On Tuesday 24 September, Pope Francis visited “Cittadella Cielo,” a facility staffed by members of the “Nuovi Orizzonti” community.
Pope Francis paid a surprise visit to “Cittadella Cielo” (Heavenly Citadel), a work of the “Nuovi Orizzonti” community founded by Chiara Amirante. He was accompanied by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation.
When the Pope arrived around 9:40 in the morning, those present welcomed him in the facility’s auditorium. Chiara Amirante spoke briefly, after which a young man and a young woman gave their testimonies. Internationally known opera singer, Andrea Bocelli, was also present with his son. Together, they sang “Follow Me” and described their own connection with the community. Several other young people and adults present explained how their lives had changed and how they encountered the Christian faith through the “Nuovi Orizzonti” community. Some of them asked the Pope questions, as well. This went on until 12:20pm.
In responding to the personal stories that those present recounted to him, the Pope acknowledged that they had not just spoken one word after another. “You told me about your lives,” the Pope said. After having experienced so many types of looks from people, “you experienced one look – one – that was not like any other…. A look that gazed on you with love. He looked on you with love. I know that gaze too,” he said.
The Pope then gave some feedback to a young man named Jefferson saying that following the Lord is made up of “comings and goings.” He reminded his listeners that the Lord was patient with his apostles. “You, with your testimonies, made me feel that the Lord’s gaze is patient: he waits for you and never forces you to go ahead,” he added. The Lord knows that “with His first gaze he entered your heart. He knows that once you have tasted love you can’t go back on it.”
To Elena’s testimony, the Pope responded saying, “you were looking in the mirror, but there was something else you were looking for.” Once she had experienced Jesus’ loving look, that’s when “your story began,” he said. “Or rather, it continued, because the Lord never, never, never teaches us to deny our past,” the Pope added.
Pope Francis acknowledged several other persons who had shared their life stories with him, saying, “What struck me is that you have all given witness about Jesus…. You have been called, looked on, conquered, caressed” by Jesus. He also encouraged those present affirming that “the tendency to sin remains…. But when we have left everything, we know that there is hope only in Him.”
Pope Francis then celebrated Holy Mass during which Andrea Bocelli sang the Communion and Recessional Hymns. At the end of the liturgy, the consecrated members of the Community renewed their commitment at the service of the Church and their Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Pope Francis took his cue from the liturgical reading of the day during his homily at Mass on Tuesday afternoon and encouraged those present to go ahead courageously rebuilding their lives, even although they have suffered great difficulties and defeat.
Reflecting on the reading from the Book of Ezra which tells of the rebuilding of the house of God that had been totally destroyed, the Pope said “it is not an easy thing to rebuild.”
According to the reading, “the Jews managed to do so because the Lord was with them,” he said, noting that “only when the Lord is with us, are we able to reconstruct, because it is more difficult to rebuild than it is to build.
To so many who have seen their lives fall to ruins and are perhaps struggling to pick up the pieces, the Pope said, destructive situations need a change of mentality “because people get used to living in ruins.”
Pope Francis then reflected on how reconstruction is not always convenient for everyone and he recalled how, “a group of merchants, at night destroyed the wall that was built during the day.”
“And in the end what did these people do, those who wanted to build?” he continued: “The Bible says that on one hand they had the bricks and in the other the sword, to defend the building.”
Thus, the Pope explained, the construction of the temple is defended both with work and with the sword, that is: with a struggle.
“The reconstruction of a life is a grace,” he said, “an undeserved grace, but it must be defended, with work and with a struggle, so as not to let the merchants of destruction return to make this life a pile of stones, ruins, bricks.”
Pope Francis recalled that so many times the people of God had to go forward, were defeated, and fell back again, until the arrival of Jesus.
“He too was reduced to ruins on the cross,” he said, but for the power of God.
The Pope concluded reflecting on the fact that the life stories that were told to him today, their witness to the power of reconstruction and redemption must be upheld.
He said they show that we cannot make it alone, but that God is with us and this is the root of our hope.
We are men and women of hope, he said, because Jesus came to rebuild the people of God and to save us.
Encouraging those present always to have the desire to rebuild the temple and to trust in the Lord, the Pope warned against the human desire for self-destruction.
And he prayed the Lord to give us this grace, the desire to rebuild always, never to be discouraged notwithstanding defeats.
“He is greater than defeats. He is the sword that wins. May the Lord help us to understand these things with the heart,” he said.
After eating lunch, the Pope met with the personnel working at the facility and then went outside to plant an olive tree. He then took leave of the community at 4:50pm to return to the Vatican.
Vatican News and Linda Bordoni – Pope at Mass with ‘Nuovi Orizzonti’ Community: God always helps you rebuild your lives
Vatican News and Sr Bernadette Mary Reis fsp – Pope Francis spends the day at “Cittadella Cielo”
With thanks to Vatican News.