According to Italian media reports, a seven-year-old boy from the southern Italian parish of St. Nicholas of Bari in Mendicino, in the Calabrian city of Cosenza, was distressed over the poor health of his aunt. So he decided to send a letter to the Vatican asking Pope Francis to pray for her.
And then, a few days before Christmas, the pope personally called the home of the little boy to comfort him and assure the boy of his prayers.
The boy’s mother answered the phone. After the initial shock and stammering at realizing who was on the other end of the line, the mother explained that her son wasn’t home. According to reports, the pope spent 15 minutes talking with her.
The news was made known at Holy Mass on Christmas Eve by Don Enzo Gabrieli, the parish priest of St. Nicholas of Bari. The parents, who wish to remain anonymous, described the conversation as “warm and familiar,” saying the pope “was asking about them as though he were one of the family.”
“It was the most beautiful Christmas gift we have ever received, and it came at a time of trial,” the boys’ parents said.
On Monday, Aleteia spoke with Don Gabrieli. He said, “It was a gift for the community. The pope continues to surprise us with his simplicity and closeness. The great kindness of the family was to want to share the news with the community. The Calabrese people share their joys and sorrows with one another. They live in community as a family. Even though they wished to remain anonymous, they wanted to share with the community the joy of the gift they received.”
Don Gabrieli added: “The pope is teaching us what is important, even us priests, i.e., staying close to those who are suffering and sick, going out to the least ones.”
Asked if he’s spoken with the little boy, Don Gabrieli responded, “I spoke with the whole family before the Mass, when the told me about what had happened.
“All three of them — the mother, the father and the little boy — are so happy, even though they are going through a time of suffering over the illness of their relative,” he said. “Now they are experiencing it as a cross but also as a consolation, as the pope’s caress for them.”
He added: “The beautiful thing the family confided to the community was they felt the pope was truly interested in them.
“Oftentimes we’re in a hurry when we call others. But they felt the pope was truly interested in them. At that moment, they were at the center of his attention. This is what really struck them. He was asking about them; they felt he really wanted to know how they were doing. In short, they felt he was thinking of them.”
How is the pope’s gesture being interpreted at the beginning of the Year of Mercy? “It was a caress for them, but also for the community, for the faithful who were there for Christmas Mass,” Don Gabrieli said. “We are a small town, on the periphery of Calabria. The pope isn’t distant. This was the perception. It was truly a gift.”
Indeed, as the boy’s parents told their parish priest, the pope’s call to their home was “a gift too great” to keep to themselves.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.