Pope Francis dialogues with society's marginalized in special broadcast
During a Sunday evening broadcast by Italy’s Mediaset network, Pope Francis addressed various themes on modern-day issues, including violence, poverty, the consequences of the pandemic, and the lives of those in prison. The discussion over these grave problems in society was recorded by Mediaset at the Casa Santa Marta residence. The dialogue and conversation took place with four people described as the "invisible ones" of society, those often forgotten and marginalized, facing great difficulties and life challenges. Italian journalist, Fabio Marchese Ragona, who covers the Vatican for Mediaset coordinated the encounter which included a mother by the name of Giovanna, who lost her job and struggles with violence in her family; Maria, a homeless woman; Maristella, an 18-year-old scout whose youthful joy has been lost due to the pandemic; and Pierdonato who served 25 years in prison.
Giovanna asked the Pope how to regain her dignity given the violence she has suffered at the hands of her husband. The Pope lamented the abuse of women, recalling "the great number of women who are beaten, abused at home, even by their husbands,” and describing the violence as almost “satanic.” Violence and abuse at home such as this, he said, "is humiliating, very humiliating. It is humiliating when a father or a mother slaps a child in the face, it is very humiliating. I always say, never slap a child in the face. How come? Because dignity is reflected in the face. This is the word that I would like to focus on because behind it is your question: does dignity remain in me? What is my dignity after all this, what is the dignity of beaten and abused women? An image comes to my mind as I enter the Basilica on the right, the Blessed Mother's piety, Our Lady humiliated in front of her naked son, crucified, seen as a wrongdoer in the eyes of all. This total humiliation witnessed by the mother who raised him. But she did not lose her dignity and looking at this image in difficult moments like your own of humiliation and where you feel you are losing your dignity, looking at that image will give strength.... Look at the Blessed Mother and stay with that image of courage."
The culture of indifference
Maria asked Pope Francis why society is so cruel to the poor, and he responded saying, "You speak of cruelty, and this is society's hardest slap in the face for you, when someone else's problem is ignored... We are entering a culture of indifference where we try to distance ourselves from the real problems, the suffering caused by homelessness, the lack of jobs. On the contrary, the problems have increased with this pandemic because those who offer money on loan are knocking at the door: usurers. A poor person, a person in need, falls into the hands of usurers and loses everything, because they do not forgive. This is cruelty on top of cruelty, I say this to draw people's attention not to be naive; usury is not a way out of the problem, usury brings you new problems." The Pope then asked Maria if she gives a helping hand to others who are worse off. And after Maria's affirmative response, he added, "When you are suffering, you understand the depth of someone’s pain. Always try to look right into the face of these problems because there will be someone else who is worse off than you who needs your gaze, which will help them go forward."
God is close to those in prison
Pierdonato asked the Pope if there is hope for those who desire change. Pope Francis responded citing the Bible, "hope never disappoints." He added, "There is an opera that I like very much, but it says the opposite: in Turandot, on the subject of hope, it says that hope always disappoints. Instead, I say to you: hope never disappoints. God is there, not up in orbit, but right next to you, because God's way is closeness, compassion and tenderness... God is with each one of those in prison, with any person who goes through difficulty.... You may not say it, but you know in your heart that you are forgiven and you have the hope that does not disappoint... That's why I can tell you one thing: God always forgives, God always forgives.... Our strength is in the hope of this close, compassionate, and tender God, tender as a mother. He says this himself, and that's why you have that hope. Thank you for your testimony."
The need for face-to-face contact
Maristella touched on the issue of how the Covid pandemic has weighed on young people and asked how to create a healthy relationship made up of contact with people and our experiences. The Pope said, "In the lockdown you missed contact with your friends, with your family because you couldn't go out and maybe school was closed. We need this contact, face-to-face contact, but there can be a temptation to isolate ourselves in other ways, for example, getting in touch by cellphone only, cellphone friendships, with a lack of concrete dialogue. You have learned from this situation that concrete dialogue cannot be made up for with online dialogue, and that there is more to it than that." Speaking on compulsive use of smartphones by children, the Pope added: "If you want to use the phone, use it, but may this not eliminate contact with people, direct contact, contact of going together to school, going for a walk, going together to have coffee, real contact and not virtual. If we do away with real contact, we will also end up ‘liquid or gaseous’, without any consistency, always online and the online person lacks tenderness."
Crisis, conflict, and hope
Giovanna took the floor again, and after telling her own story about having lost everything because of the pandemic, she asked how it is possible to still have hope. "Covid has put us all in a crisis,” the Pope replied, “One way out of the crisis is to become bitter, and a bitterness that can lead to suicide. The number of suicides has increased so much with the crisis.... The crisis is ongoing, the conflict can close in on you where you do not see an exit from it, with your own struggle. I see that you are struggling to come out better from the crisis, you have not given up and this is great. You are giving an example of resistance, a lesson of resistance to calamities... You make a wager for life and for the life of your parents you move forward. You don't know where, because you have no home and no job, you don't know what to do. But you're looking ahead, you're coming out better than before, but not alone. This is important: that you look for someone, for people to accompany you."
A heart open to the poor
Maria then asked what can be done to open people's hearts to the poor. Pope Francis responded, "When you look into the face of a poor person, your heart changes because it has arrived at the 'sacrament of the poor,' let's say 'sacramental'... because the gaze of a poor person changes you. This throwaway culture is not only with the poor, with people who have needs: how often we see in a family where the elderly are marginalized, grandparents are ‘discarded’... when automatically at a certain age you look for a retirement home to move them somewhere...this shows a ruthless side...you send away something we don’t like. And this can happen even at the beginning of life: how many times a child arrives and this is seen as a problem...And so society, when it gets sick, begins to discard the poor. But we have to struggle against this reality."
Overcrowding in prisons
Pierdonato asked how to heal the wounds of inmates left even more alone in these times of pandemic. Pope Francis explained, "The pandemic does this, it leaves you alone.... And then the problem of prison overcrowding: overcrowding is a certainly a barrier, and it is not human! Any conviction for a crime committed must have a window of hope. A prison without a window is no good, it's a wall. A cell without a window is no good. Not necessarily a physical window, but an existential window, a spiritual window. To be able to say: 'I know I will get out, I know I could do this or that'. This is why the Church is against the death penalty, because in death there is no window, there is no hope, a life is closed. There is hope on the other side but inside here there is none. This is why the prison must have a window." The Pope then recounted the experience of a non-believing prisoner who worked with wood. A visitor advised him to read the Gospel. "He received the Gospel, began to read some of it. The prisoner said 'in my heart something happened, that wall I had in front of me fell down, it opened up' and because he was a good wood worker he made this (Pope Francis showed them the wooden sculpture made by the prisoner). He told me: 'This is my experience since I met Jesus.' This was made by a prisoner who saw that with Jesus the wall came down and there was a window of life."
A relationship with God put to the test
Mariastella then asked how at her age she can have a relationship with God and maintain it. The Pope replied, "During the lockdown everything is a trial, even the relationship with God...the relationship with God is not a linear thing that always goes well, our relationship with God has crises like any loving relationship in a family...I am afraid of preachers who want to heal a life in crisis only with words, words, words. A life in crisis is healed with closeness, compassion, tenderness. God's way. This is what the Gospel gives you. To some it will seem a bit strange, but what if you said to me 'Father, is getting angry with God a sin? To say, 'Lord I don't understand you...' This is a way of praying! So many times we get angry with dad, with mom. Children get angry with their parents because they are asking for more attention. Don't be afraid if you get angry with God, you must have the freedom of a child before God. When you get angry with mom and dad it is not good, but you know that mom and dad love you; you get angry with God because this or that is not right, but you know that He loves you and He is not afraid, because He is dad and He knows how we can react, we who are all children before God. You must have the courage to tell the Lord all the feelings that come to you. A Gospel in hand and a heart at peace."
Pope Francis’ Christmas greetings
Concluding the broadcast, Pope Francis addressed viewers directly, asking, “What do you think about Christmas? That I must go out and buy this, that, and the other.... Okay, but what is Christmas? Is it a tree? A statue of a baby with a woman and a man next to it? Yes, it's Jesus, it's the birth of Jesus, stop for a moment and think of Christmas as a message of peace. I wish you a Christmas with Jesus, a real Christmas. Does this mean we can't eat? That we can't have a celebration? No, have a celebration, eat everything, but do it with Jesus, that is, with peace in your heart. And to all of you who are listening to me, I wish you a Merry Christmas. Celebrate, give gifts, but don't forget Jesus. Christmas is Jesus who comes, Jesus who comes to touch your heart, Jesus who comes to touch your family, who comes to you, to your home, to your heart, to your life. It is easy to live with Jesus, he is very respectful, but don't forget that. I wish everyone a blessed and holy Christmas. And please pray for me!"