2013-11-07 L’Osservatore Romano
Someone wept this morning in St. Peter's Square. He wept as the surreal silence which took hold the square turned into prayer. Pope Francis requested this prayer for a little girl who is about to return home to heaven. “Her name is Noemi,” the Pope said. “This morning I went to see her” and “the poor little one was smiling!”. “Let us offer this act of love for her” even “if we do not know her,” for “she is one of us”. As the faithful prayed for her, Noemi was already returning to her home town in the province of Chieti. It is there that for the last sixteen months, that is since she was born, that she has been waiting for the genetic disease of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA ) to complete its course.
Beside her, only the love of her father Andrea and her mother Tahereh. And since October 14 of this year, when Andrea Sciarretta's phone rang, Pope Francis' love has also been at the foot of her little of pain. And he has never left her alone. He asked his almoner, Archbishop Krajewski, to follow the family closely. Since then there has been frequent contact, most recently when Archbishop Krajewski went to visit them in Abruzzo on the Solemnity of All Saints. The Pope wanted him personally to bring the family his best wishes and to pray with them as though he himself were there.
Then yesterday morning, a distressing phone call came in to the almoner's mobile: “Father, it's Andrea. There's no more time. Noemi is dying ...”. “Come, come now” Archbishop Krajewski replied. “The Pope will certainly receive you”. Time enough to get organized and then, this morning, they journeyed to Rome. At 9am Pope Francis was holding Noemi to himself. He caressed her tenderly, he kissed her deeply moved, he blessed her with the same joy that illumined Noemi's little face. Of course she did not fully realize what was happening, and especially why it was happening to her, but in her eyes could be seen that light which, as her father wrote in a letter sent to the Pope in early October, communicates “courage and the will to live” to all those who look upon her.
At the General Audience the Pope speaks about communion in the Church
Sacraments, charisms and acts of love
The Holy Father asked the faithful to join him in “an act of love for Noemi”, this morning at the General Audience, 6 November, in St Peter's Square. Recalling the dramatic story of a little girl who has been diagnosed with an incurable neurodegenerative disorder, the Pontiff asked the faithful to pray for her and to rediscover that communion “that renders us capable of entering into the joy and sorrow of others to make it sincerely our own”. The following is a translation of the Pope's catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Morning!
Last Wednesday I spoke about the communion of saints, understood as a communion among holy people, that is among us believers. Today I would like to go in depth into the other aspect of this reality: you will remember that there were two aspects: one is communion, unity, among us, and the other aspect is communion in holy things, in spiritual goods. These two aspects are strictly connected to each other, in fact, communion among Christians grows through the sharing of spiritual goods. In particular we will consider: the Sacraments, charisms and charity (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 949-953). We grow in unity, in communion, through: the Sacraments, the charisms given to each of us by the Holy Spirit, and charity.
First of all, the communion of the Sacraments. The Sacraments express and realize an effective and profound communion among us, for in them we encounter Christ Saviour and, through him, our brothers and sisters in faith. Sacraments are not appearances, they are not rituals, but the power of Christ; Jesus Christ is present in the Sacraments. When we celebrate the Eucharist it is the living Jesus that brings us together, makes us into a community, leads us to adore the Father. Each one of us, in fact, through Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist, is incorporated into Christ and united to the entire community of believers. Therefore, if, on the one hand, it is the Church that “makes” the Sacraments, on the other, it is the Sacraments that “make” the Church, that build her up, by generating new children, by gathering the holy people of God, by consolidating their membership.
Every encounter with Christ, who in the Sacraments gives us salvation, invites us to “go forward” and communicate to others the salvation that we were able to see, touch, encounter and receive, and which is truly credible because it is love. In this way, the Sacraments spur us to be missionaries and the Apostolic commitment to carry the Gospel to every setting, including those most hostile, is the most authentic fruit of an assiduous sacramental life, in that it is participating in God's salvific initiative, who desires to bring salvation to all human beings. The grace of the Sacraments nourishes in us a strong and joyful faith, a faith that knows how to wonder at the “marvels” of God and how to resist the idols of the world. That is why it is important to take Communion, it is important that children be baptized early, that they be confirmed, because the Sacraments are the presence of Jesus Christ in us, a presence that helps us. It is important, when we feel we are sinners to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Someone might say: “But I am afraid that the priest will chastise me”. No, the priest will not chastise you. Do you know who you will encounter in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? You will encounter Jesus who pardons you! Jesus is waiting for you there; and this is a Sacrament that makes the whole Church grow.
A second aspect of the communion in holy things is the communion of charisms. The Holy Spirit dispenses to the faithful a multitude of spiritual gifts and graces; this - let us call it - “inventive” wealth of gifts of the Holy Spirit has as its end the edification of the Church. The charisms – that world is a little difficult – are gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us, talents, possibilities.... Gifts given not to be hidden but that they may be shared with others. They are not given for the benefit of the one who receives them, but for the use of the People of God. If a charism, one of these gifts, serves instead as self-affermation, then it is doubtful that we are dealing with an authentic charism or one faithfully lived out. The charisms are special graces, given to some for the good of many others. They are attitudes, inspirations and interior drives, that are born in the consciences and experiences of certain people, who are called to put themselves at the service of the community. In particular, these spiritual gifts further the sanctity of the Church and her mission. We are all called to respect them in us and in others, to receive them as serving the Church's fruitful presence and work. St Paul warns: “Do not quench the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 5:19). Let us not quench the Spirit who gives us these gifts, these abilities, these very beautiful virtues that make the Church grow
What is our attitude to the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Are we aware that the Spirit of God is free to give them to whomsoever he wishes? Do we consider them as a spiritual help, through which the Lord sustains our faith and reinforces our mission in the world?
And we come to the third aspect of communion in holy things, that is, the communion in charity, unity among us creates charity, love. The gentiles, observing the early Christians, said: how they love each other, how they wish one another well! They do not hate, they do not speak against one another. This is the charity, the love of God that the Holy Spirit puts in our hearts. The charisms are important in the life of the Christian community, but they are always a means for growth in charity, in love, which St Paul sets above the charisms (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-13). Without love, in fact, the most extraordinary gifts are in vain; this man heals people, he has that power, this other virtue... but does he have love and charity in his heart? If he does then all is well, but if he does not he is no servant of the Church. Without love no gift or charism could serve the Church, for where there is not love there is emptiness that becomes filled with selfishness. And I ask myself: if we all were egotistical, could we live in communion and peace? No, it's not possible, that is why it is necessary that love unite us. Our smallest gesture of love benefits everyone! Therefore, to live unity in the Church and the communion of charity means not to seek one's own interests but to share the suffering and the joy of one's brothers (cf. 1 Cor 12:26), ready to carry the weight of the poorest and the weakest. This fraternal solidarity is not a figure of speech, a saying, but an integral part of the communion among Christians. If we live it, we are a sign to the world, the “sacrament” of God's love. This is what we are one for the other and what we are for all! It is not just petty love that we can offer one another, but something much more profound: it is a communion that renders us able to enter into the joy and sorrow of others and make then sincerely our own.
Often we are too dry, indifferent, detached and rather than transmitting brotherhood, we transmit bad temper, coldness, selfishness. And with bad temper, coldness and selfishness the Church cannot grow; the Church grows only by the love that comes from the Holy Spirit. The Lord invites us to open ourselves to communion with him, in the Sacraments, in the charisms and in charity, to live our Christian vocation with dignity!
And now let me ask you for an act of charity: relax, it is not a collection! Before coming into the Square I went to see a little girl, a year and half old, who is gravely ill. Her father and mother are praying, and asking the Lord to heal this beautiful little girl. Her name is Noemi. The poor little dear was smiling! Let us perform an act of love. We do not know her, but she is a baptized child, she is one of us, she is a Christian. Let us perform an act of love for her and in silence ask the Lord for his help in this moment and that he give her health. In silence one moment, and then we will pray the “Hail Mary”. And now all together let us pray to Our Lady for the health of Noemi. Hail Mary.... Thank you for this act of charity.
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from England and Wales, Ireland, Denmark, Australia, Japan and the United States. In a special way I greet the priests from England celebrating the anniversaries of their ordination. I also thank the choirs present for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
Lastly, I greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. The month of November, dedicated to the memory of and prayer for the deceased, offers us the opportunity to consider more deeply the mean of earthly life and the value of eternal life. May these days be for your all a stimulus to understanding that life has value if it is spent loving God and neighbour.