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Pope Francis gives catechesis in garage of Roman condominium

For his third appointment of the ‘School of Prayer’ preparing for the 2025 Jubilee, Pope Francis meets an unsuspecting group of about 30 families in a Roman condominium garage from a parish in the city’s western outskirts, and acknowledges that while fighting is normal, to try to make amends.

By Salvatore Cernuzio

This time the venue was not a parish hall or theater, but rather a condominium garage with a gravel floor, brick walls, trees and ivy all around, with shutters hiding parked cars and residents peering from balconies.

At the center was an armchair, in front of which sat about thirty families, couples with children, young people, and parishioners from the nearby Church of St. Bridget of Sweden, some of whom arrived after the meeting had already started, wearing slippers or house clothes.

Among them, was a lady who rushed down the stairs trying to fix her hair. “Oh my God, what a surprise, you could have told me earlier!”

And thus, he were had an entirely new setting for the third session of the “School of Prayer,” a series of meetings by the Pope in Rome during the Year of Prayer in preparation for the 2025 Jubilee Year.

Families after children and teenagers

After meeting children and teenagers at the other ‘School of Prayer’ encounters, this afternoon, 6 June, Pope Francis wanted to meet families in the Palmarola neighborhood in Rome’s Borgata Ottavia area, in the extreme western outskirts of the city.

There were new parents, grandparents, the parish youth group, infants and children with pacifiers, a group of women from Senegal, an Orthodox man, and the district president.

In short, to welcome him was a diverse humanity that was informed at the last minute of this special hour of afternoon catechism.

Pope Francis surprises Romans at third encounter of 'School of Prayer'

Pope Francis surprises Romans at third encounter of ‘School of Prayer’

The arrival and surprise

The Fiat 500L made its entrance around 5 PM on the ramp of a building on Via Palmarola, with walls still under construction. There was an initial silence, a few wide-eyed glances, and some smartphones ready to capture the scene, as Pope Francis greeted: “Good evening, everyone,” followed by applause and the usual “Viva il Papa!”

The journey through the crowd was brief, marked by handing out candies, some quick selfies, and a lady stepping forward to ask, “Would you perhaps say a prayer for my mother?” to which the Pope blessed her.

Seated in the armchair, the Pope then introduced a Q&A session with the attendees.

First, he looked amused at the unusual setting: “The wall… the plants… the tomatoes…,” then greeted the group before him: “You are families, young people, less young, elderly, always the family.”

Pope Francis surprises Romans at third encounter of 'School of Prayer'

Pope Francis surprises Romans at third encounter of ‘School of Prayer’

Not discouraged by “storms”

The Pope spoke about family, its challenges and difficulties, its beauties and potentials for the Church and society, both in what he jokingly called a “sermon” and in the subsequent 45-minute Q&A session.

“Let’s defend the family, which is essential for raising children,” he said, as he acknowledged a certain inevitability of arguments, discussions, and sometimes separations, which he called “storms,” that shouldn’t discourage.

“If parents argue, it’s normal, but they should make peace before the end of the day because the cold war the next day is terrible,” he repeated several times, emphasizing the three key words, so simple yet, as he has repeated throughout his pontificate, so essential for making a relationship work: “Sorry, please, and… thank you.”

Even the simplest thanks makes a difference, the Pope noted.

“Thank you for cooking this good dinner…” And when words fail, he invited those listening to offer a small gesture to rediscover peace and start fresh the next day.

“The children are watching us”

These small daily steps are especially important for children.

“The children are watching us,” the Pope said, quoting the 1944 film by Vittorio De Sica, and reminded that as they watch their parents, they suffer when they are not getting along.

The Pope recommended that separated parents not speak ill of each other but educate their children about respect.

The mandate to young people: carry forward the history

Four young people from the parish then asked the Pope how to increase faith today.

Pope Francis surprises Romans at third encounter of 'School of Prayer'

Pope Francis surprises Romans at third encounter of ‘School of Prayer’

“The only way is through testimony,” he replied, as he gave young people a precise mandate.

“You have the responsibility to carry forward the history,” he said, which requires never remaining down when you fall.

“One of the beautiful things about young people,” he suggested, “is that they get back up. We all fall in life, but the important thing is not to stay down if you slip.”

“A father who leads…”

One man expressed the desire to have a larger church in that area to serve as a meeting point for all the neighborhood residents.

There was also talk of the Church as a community of people, not just places of worship, which are much less present in this part of Rome than in other areas of the city.

A lady, who warned “I might cry,” expressed her gratitude to the Pope.

“From the World Children’s Day, from your speeches, what reaches us is a father who leads a large community in small things, in true things. Seeing you here in front of a brick wall is the most moving thing,” she said, adding, “Tomorrow we are having the parish festival, it always rains inside, we don’t even have asphalt, but it doesn’t matter, we’ll do it anyway.

“And your presence here,” she continued, “makes us feel that you are part of our community.”

Pope Francis at third encounter of 'School of Prayer'

Pope Francis at third encounter of ‘School of Prayer’

The elderly, wisdom. The children, a promise

Amid laughter and applause, Pope Francis connected with this last point: “The Church begins to take shape in the community.”

He once again appealed not to neglect the elderly and to take care of the children.

“A parish where children are not heard and the elderly are ignored,” he insisted, “is not a true Christian community. Don’t forget, the elderly are the memory and the children the promise.”

“Don’t forget the elderly who are the memory of God’s people,” the Pope reaffirmed.

“It’s true that the elderly sometimes, rather we, are boring. Always talking about the same things: the war, etc… but we have a great tenderness,” he said, adding that “children understand the language of tenderness.”

Loving each other as family

Speaking of children, two fathers, one of twins, asked the Pope how to maintain faith in these difficult times and how to raise children close to the Church, even after Confirmation, “the sacrament of farewell.”

“Testimony” is again the answer. Primarily the one born in the family: “The first advice is to love each other as parents,” said the Pope, “because children need to feel that mom and dad love each other. If you have to argue, don’t do it in front of the kids, send them to bed and argue as much as you want.”

Pope Francis holds third encounter of 'School of Prayer' with an un-suspecting group

Pope Francis holds third encounter of ‘School of Prayer’ with an un-suspecting group

Educating with freedom

Equally fundamental is dialogue with your children. “Never stop talking to them. Education happens through dialogue,” without “ever leaving them alone,” without scandalizing or pressuring them, but also eventually leaving them free, he said, suggesting this is the best approach.

“Make them understand that they can talk about everything. About everything,” the Pope emphasized.

“Life’s lessons are learned at home,” he reminded, “not from others who may teach who knows what.”

Greetings and gifts

The meeting ended with the Pope greeting everyone present, distributing hugs and rosaries, agreeing to various photo requests, and even conversing with “Grandma Maria” via Skype on her grandson’s phone.

“Hello, pray for me!” Pope Francis told her.

As a gift to these families, the Pope left a picture of the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus, for them “to keep it in the building,” as a tangible memory of a meeting that none of the residents could have ever imagined.

Pope Francis surprises Romans at third encounter of 'School of Prayer'

Pope Francis surprises Romans at third encounter of ‘School of Prayer’

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