MILAN – Pope Francis focused his one-day visit Saturday to the wealthy northern Italian city of Milan on those marginalized by society, visiting families in a housing project and exhorting clergy and nuns to minister to the peripheries.
The papal itinerary, which also included lunch with inmates at the city’s main prison, underscored Francis’ view that the neglected outskirts of cities offer a better view of reality than their well-tended and prosperous centres.
The pope told thousands of faithful assembled at the housing project that it was important for the Roman Catholic Church “not to remain in the centre to wait, but to go toward everyone, in the peripheries, to go toward also non-Christians and non-believers.”
And later in the heart of Milan at the grand, Gothic-era Duomo Cathedral, he urged priests, nuns and deacons to take their mission to the peripheries “to rekindle hope that has been put out and sapped by a society that has become insensitive to the pain of others.”
“In our fragility as a congregation, we can become more attentive to the many fragilities that surround us and transform them into a blessing,” Francis said.
The visit to the world’s largest Roman Catholic diocese, with more than 5 million faithful, and the home of his main competition in 2013 for the papacy, Cardinal Angelo Scola, marked a resumption of the pope’s regular pastoral visits after a yearlong hiatus because of the Jubilee Year of Mercy commitments in Rome.
Scola greeted the pope at the Duomo, presenting him with a golden chalice and another gift more in line with Francis’ example: He announced the diocese had bought 50 apartments to serve the homeless.
During an intense day, the pope traversed the city multiple times, travelling to say Mass in a park north of Milan attended by one million faithful.
For his final appointment, Francis met with youths who made the sacrament of confirmation this year and their families in Milan’s San Siro Stadium, home to the rival AC Milan and Inter Milan soccer clubs.
Francis maintained his familiar, down-to-earth presence throughout the visit, disappearing briefly into a temporary bathroom while visiting the Forlanini housing project.
Speaking to deacons at the Duomo, he acknowledged that their unique role as men in ordained ministry who can be married gave them “an authoritative voice … of tensions that reside in families,” noting with a wry glance, “You have mothers-in-law.”
And addressing a priest’s question, he emphasized the importance of teaching youths how to discern what is important amid a world in which they “are exposed to a continuous zapping” from computer or phone screens.
During the visit to the housing project, the pope made private visits to three families, one couple in their 50s struggling with the husband’s infirmity, another couple in their 80s dealing with illness and a third family of five originally from Morocco who are teaching Arabic in a program hosted at a local church.
Milhoual Abdel Karim welcomed the pope to the family’s apartment as his eldest daughter held a tray offering traditional treats of dates and milk.
“It is as if we always knew him,” Karim, who arrived in Italy in 1989 and works at a pharmaceutical company, told the Italian Bishop’s Conference TV. “We are very happy. It changed my life.”