Answering a seminarian about the "language of gestures," Pope Francis recounts a comforting experience from when he was 21 years old.
Just one verse each day.
In October, the Pope met with priests and seminarians studying in Rome. He was able to answer just a small percentage of the 200 questions they prepared for him, and one of them was on the language of gestures, which led him to give advice for visiting the sick.
A seminarian recounted to him how in learning Italian, he’s learned the importance of gestures. He broadened the reflection to note how Pope Francis is famous for “gestures” of love, or actions that speak sometimes louder than the messages he gives with words.
In formation toward the priesthood we are taught in depth how to speak, how to use words and speech well, how to make a coherent philosophical discourse, how to interpret Scripture, how to give a good sermon in Church. Yet you, Holy Father, have shown us the importance of gestures, of actions, of concrete tenderness, and how powerful gestures are, how eloquent our gestures are.
I see how you embrace those who are suffering, and I would really like to do that too. I see how you kiss the sick, and I would really like to do that too. I see how you touch the needy, and I would really like to do that too. I know that gestures are not learned overnight, and I know that I will never be a priest who preaches by example if I do not learn the language of gestures starting today. How did you learn these gestures of mercy? How can we also come to this in the seminary, how can we learn this very important language?
Learning from life
The Pope’s response was that “life teaches you” gestures. He went on to say that it was personal experience that taught him an important lesson for visiting the sick:
For example, one thing I learned from personal experience is that when you go to visit a sick person, who is feeling bad, you should not talk too much. Take his hand, look him in the eyes, say a few words and stay like that.
In the surgery I underwent where they took out part of my lung when I was 21 years old, all my friends, aunts, everybody came to talk: “Go, go on you will recover soon, you will talk, you will be able to play again….” I liked it, but I got tired of it.
One day the nun who had prepared me for my First Communion, Sister Dolores, good old woman, came and took my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “You are imitating Jesus,” and said nothing more. That consoled me.
Please, when you go to a sick person, don’t fill them with motivation, with promises of the future. The gesture of closeness speaks more with its presence than words.
Remembering with gratitude
The Holy Father has shared the importance of Sister Dolores in his life on more than one occasion.
Recently, he hoped that children would remember their catechists as he remembers her.
The Lord also gave me a very great grace. She was very elderly [when] I was a student… studying abroad, in Germany, and after I finished my studies I returned to Argentina, and the day after, she died.
I was able to accompany her that day. And when I was there, praying before her coffin, I thanked the Lord for the witness of that sister who spent her life almost entirely in giving catechesis, preparing children and youngsters for First Communion. She was named Dolores.
Praise and gratitude
Sister Dolores’ visit isn’t the only vivid memory the Pope has from that surgery. He also has spoken about the nun-nurse who saved his life.
She was a religious nurse: an Italian Dominican sister, who was sent to Greece as a professor, highly educated… But as a nurse, then, she arrived in Argentina. And when I, at the age of twenty, was at the point of dying, she was the one to tell the doctors, even arguing with them, ‘No, this isn’t right, we need to give more.’ And thanks to those things, I survived. I thank her so much! I thank her. And I’d like to say her name here, in your presence: Sister Cornelia Caraglio. A great woman, brave too, to the point of arguing with the doctors. Humble, but sure of what she was doing.