Pope Francis continues to surprise the world with his words and ways that do not quite conform with its expectations.
Last Tuesday, June 20, he made a pilgrimage to northern Italy to honor two parish priests who lived in the middle of the last century and were both censured by the Vatican for their writings.
At Bozzolo, near Cremona, Pope Francis prayed at the tomb of Primo Mazzolari who was an anti-fascist partisan in World War II, then preached for a “church for the poor.” He wrote about the need for the Church to work with and accompany its poor flock, saying a priest’s job is not to demand perfection from the faithful, but to encourage them to do their best. The Church in his time was not happy with his social activism, forbade him to preach outside his diocese without permission, and in 1951 suspended the publication of a magazine he had founded.
From Bozzolo, Pope Francis flew to Barbiana, near Florence, to pray at the tomb of Lorenzo Milani, who founded a school for the poor and workers. He too emphasized social justice in his preaching and the rights of workers, including the right to go on strike. The Vatican censured him for his writings. In 1958, it ordered the retraction of a book Milani had written on his pastoral experiences. Pope Francis said Fr. Milani taught the importance of giving the poor the capacity to speak for themselves, saying, “Without the word, there is no dignity and, therefore, no justice or freedom.”
Earlier last Sunday, Pope Francis spoke once again on his oft-voiced concern for the world’s refugees. Speaking from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square to the crowd of the faithful below, he urged that on United Nations World Day of Refugees on June 20, they pray for all who have lost their lives fleeing war and persecution in their own countries.
He called on all the peoples of the world to reach out and help these refugees. He urged that countries build bridges of welcome and not walls to keep them out. It was an appeal directed at many countries in Europe and even the United States which have been lately been moving to keep out immigrants and refugees from many troubled parts of the world.
In both his pilgrimage to the tombs of two old priests who lived and worked with the poor and his continuing appeal for the refugees fleeing wars, famine, and injustice in their own lands, Pope Francis continues his mission to get more of the word’s nations and leaders – including our own – to feel the needs of the poor and do whatever they can do to help them.