Pope Francis celebrates Holy Mass at Rome’s Gemelli University Hospital, thanking the staff for the care he himself has received there, and reflecting on how devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can help care workers be guided in their mission to heal and comfort the sick.
By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis on Friday morning traveled to Rome’s Gemelli Catholic University Hospital to celebrate Holy Mass marking the 60th anniversary of the foundation of its Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, named for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The hospital, and its University campus, dedicated to the memory and vision of Father Agostino Gemelli, is one of the most important and internationally acclaimed care providers in Italy.
The Pope began his homily reflecting on the faculty’s name and on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to whom we dedicate the first Friday of the month.
“As we contemplate the Sacred Heart of Christ, let us be guided by three words: memory passion and comfort,” he said.
To remember, the Pope said, means “to return with the heart.” And what Jesus’ heart shows us is the Lord offering himself: “it is the compendium of his mercy”, and invites us to remember his goodness, which is gratuitous and unconditional, not dependent on our works.
In the midst of the haste and concerns of today’s world, he warned, we are losing the ability to be moved and to feel compassion. This he, continued, is because we are losing this capacity to “return to the heart,” to cherish this memory.
“Without memory we lose our roots, and without roots, we do not grow,” he said inviting everyone to nurture the memory of those who have loved us, cared for us, lifted us up.
The Pope took the occasion to renew his personal “thank you” for the care and affection he received in this hospital and said that “in this time of the pandemic, it is good for us to remember even the most painful times: not to make us sad,” but in order to orient our choices in the light of a very recent past.
Pope Francis went on to elaborate on the concept of memory explaining that “we remember someone or something when it touches our heart, when it is linked to a particular affection or lack of affection.”
“The Heart of Jesus heals our memory because it brings it back to the foundational affection. It roots it on the most solid foundation. It reminds us that, whatever happens to us in life, we are loved.”
We are all children whom the Father loves, he said, brothers and sisters “for whom the Heart of Christ beats,” and every time we go back to that Heart, we find we are “rooted and grounded in charity.”
Thus, the Pope invited all believers to cultivate this memory, which is strengthened when we are face to face with the Lord, “especially when we allow ourselves to be looked at and loved by Him in adoration.”
And he invited us to also cultivate the art of remembrance, amongst each other, treasuring the faces we encounter.
In the hustle and bustle of everyday life we risk letting things pass without leaving a trace he said, urging us to remember the faces, the smiles the good words we have received during the day: “They are memories of love and help our memory to find itself again.”
He underscored the importance of these memories in hospitals for example, of how they can give meaning to a sick person’s day. They help us heal, he said, they are good for the heart, and he called for a “therapy of memory.”
The Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Pope continued, is not a gentle pious devotion, it is dedicated to a heart full of passion, “wounded by love, torn open for us on the cross.”
The Sacred Heart of Jesus, he said, is the icon of the Passion: “it shows us God’s visceral tenderness, his loving passion for us,” and at the same time “it shows us how much suffering our salvation has cost.”
What this reveals, he explained, is that God’s passion is man.
Thus, Pope Francis said, “if we truly want to love God, we must be passionate about man, about every man, especially those who live the condition manifested by the Sacred Heart of Jesus: pain, abandonment, being discarded.”
It is when we serve those who suffer that we find comfort and rejoice in the Heart of Christ, he said.
Quoting the Gospel of John, the Pope said Jesus’ wounded Heart is eloquent: “It speaks without words, because it is mercy in its pure state, love that is wounded and gives life.”
God’s love, he continued, shines through and speaks for itself, not of itself and invites us to ask for the grace to be passionate about he or she who is suffering.
Then he turned to the third word: comfort. It indicates, the Pope said, a strength that does not come from us, but from the one who is with us, Jesus.
It is his Sacred Heart, he continued, that gives us this strength and courage in adversity.
“In this time of pandemic we have discovered ourselves smaller and more fragile,” he said, noting that in spite of so much progress, even in the medical field, there is unmapped land in the field of rare and unknown diseases, so much effort is needed to try to keep up with diseases and treatments, in a health care system that should be for everyone.
“We could become discouraged,” the Pope said: that’s why we need comfort, and that’s what the beating Heart of Jesus gives us.
“The Lord your God is greater than your ills, He takes you by the hand and caresses you. He is your comfort,” he said.
The Pope concluded his homily encouraging the faithful to go forward in the certainty of God’s comfort asking for the grace to be able to console, to help one another, to carry another’s burdens, to make us feel dear to each person who approaches us in need.
This, he said, “also applies to the future of health care, particularly Catholic health care: sharing, supporting one another, moving forward together.”
The University’s gift to the Pope
For the occasion, a gift consisting of essential medicines to be donated to health care facilities in Lebanon, Syria and Sudan, through the Office of Papal Charities, was announced by the Catholic University.
In a greeting before the Mass, Bishop Claudio Giuliodori, the Gemelli University Hospital’s ecclesial assistant, said the gift is a token highlighting the establishment’s mission to form witnesses of God’s merciful love. He renewed the staff’s commitment to be “credible signs of the love of Jesus” that goes forth, to the peripheries, witnessing a Church on a synodal journey and giving life to a real “field hospital”.
At the end of the celebration, Professor Franco Anelli, Rector of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, recalled the commitment of doctors and staff in times of the pandemic and the efforts of the teaching staff not to interrupt their educational mission. Reviewing the 60 years of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, he emphasized how the mission has remained clear and unchanged: “to unite the language of the mind, heart and hands, and place them all at the service of the sick, in whom the image of humanity is reflected.”