Pope to Italian pilgrimage group: Continue to seek Mary

Pope Francis on Thursday received members of UNITALSI, an Italian charitable organization dedicated to assisting people with illnesses or disabilities to make pilgrimages to Lourdes and other sanctuaries around the world.

By Christopher Wells

Members of UNITALSI (the Italian National Union for the Transport of the Sick to Lourdes and International Sanctuaries) met with Pope Francis in the Paul VI Hall on Thursday, on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the foundation of the group.

Taking part in the audience were not only volunteers but also people with illnesses or disabilities who are assisted by the organization, as well as families, healthcare workers, young people, clergy, and religious associated with the organization.

Gratitude for their valuable service

“Your numerous and varied presence here,” Pope Francis said in his address to the group, “testifies to the beauty of a Church that knows how to accompany, care for others, and proclaim the Gospel in operative charity.”

The Holy Father thanked them for their “valuable service,” and encouraged them not to grow tired in “going against the tide in a world that marginalizes and discards people in the name of well-being and efficiency at all costs.”

The Pope went on to reflect on the symbols of the anniversary logo, a staff and sandals representing pilgrimage, and the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Pilgrimage, he said, is at the centre of their work, and serves as a “balm” for the wounds of people with disabilities or illnesses, the elderly, and the poor who take part in them. In pilgrims, the Pope said, “the face of Christ is reflected, who took our infirmities upon Himself to impregnate them with the power of the Resurrection.”

The experience of pilgrimage, embracing the values of welcome, hospitality, and solidarity, can become of sign of a Church “that walks together,” a Church as a “field hospital.” Pope Francis encouraged the group to always have the “style” of compassion in silence and discretion, “because, in the face of suffering, words must make way for closeness and gestures of tenderness.”

Finally, the Pope encouraged UNITALSI members to always trust in Mary. “Continue to seek her,” he said, “to contemplate her, invoke her, and lay at her feet the labours, the anxieties, and the sorrows that each person bears.”

After thanking them once again, the Pope noted, “In these days leading up to Christmas, the figure of Mary appears even more familiar to us, closer.” And he invited everyone to look to Mary’s example, “to learn to say ‘yes,’ to welcome God’s plans without fear, and to care for the smallest and most defenceless.”