Giacomo Zattini, a university student from the northern Italian city of Forlì, had a special encounter with Pope Francis this past September 25. Giacomo is a young activist chosen by the environmental movement Fridays For Future to deliver a “Letter to Adults” to Pope Francis.
Giacomo summarized the meaning of the document for Il Resto del Carlino:
“It’s an invitation to unity, at a historic moment when young people and adults should be on the same side. Indeed, what we should do today for the climate wouldn’t only result in guaranteeing a livable future, but also a healthier and cleaner present.”
The Earth Day association had contacted Pope Francis’ staff to organize a meeting with several associations and groups at the national level that deal with environmental and social issues. Hence the presence of Fridays For Future and Giacomo Zattini. He talked about his experience during an interview published in regional newspaper Forlì Today. “Before meeting someone or taking an exam,” he said, “I always get really nervous. In fact, my palms were sweating. I was nervous out of my mind.”
Unfortunately for his nerves, he had to wait longer than expected, but that wasn’t all bad, as he told the Italian news outlet Il Resto del Carlino: “They ushered us in through a lateral bronze door, then, once up the stairs, we entered the Clementine Hall of the Vatican, really beautiful. The pope was late and they told us to wait in the hallway, but then the ‘hallway’ was a frescoed gallery so beautiful that there are few like it.”
Meeting the pope
Finally, the pope became available. Giacomo told Forlì Today, “When he arrived, it was an intensely emotional moment. Then, when we started talking, I calmed down, because at that moment I was representing a movement that’s doing important things at a global level, involving civil and political society.”
During the audience, the pope impressed Zattini with his approachability and openness. He told reporter Giovanni Petrillo:
You could see that he was happy to see young faces. (…) He greeted us very warmly. Then he spoke with each representative of the associations present. He was very willing to listen and open. I was impressed that a figure so busy and pressed by so many things he has to take into account, was so very available. You could clearly see that he was interested in what each of us was saying, seeking contact with us young people.
Pope Francis, Giacomo explains, “seemed a bit like a grandfather,” although there was at least one thing that distinguished him—he was “surrounded by bodyguards,” the activist comments. “We felt welcomed. It was beautiful. And only after the meeting did I really get it. I’d had the pope in front of me, who is among the few figures who have a global impact on people, not just Catholics.”
Giacomo Zattini’s one-on-one with the pope lasted “about a minute,” while the “public” one with all the activists lasted about 40 minutes. The event was held in the Clementine Hall. The student was struck by the images and words the pope employed:
He took the microphone and gave us a speech during which he pulled out a T-shirt depicting the evolution of man, from Homo Erectus to Homo Habilis, from curved to erect, and then becoming curved again. And he pointed out that today’s man is still “curved,” symbolizing a discrepancy in the process of growth. And he entrusted young people with the task of lifting him up erect again. “Pull him up,” he told us.
Then, the pope made an important observation: “When they tell you that you are the future, don’t believe it: you are the present.”