Posted On 2014-11-30 In Jubilee 2014

Looking back on Rome: Pope Francis and unexpected encounters

JUBILEE 2014 ROME, Sarah-Leah Pimentel. A couple of weeks ago, I shared some thoughts on our Jubilee celebrations in Schoenstatt and how all of the special moments for me were moments of encounter – encounter with others and encounters with the Blessed Mother.

But the encounters weren’t over. Rome became the next fertile ground for the grace of encounter. The greatest encounter, of course, was the audience with Pope Francis on 25 October. But the grace of encounter was present in many of the places that the Schoenstatt pilgrims visited in Rome.

Schoenstatt…wherever you went

Although I have been to Rome before, I have never seen so many Schoenstatt scarves and flags throughout the city, wherever you went. Complete strangers greeted each other, simply because someone spotted a Schoenstatt flag or scarf at Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Maria in Trastevere or in St. Peters Square.

One night a group of South Africans was having dinner at a restaurant near the Trevi Fountain. Nobody in the group was wearing Schoenstatt symbols. At the table next to us was a group of young people. It seemed a strange group, because some spoke Spanish and some spoke Brazilian Portuguese. I told the group at the table with me that I thought they were a Schoenstatt group. I’m not sure they really believed me. As the group of young people got up to leave, one of them said in Spanish: “See you at the audience.” Then it was clear, they were Schoenstatt. So we greeted them saying: “Viva Schoenstatt.” What fun it was to see their faces light up to realize that they’d been sitting all night next to members of their Schoenstatt family without knowing.

The audience – an encounter between a father and his family

If it had appeared incredible that 12,000 Schoenstatt members gathered in the Pilgrim Arena on 18 October to renew the covenant of love for the next century, it was even more incredible to see the long line of pilgrims early on the morning of 25 October. So many people had come to Rome. To meet with the Holy Father. But this meeting was so much than that. It was an encounter between a father and his family.

Already early in the morning, there was a long line of people singing Schoenstatt songs in their own languages and waving their national flags. The line went on and on as it wound its way around the outside of St. Peters Square. As the groups made their way into the hall for the audience, it soon became clear that there would not be space for everyone. A long line of people was still waiting to pass the security checks, but hall was already packed to capacity.

As Francis entered the Hall, the crowds were overjoyed to finally meet this Holy Father whose message echoes Schoenstatt’s mission to go out to the very edges of society taking the graces of our Blessed Mother to the people of our times. Francis also looked completely delighted to meet his Schoenstatt children, taking his time to make his way to the front of the hall, stopping often to greet someone who had caught his eye. This was a family that had come home for a reunion. An encounter of hearts.

As soon as Pope Francis began to speak, he did something else that made many feel even more at home with him. He spoke in his native Spanish. At least seventy percent of the crowd were native Spanish speakers, so it really felt like he was a dad speaking with his family. He was completely relaxed, so much so that he barely glanced at his pre-prepared text, and just spoke from the heart, regularly making use of very typical expressions from his native Buenos Aires porteño slang.

Francis spoke our language

Truly he spoke our language, not just because he was speaking Spanish. But everything Pope Francis said was a reminder of Schoenstatt’s mission of the last 100 years, and an encouragement for increased fervour over the next 100 years.

He spoke about the mission of accompanying those we meet along the way, of forming personal relationships that “allow consciences to mature, to heal, to teach.” He highlighted the importance of perseverance, loyalty and life-long commitment to family life. The family is the first place where the covenant of love is lived, and Schoenstatt’s 100 years of covenant history stands as a sign of endurance and as a gift to share with a culture where love and commitment to family are often only temporary.

Pope Francis pointed to the central focus of Schoenstatt’s spirituality – our relationship with the Blessed Mother. He recognized that “we have a mother” and she is the “one who continuously gives us life.” We are, therefore, called to be a sign that the people of God are not “orphans” by sharing our Mother with the Church and society.

He highlighted Schoenstatt’s youthfulness — echoing the words of the Founding Document where Mary promises to “draw youthful hearts” to herself — which has the “audacity” to “go out in mission,” to “set out on the road” that is the journey of our lives and to follow the path wherever it goes, even if we make mistakes along the way. The mistakes, says Francis, are necessary in order for us to be able to “humble ourselves” and “ask for forgiveness.” This humility enables the “renewal of the heart,” which in turn enables the “renewal of the church.”

There was so much more that he said, as he playfully shared his vision for a church that goes out and told about how he has an MTA picture on his bedside table and that he greets her each morning as he wakes up.

But perhaps the most important message that the Schoenstatt Family received from this beautiful encounter with Pope Francis was a vision of our covenant mission for the next 100 years, a mission that unites us to the heart of the Holy Father and the heart of Church: “A culture of encounter is a covenant culture. And this creates solidarity. Ecclesial solidarity.”

Into the newest times

Indeed, all the encounters that we had in Schoenstatt and Rome were a preparation for our way into the newest times — to create a culture of encounter, a culture of covenant solidarity. An encounter between church and society.

Complete text of Pope Francis` message to Schoenstatt
Soon as worksheet (pdf), book and E-Book (Editorial Nueva Patris, Chile in collaboration with schoenstatt.org)

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