By Christopher Wells
As is customary in his visits to Roman parishes, Pope Francis took the opportunity to meet with parishioners of St Paul of the Cross before celebrating Sunday Mass for the community.
Ahead of the liturgy, Pope Francis met with young children in catechism courses, as well as the elderly, the poor, and the sick members of the parish; and later heard the confessions of several people.
Most needy at centre of the parish
In his meeting with the elderly, the Holy Father spoke of the “duty” of the parish to be there for the people, “because those who have the greatest need are at the centre of the parish, and at the centre of the Gospel. Everyone faces difficulties in life, but our sorrows and difficulties should not allow us to take away our hope or our joy, the Pope said, “because Jesus has come to ‘ransom’ our wounds with His wounds.” This, he said, is our joy, “Jesus has paid for us, He is close to us, He wants what is good for us.”
Jesus' ability to change hearts
Pope Francis began his visit with a question and answer session with some of the children of the parish. In a light-hearted exchange, he promised to answer a question about his favourite Bible passage when the children agreed to read it when they got home. He proceeded to tell the story of the conversion of Matthew, which he said “shows the power of Jesus to change a heart.”
All are children of God
When one little girl asked whether those who are not baptized are children of God, the Pope said, “We are all children of God. Everyone! Everyone!” – good people and bad, even those who follow other religions, even Mafiosi. “God has created everyone,” he said. “He loves everyone, and has placed in the hearts of everyone a conscience to recognize what is good, and distinguish it from what is evil.” But when we are baptized, he said, “the Holy Spirit enters into that conscience, and strengthens your belonging to God,” and that, in a certain sense, “makes you even more a daughter of God.”
God has "the heart of a dad"
Finally, one little boy, overcome with emotion, was unable to ask his question—so the Pope invited him to come up and whisper in his ear. “He was weeping for his father” who had died a short time ago, Pope Francis said, “and he had the courage to do so in front of us, because of the love he has in his heart for his dad.” The young boy asked if his father, who was not a believer, is in heaven.
“He was a good man,” the boy said, and Pope Francis took up that thought. “It is a beautiful witness” he said, when a man’s sons can call him good. Answering the boy’s question, the Pope said only God can know who is in heaven. “But how does the heart of God look upon such a dad?” he asked. “God has the heart of a dad,” he continued, and God would not allow such a father to remain far from Him.