Fr. Pepe di Paola, one of the priests who ministered in the “villas miserias”, Buenos Aires’ slums, talks about Pope Francis ahead of the Rimini Meeting tomorrow
“There is complete continuity in Cardinal Bergoglio’s approach as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and the approach he takes now that he is called Francis…” Fr. Pepe di Paola has just arrived in the Italian city of Rimini, where he will be taking part in the Rimini Meeting round table tomorrow at 11:15 CET, in auditorium D5. The Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America Guzmán Carriquiry and Stefano Alberto, Professor of Theology at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, will also be participating.
“With the “Lumen Fidei” at the suburbs of existence” is the title of Rimini Meeting 2013, dedicated to the new Pope. José Maria di Paola, or Fr. Pepe as Argentineans call him, has been a priest for thirty years and has spent much of this time in one of Buenos Aires’ villas miserias (the city’s slums, Ed.)
“In my speech I will try to explain what Francis did as archbishop and about the continuity he has shown as Pope,” the priest said in an exclusive statement to Vatican Insider. “Nothing has changed in his attitude, relationship with people or approach and this is not part of some marketing strategy: it is a way of living the Catholic faith that we are familiar with from his day in Buenos Aires,” he said.
“He always encouraged us to go into the geographical and existential peripheries, but he did not just send us into the villas, he shared this experience with us. He accompanied people and priests. He was close to us. This is why the only people who are not at all shocked at Pope Francis’ actions are the poor people from the villas and former drug addicts. Bergoglio stood by their side more than he was close to any intellectual or academic circles. I can testify to the fact that those who lived in the villas felt that the archbishop was integrated in the daily life of the communities,” Fr. Pepe said.
One of the key elements which marked Bergoglio’s Episcopacy in the Argentinean capital – with many Argentinean priests following in his footsteps – is the ease with which the Sacraments were administered, especially baptism. Long catecheses and preparation processes are avoided, in an attempt to follow up on the lives of Catholic individuals and families after baptism. “Bergoglio has always strongly believed in the power of mercy. This mercy is granted through the sacraments. He has also always believed more in the power of mercy than in the importance of an adequate educational and catechetical preparation for the sacraments. The Church should encourage and facilitate people’s faith,” the priest said.
“I can testify to the beauty of so many cases of young people who felt welcome, found their faith and came out of their drug abyss because they felt loved by a Church that knew how to be close to them,” the priest added.