In a visit to a Roman community dedicated to serving the poor and needy, Pope Francis warned of the poverty of a Europe which faces a declining birthrate, hidden forms of euthanasia, and high rates of unemployment.
“Today I speak of Europe,” Pope Francis said. “Europe is tired. We have to help rejuvenate it, to find its roots. It’s true: it has disowned its roots. It’s true. But we need to help it find them.” He was speaking to the St. Egidio community in Rome’s Santa Maria in Trastevere Basilica on Sunday, June 15.
“The treatment of the elderly, as that of children, is an indicator showing the quality of a society,” he said. “When the elderly are discarded, when the elderly are isolated and sometimes closed off without affection, it’s a bad sign!”
The St. Egidio community provides various forms of social outreach to the impoverished, homeless, refugees and immigrants, elderly, disabled, and young people. Their service also consists of inviting people to participate in a deeper life of prayer.
Several members of the St. Egidio community shared their testimony with the Holy Father, explaining how they had been in a difficult situation due to poverty or immigration or disability, when the community reached out to them to offer help and spiritual support.
Pope Francis affirmed their work, noting, “How good it is, rather, that alliance I see between young people and the elderly in which everyone receives and gives.”
“The elderly and their prayers are a richness for St. Egidio,” Francis said. “A people that does not safeguard its elderly, that does not take care of its young people, is a people without a future, a people without hope. Because the youth — the children, the young people — and the elderly carry history forward.” He noted that although young people provide “biological strength” for society, the elderly “give them their memory.”
“When a society loses memory, it’s over,” he lamented. “It’s finished. It’s terrible to see a society, a people, a culture that has lost memory.”
An economic world which holds “the idol of money” at its center rather than “man and woman,” risks becoming a “throw-away culture,” Pope Francis warned. “Children are thrown away: no children,” he said. “Just think of the growth rate of children in Europe: in Italy, Spain, France. The elderly are thrown away with these attitudes, behind which is a hidden euthanasia, a form of euthanasia: uselessness. That which isn’t useful is thrown away. And today the crisis is so great that young people are discarded: when we think of these 75 million young people of 25 years or younger, who are ‘neither-nor’ — neither working, nor studying. Without. It happens today, in this tired Europe, eh?”
The Pope went on to criticize a “speculative economy” which makes the poor “more and more poor, depriving them of the essentials, such as home and work.”
He noted the importance of solidarity — a word which “many want to remove from the dictionary, eh? Because to a certain culture it seems to be a dirty word.”
“Oh no,” he added. “It is a Christian word, solidarity!”
Pope Francis then thanked the St. Egidio community for being a place of welcome and solidarity, not just to local people, but also to immigrants who have arrived after “painful and risk-filled travel.”
The Holy Father extended his thanks to all involved in the work of the community beyond Rome “in other countries of the world. I also encourage them to be friends of God, of the poor, and of peace: whoever lives like this will find blessing in life and will be a blessing for others.”
He stressed the importance of such outreach, particularly in “hectic and sometimes confusing city life.”
“It all starts with prayer,” he said. “Prayer preserves the anonymous man of the city from the temptations which can also affect us: the attention-seeking in which everything revolves around oneself, indifference, victimhood.
“Prayer is the first work of your community, and consists in listening to the Word of God — this bread, the bread that gives us the strength that is there, that keeps us going forward — but also in turning our eyes to him, as in this basilica,” the Pope explained.
The evening then concluded with a brief prayer service, including the reading of a Gospel passage and prayers of intercession.
“Whoever is familiar with the poor wants a different world,” Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, said to Pope Francis. “The poor are the friends that have taught us not to live for ourselves alone. We are the family that sees, where those who serve mingle with those who are served. Trastevere is our center: a place of prayer and welcome each evening.”