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Pope Francis calls us to be “educated in gentleness”


Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 06/05/23

While participating in an Italian TV program, the Pope spoke about gentleness, a healthy restlessness and more, as he heard guests' life witness.

“Today gentleness is considered as being, excuse my language, ‘stupid,’ whereas gentleness is a great strength,” said Pope Francis on the religious program “A Sua Immagine” (“In His Image”), broadcast on June 4, 2023, on the Italian TV Channel RAI 1.

RAI is Italy’s national public broadcasting company and the program was recorded on May 27 in the channel’s television studios. Apart from his dialogue with young people, broadcast on Disney+ in April 2023, this was the first time the Pope appeared physically in a TV show’s studio, rather than being interviewed from his residence. 

During the hour-long program, hosted by journalist Lorena Bianchetti, Pope Francis spoke about many subjects as he responded to several life witnesses shared on the program. “The media must help people find each other, understand each other, make friends, and send away the little devils who ruin people’s lives. This is positivity: It is not just talking about religion, yes, you can do that, talking about God, yes, but also guarding humanity, humanism,” the Pontiff said at the beginning of the show. 

He acknowledged, however, that he knows little about the world of television. When asked about what his favorite show was during his childhood in Argentina, where he was born in 1936, he said, “I will tell you a secret, when I was young, there was no television yet.” 

The “peacock complex”

The Pope denounced the “peacock complex” infesting today’s society, meaning the cult of appearances, which stands in the way of life’s commitments. “The Lord has been so good to us that he has accustomed us to the sense of gratuitousness and we want everything for free. Gratuity is a very big thing of God, he loves us for free but we have to give our own, […] we have to make an effort, always,” explained Francis, after watching the testimony of Fausto Desalu, an Italian athlete, originally from Nigeria, who won a gold medal with the Italian relay team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

The sprinter thanked the Pope for “inspiring so many people, so many generations.” When the athlete asked him how he was doing, the Argentine Pontiff replied, “everything’s fine, still alive.” The Pontiff had had to cancel his audiences on May 26, on the eve of the program’s recording, after he came down with a fever.  

A moving reunion

As Pope Francis was leaving the Gemelli hospital on April 1, after being treated for a respiratory infection, he hugged Serena and Matteo, the parents of a young girl who died on the night between March 31 and April 1, 2023. They were invited onto the program to speak about the consolation they had received. The Pope recalled that he had seen the little girl “the day before, still alive, but it was known that she was at the end of her life.”

“I thank you so much Pope Francis. Angelica left us that Friday night, it was an immense despair for us. However in your embrace I felt so much peace, as if I was hugging my dad. In that hug I want to say to all the moms who have gone through the same situation as me, don’t feel alone, your babies are always with you,” Serena told the Pontiff, deeply moved. The Pope’s hug “was the world’s greatest consolation for the world’s greatest pain,” Matteo said. 

“I, too, have been accompanied in moments of pain,” replied Francis, who recalled how he almost died at the age of 21 from a lung disease. “In the face of pain, only gestures [count], words are of no use.”

Promoting gentleness and a healthy restlessness

Diana, a 19-year-old student who was bullied at school for being overweight and having a disabled sister, shared her experience of contemplating suicide. The Pope acknowledged that there are some “children who feel the pleasure of torturing,” which can be seen in wars, but also in school life. The Pope emphasized that children need to be educated “with affection, with hugging, embracing them, making them feel that gentleness, love, is stronger than that aggression.”

“Either we choose the way of love and tenderness, this word I want to emphasize, or we choose indifference,” he added. 

“True victory is harmonious, not aggressive, it is gentle,” insisted Francis, inviting us to “be educated in gentleness.”

“What is God’s style? It is three words: closeness, compassion, and tenderness,” insisted the Pope. He acknowledged that in his childhood he had returned the blows received, but he had then evolved and matured, taking criticism as opportunities for self-questioning and personal growth.

Asked about young people’s often fragile mental health, the Pope replied that “restlessness is a grace.”

“One of the first things the Lord does when he approaches us is to make the heart restless. […] The restlessness makes you see there are things other than yourself,” he explained. Francis underlined that he is “afraid of those who have unexcitable hearts […] we don’t know how they will end up.”

The Pontiff also said that young people need to be “educated in limits,” adding that “if you let them grow without limits you are doing them harm. They need the ‘yes’ of love and also the ‘no’ of love.”

The Pope insisted on the importance of parents educating children “gratuitously” by devoting time to them, and without becoming “slaves” to their work.

Father Marco Pozza, a prison chaplain in Padua, northern Italy, and Pope Francis’ close friend, testified to the “look of mercy” or “gesture of gratuitousness” that can help inmates do “things inversely proportional even to the bad they have committed in life.” The Pope insisted on the “harmony of remaking,” despite the sin that broke the harmony of creation. “God recreates,” the Pope emphasized, saying that if humans act with love they can also become “co-creators.”

Devotion: Mary and the Jubilee

After the program showed a report on the Abbey of Montevergine, in southern Italy, the Pope reiterated that his Marian piety comes from his grandmother Rosa. He said she told him that “Mary is the one who brought us Jesus,” and Joseph is “the good man who took care of Jesus.” However, the Pope warned against certain rumors of misleading Marian apparitions, as “when a Marian devotion is centered too much in itself, it does not have that finger [that points to Jesus].”

Finally, Pope Francis recalled that the Jubilee of 2025 has the purpose of promoting people’s closeness with each other and with God. He encourages everyone to “imitate God who forgives, who does not hold grudges within Himself, to learn to pardon.”

A popular program appreciated by Pope Francis

Francis’ participation in this program had been scheduled for March 29, but had to be canceled at the last minute. The Pope had to be rushed to the Gemelli hospital as he had a respiratory infection. 

“A Sua Immagine” is a program that Pope Francis enjoys very much and in fact on March 4 he received the production team at the Vatican. At the time, he confided that he sometimes watches this Sunday lunchtime program before the Angelus he presides over in St. Peter’s Square: “before appearing at the window, I like to watch for a few minutes, and at times I have mentioned some content that has particularly struck me.” Pope Francis, who vowed to not watch television some 30 years ago, seem to make something of an exception for this program.

“A Sua Immagine” was launched in October 1997, after a previous religious program, which had been on RAI’s channel since 1954, ended. It is hosted by journalist Lorena Bianchetti and is usually broadcast in two parts on RAI 1, on Saturdays at 4.05 p.m. (Central European Time) and Sundays at 10.30 a.m. On April 10, 2020, Pope Francis appeared live on the program by telephone, sharing his thoughts on the Covid-19 pandemic, the first wave of which brought Italy to a standstill.

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