By Seàn-Patrick Lovett
Alessandro Gisotti, the ad interim Director of the Vatican Press Office, was beside Pope Francis on Friday when he visited the Juvenile Detention Centre outside Panama City. Speaking to Vatican News, Gisotti describes the visit as a kind of “Mercy Friday”: the discreet gestures the Pope occasionally makes in Rome to groups of marginalised or needy individuals or groups.
A message of mercy
“I had the opportunity to speak to the Holy Father after this very moving and touching visit for all of us, and for the Holy Father too”, says Gisotti, “and he told me that the most important message he wanted to deliver, and to witness to, with this visit was precisely the mercy of God. He told me that he wanted to underline the mercy of God for everyone who needs that mercy, not only these young people who face such a difficult situation. So this was, and this is, the message of this day and this visit”.
What we didn’t see
At first there was to be no video or audio coverage at all of Pope Francis’ visit to the Juvenile Detention Centre. The detainees are minors and, as such, their identities are protected by law. In the end, images of the visit were made available, but the faces of the young people were not.
Gisotti says it was the sight of these faces, the faces of young people deprived of their liberty, that moved him most deeply. He was touched by their smiles, in particular: “Their smiles, when the Holy Father embraced them, were like a wonderful ray of light, a ray of hope. Not only for them, but for me too and for all the people who were there. The Holy Father managed to give them this feeling of being loved by a father”.
Alessandro Gisotti recalls the first World Youth Day he attended in the year 2000, and reflects on how different it is for him to be here in Panama as ad interim Director of the Vatican Press Office today. “This WYD is different because it’s unbelievable to be the Vatican Spokesman”, he says. “Everyone knows this was totally unexpected, this call of duty for me. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time to prepare in the way I would like. But it is unbelievable to be alongside the Holy Father, to see his eyes, his expressions when he listens to the young people, and to understand how important it is for him to be here, even if we know we have another very important journey to the United Arab Emirates in a few days. But the Holy Father wants to show that he is with the People of God”.