Pope Francis blesses a disabled person during his visit at the Serafico Institute in Assisi, Italy.

CNS PHOTO | GIAN MATTEO CROCCHIONI, POOL VIA REUTERS

Pope Francis blesses a disabled person during his visit at the Serafico Institute in Assisi, Italy.

October 14, 2013
FRANCIS ROCCA
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

ASSISI, ITALY – Making his first pilgrimage as pope to the birthplace of his papal namesake, Pope Francis called on the whole Church to imitate St. Francis of Assisi, embracing poverty and stripping itself of the "spirit of world."

"A Christian cannot coexist with the spirit of the world," he said. Worldliness "leads us to vanity, arrogance, pride. And this is an idol, it is not of God."

The pope spoke Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis, in the "stripping room" of the Assisi archbishop's residence, where the saint shed himself of his rich clothes and embraced a life of poverty.

STRIP YOURSELF

"This is a good occasion for inviting the Church to strip itself," the pope said.

He directed his invitation not merely to the hierarchy but all the Church's members, and said he sought renunciation of spiritual complacency as well as material riches.

"It is so sad to find a worldly Christian, who thinks he enjoys the security of the faith and of the world. One can't have it both ways."

The pope was accompanied to Assisi by the eight-member Council of Cardinals he has appointed to advise him on governance of the universal Church and reform of the Vatican bureaucracy.

Pope Francis' talk in the archbishop's residence, one of six addresses he delivered during his day-long visit to Assisi, was to a group of poor people receiving assistance from local Catholic charities, whom he later joined for lunch.

"Many of you have been stripped by this savage world, which doesn't provide work, which doesn't help, to which it makes no difference that children die of hunger," he said.

The pope set aside his prepared remarks and spoke entirely off the cuff.

He did the same thing earlier, when he addressed a group of disabled children and young people and their caregivers at a Church-run rehabilitation centre.

Pope Francis spent about 45 minutes personally greeting the young patients, many of whom were confined to wheelchairs. Throughout his visit, the room resounded with their cries and moans.

"We are among the wounds of Jesus," the pope said. "Jesus is hidden in these kids, in these children, in these people. On the altar we adore the flesh of Jesus, in them we find the wounds of Jesus."

The pope noted that Jesus' body after the resurrection was unblemished except for the five wounds he had received during his crucifixion.

"He wanted to preserve only the wounds, and he took them with him into heaven," the pope said. "We treat the wounds of Jesus here and he, in heaven, shows us his wounds and tells all of us, all of us: 'I am waiting for you.'"

In his homily, the pope disputed what he characterized as popular misconceptions of St. Francis and his legacy.

"Many people, when they think of St. Francis, think of peace," he said. "Very few people, however, go deeper.

The peace which Francis received, experienced and lived "is the peace of Christ, which is born of the greatest love of all, the love of the cross."