On Tuesday Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to the graves of two 20th century Italian priests, reflecting on charity and education, and calling on adults to form their consciences well, so that they may teach young people to do the same.
Addressing educators, Pope Francis said June 20, “Yours is a mission full of obstacles but also of joys. But above all it is a mission. A mission of love, because you cannot teach without love and without the awareness that what you give is only a right that you recognize, that of learning.”
“This is an appeal to responsibility. An appeal to you, dear young people, but first of all, adults who are called to live the freedom of conscience in a genuine way, as a search for the true, the beautiful and the good, ready to pay the price that this entails.”
The Pope’s June 20 pilgrimage to the small Italian towns of Bozzolo and Bariana took place in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Fr. Lorenzo Milani, who lived from 1923-1967. He also visited the grave of Fr. Primo Mazzollari, who lived from 1890-1959.
Both priests have been wrongly portrayed as “anti-clerical” and their writings have often been misquoted in order to make them appear to dissent from the Church. However, during their lives they always obeyed any restriction the Church placed upon them, and they never preached or taught outside of the Catholic Church.
“There are so many things to be taught,” Pope Francis continued, “but the essential thing is the growth of a free conscience, capable of confronting itself with reality and of orienting itself in (reality) guided by love, by the desire to compromise with others, to take on the weight of their difficulties and wounds, to escape from all selfishness to serve the common good.”
The Pope’s brief visit – only half a day – began with an early morning helicopter flight to Bozzolo, landing at 9:00 a.m. He was welcomed by the Mayor of Bozzolo and the Bishop of Cremona, Antonio Napolioni.
From there the Pope proceeded to the parish of St. Peter to pray at the tomb of Fr. Primo Mazzolari, after which he gave a commemorative speech to the faithful present at the church.
At 10:30 a.m. he left for Barbiana, arriving at the Barbiana church at 11:15a.m. He was welcomed there by Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, Archbishop of Florence and the Mayor of Vicchio, a municipality of Florence.
He then made a private visit to the cemetery of the church to pray at the grave of Fr. Lorenzo Milani. Afterwards, Pope Francis met in the church with still-living disciples of Fr. Milani.
After a short visit to the rectory in the adjacent garden he gave a speech in the presence of around 200 people, including the disciples, priests of the diocese and some children living in family homes in the area. The Pope arrived back at the Vatican around 1:15 p.m.
Fr. Mazzolari believed that a parish priest was called to be a reference point for the community, and also called to work for the re-evangelization of Christianity.
Fr. Lorenzo Milani had a similar approach, which he applied by teaching poor children about the social doctrine of the Church. At a time of increasing communist influence in the region, he declared that “only the Gospel” would be his guide.
“The school, for Fr. Lorenzo, was not something different from his priestly mission, but the concrete way to do that mission, giving it a solid foundation and the capacity to rise up to heaven,” Francis said.
You are witnesses to how a priest has lived out his mission, “with full fidelity to the Gospel and precisely for this, with full fidelity to each of you, whom the Lord had entrusted to him,” the Pope said to former students of Fr. Milani’s schools.
A teaching of Fr. Milani was, he said: “Give to the poor the word, because without the word there is no dignity and therefore no freedom and justice.”
If we teach them the Word of God, this is what will open up the path to full citizenship in society, through work and through full membership in the Church, Francis explained.
This is still true, even in our time, he said. It is only the Word of God that can help us to discern between the many false and confusing messages that we are bombarded with by society. It is also only the Word that can help us to make sense of and express the deep feelings and desires of our hearts and of the lack of justice for many of our brothers and sisters.
“Of that full humanization that we claim for every person on this earth, besides bread, home, work, family, is also the possession of the word as an instrument of freedom and fraternity,” he said.
Speaking to priests, Francis said that Fr. Milani was looking, as his mother said, for the “Absolute,” which he found in “religion and the priestly vocation.”
“Without this thirst for the Absolute you can be good officials of the sacred, but you cannot be priests, true priests, able to become servants of Christ in your brothers,” the Pope said.
“Dear priests, with the grace of God, we seek to be men of faith, a sincere faith, not watered down; and men of charity, pastoral charity toward all those whom the Lord entrusts us as brothers and children.”
“We love the Church, dear brothers, and let us love it, showing it as a caring mother of all, especially of the poorest and most fragile, both in social life and in personal and religious life.”
This is the Church that Fr. Milani has shown the world, he said. A Church with a maternal and thoughtful face, extending to everyone the opportunity to meet God.
This charity was not lacking in Servant of God Fr. Primo Mazzolari either. He himself was a priest who was poor, but not a “poor priest,” the Pope said.
In his spiritual testament, the Pope recounted, Fr. Mazzolari wrote that he always had little money, which always had to go to pay for the necessary things. This was his one regret on this point, he wrote, that he did not have more to give to the poor and his parish works.
However, Fr. Primo lived out a “pastoral charity” in his priestly ministry, Francis said, opening up horizons in the many complex situations he had to face during that time: “wars, totalitarianism, fratricidal clashes, the fatigue of democracy in gestation, the misery of its people.”
The Pope encouraged his fellow priests to follow Fr. Mazzolari’s example by listening to the world and all those who live and work in it: “Take care of every question of feeling and hope, without fear of passing through deserts and shadow areas,” he said.
Fr. Mazzolari had a great love of the poor, Francis continued, saying that charity was a matter of spirituality and of looking. In his book “The Crucified Way of the Poor,” he wrote that “he who has little charity sees few poor; he who has much charity sees many poor; those who have no charity see no one.”
The priest added, however, that “he who knows the poor knows his brother: whoever sees the brother sees Christ, who sees Christ sees life and his true poetry, for charity is the poetry of heaven carried on earth.”