By Robin Gomes
Maintaining the Covid-19 health protocols, the Holy Father received in audience only eight members of the flat-sharing association "Lazare" on 29 May at Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican, on the occasion of the organization's 10th anniversary.
Others, linked to the event through videoconference, were able to interact with the Pope for more than an hour. The video recording of the encounter was broadcast by the Association on Friday.
The delegation introduced itself with these words: “Street workers and young workers: we have no other ambition than to live together simply."
The Lazare Association was begun in 2011 by two Parisians, Étienne Villemain and Martin Choutet, who decided to live with people on the street. Since then, members of Lazare have been sharing their homes with the homeless.
Six to ten people live in each flat with volunteers. Today there are around 200 of them in 12 homes in Paris. The association fights social exclusion, convinced that the homeless need much more than a home: they also need human relationships.
Pope Francis engaged in a Q&A session with his guests.
Asked about the dignity of the human person, especially someone with a mental handicap, the Pope said: "You can be the best sportsman, you can have iron health, but if you have no dignity, you are worth nothing." Dignity is "the condition for living well."
Rich or poor, sick or healthy, the Pope said, dignity is "a way of life before God and others".
“Dignity gives the inner strength that comes from being a child of God and the humility of realizing that you are not the father of God.”
When a young woman asked about the ability to forgive, the Pope stressed that to forgive and to be forgiven is "a return ticket". And since the ability to forgive can take "a whole life", the Holy Father stressed it is important to "walk the paths of forgiveness" with calm and humility until the heart is healed.
On the contrary, the Pope said, hatred and resentment are "bad wealth" which "does not enrich" at all.
In his interaction with the group, the Pope also underscored the importance of Christian witness. It is a matter of living "with the Gospel in the hand and in the heart ", he said, adding that the Church does not grow with proselytism, but through testimony.
When unbelievers see Catholics living the Gospel "style", they will come on their own to ask questions. In this regard, he offered them the figure of Charles de Foucauld, the French priest who was martyred in Algeria in 1916, and who will soon be declared a saint.
Wealth of the Church
A roommate asked, “Why is the Church so rich when there are so many poor people in the world?" Pointing out that the term “Church” is “too generic”, the Pope explained the concept of wealth and poverty.
As a general rule, he explained, "we can say that to the extent that a person belongs to wealth, to money, he moves away from God”. “That is, he has his heart attached there. And the closer he gets to God, the poorer he becomes ".
At the same time, there are also rich people who "manage wealth according to the Gospel" with "a poor heart". But when a pope, bishop, priest or religious is rich, it is a scandal for the Church.
Whoever is called to follow Jesus closely must be far from all wealth and have a poor heart. And if one is called to manage wealth, the Pope said, this must not be for personal good, but for serving others. Citing St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Pope said that poverty is the "mother of life" because it generates generosity, the gift of self to others.
On being asked about the possibility of opening a Lazare centre in the Vatican, Pope Francis said that what is lacking is not space but the courage of the pope.
However, before leaving, the Pope gave them something to think about: "How do we respond to the generosity and love we have received?"