“I’m a fighter, and while like most of you I’ve known despair and abandonment in this world, which has become more and more pitiless, my crossing of the desert has been for me the occasion to realize—after a blow, of course—the love of God!”
These words of Gabriel Barbier resounded strongly November 12, 2021, in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, Italy. No one would have thought in his youth that Barbier, raised an atheist, would end up saying such things, much less in public, and in front of Pope Francis!
Yet, Barbier was invited to testify in front of the pope and 500 poor people present for the World Day of the Poor. He shared his story, unvarnished and straightforward, with a disarming sincerity. He addressed the pope directly and mentioned the Fratello (“Brother”) organization, which promotes the annual event. His simple words have had a profound resonance with thousands of people since then over the internet.
Here is his testimony:
Dear Pope Francis, dear “Fratello,”
Thank you very much, dear Pope Francis, our guide on this World Day of the Poor. My name is Gabriel and I come from Paris. I’m a member of the APA, the Association for Friendship.
We bear witness to you of our great friendship. You know our weakness and fragility in the face of so many humiliations. May we, the poor in spirit, know how to find our strength in God our Savior!
He is our greatest wealth. “Blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful; blessed are those who thirst for justice, blessed are the pure in heart. Let us always be faithful in joy, in gladness, and in love.” Even if we are ridiculed by the world, even when we are persecuted for the cause of the Kingdom, our reward is great. Thank you, dear Pope Francis, for being our friend, our Fratello!
My dear friends of Fratello, I am a fighter, and while like most of you I have known despair and abandonment by this world, which has become more and more ruthless, my crossing of the desert has been for me the occasion to realize—after a blow of course—the love of God!
I think that it is in situations of great precariousness and abandonment that the Lord, who always is benevolent, calls us to great joy if we know how to hear him, to seek him. For he said, “Seek me with all your heart and I will let myself be found.”
I had a great desire to be baptized at the age of 60—I, who came from an atheist family, and whom Jesus transformed to the point of desiring holiness.
But what I fear is that I will not think of God in moments of temptation and that I will not be able to call upon you, my God.
The grace I ask for myself and for all of us gathered here, and which I dare to ask of you, O most Holy Virgin, is that I always think of invoking you, saying, “O Mary, help me! O Mary, come to my aid!”
My dear Pope Francis, we will also continue to pray for you with all our hearts. Amen.