smiled at you.
Rather it is time that the poor be given back their voice, because for too long
their requests have remained unheard. It is time that eyes be opened to see the
state of inequality in which many families live. It is time for sleeves to be rolled
up so dignity can be restored by creating jobs. It is time to be scandalised once
again before the reality of children who are starving, reduced to slavery, tossed
about in the water in the aftermath of a shipwreck, innocent victims of every
sort of violence. It is time that violence against women cease and that they be
respected and not treated like bargaining chips. It is time that the circle of
indifference be broken so as to discover once again the beauty of encounter and
dialogue. It is time to meet each other. It is the time to meet. If humanity, if we
men and women do not learn to meet each other, we are heading for a very sad
I have attentively listened to your testimonies, and I thank you for everything
you have courageously and sincerely expressed. Courageously, because you
wanted to share these things with all of us, even though they are a part of your
personal lives; sincerely, because you expressed yourselves exactly as you are
and opened your hearts with the desire to be understood. There are some things
in particular that I liked and would like to summarize them somehow to make
them even more my own and let them settle into my heart. First of all, I
perceived a tremendous sense of hope. Life has not always treated you well;
indeed, it has often shown you its cruel face. Marginalisation, suffering sickness
and loneliness, the lack of so many necessary means has not stopped you from
seeing with eyes filled with gratitude the little things that have enabled you to
hold out.
To hold out. This is the second impression I received and that comes directly
from hope. What does it mean to hold out? To have the strength to keep going
despite everything. To swim against the tide. To hold out is not a passive action,
on the contrary, it requires the courage to take a new path knowing it will bear
fruit. To hold out means to find reasons for not giving up when confronted with
difficulties, knowing that we do not experience them alone but together, and that
only together can we overcome them. To hold out against every temptation to
give up and fall into loneliness and sadness. To hold out, holding on to the little
wealth we may have. I think of the girl in Afghanistan, with her striking phrase:
my body is here, my soul is there. Holding out with memory, today. I think of the
Romanian mother who spoke at the end: pain, hope and no way out, but strong
hope in her children who accompany her and repay the tenderness they received
from her.
Let us ask the Lord to always help us find serenity and joy. Here at the
Portiuncula, Saint Francis teaches us the joy that comes from seeing those who
are near us as traveling companions who understand and support us, just as we
are for him or for her. May this meeting open all of our hearts to put ourselves at
each other’s disposal; to open our hearts to make our weakness a strength to
help continue on the journey of life, to transform our poverty into wealth to be
shared, and thus to make the world better.
The Day of the Poor. Thank you to the poor who open their hearts to give us
their wealth and heal our wounded hearts. Thank you for this courage. Thank
you, Étienne, for being docile to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for
these years of work; and also for the “stubbornness” of bringing the Pope to
Assisi! Thank you! Thank you, Your Eminence, for your support, for your help to
this Church movement — we say “movement” because they are on the move —
and for your testimony. And thank you all. I carry you all in my heart. And,
please, do not forget to pray for me, because I have my poverty, in many ways!
Thank you.