Pope Francis made a pastoral visit to one of the many Roman parishes that he serves as Bishop of Rome on Sunday, a practice which Blessed John Paul II engaged in on a regular basis. Francis, however, chose the parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the Praetorian Barracks, which is known as a parish with a membership which is very poor, with a number of homeless people and migrant workers on its rolls. The Pope said an evening Mass and met with members of the parish, some of whom make their only home at a large train station nearby.
“Initially (Pope Francis) said, ‘I don’t want to go to a church in the center of Rome, but on the outskirts,’” Fr. Valerio Baresi, the Salesian pastor of Sacred Heart, told Catholic News Agency yesterday. “Then he realized we, because we are in the center of Rome – we’re across from Termini station – that we live in the reality of an existential periphery, because here there are numerous poor people, looking to survive near the station.” Termini Station, the main train station in Rome, in a country and continent that rely on train travel, is near Sacred Heart, and many homeless people sleep there.
Sacred Heart parish offers outreach to the migrants, refugees, and iterates that arrive in the neighborhood, often by rail, and youth from the parish go to the station to feed the homeless there each week. “It’s not just that we give them something to eat: above all, we create relationships,” Father Baresi pointed out. “It’s beautiful to see the young refugees together with the young Italians - mutual enrichment, one learning from the other, one teaching the other.”
Pope Francis preached to the congregation at Sacred Heart that Christ "takes away many sins with love. He is full of love, close to the small, close to the poor: he was there among the people.”
“Maybe we have torment in the heart, darkness in the heart, maybe one feels sad for a sin… but (Jesus) came to take on all the sins … this is the salvation of Jesus. Jesus came to bring peace in the world, but first in the heart,” the Pope said, “e must grow in faith in Jesus. Jesus never deludes, never, eh? Never – listen well, you young people who are starting life: Jesus never deludes!”
“I invite you to do something. Close your eyes. Let us imagine this scene. We arrive at the river. There is John the Baptist, and Jesus passes by. We hear the voice of John the Baptist, ‘behold the lamb of God’, and now we hear the voice of Jesus in each one of us, in the silence of our hearts,” reflected the Pontiff.