(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis Tuesday commenced his visit to the Tuscan cities of Prato and Florence with a call to be ready to journey with Christ, and an appeal against the exploitation of workers.
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“The life of every community demands that we combat the cancer of corruption, the cancer of human and labour exploitation and the poison of illegality,” the Pope said, kicking off his visit to the region to mark the Fifth National Convention of the Italian Catholic Church.
Before meeting with labourers and labour representatives, the Pope venerated the “Girdle of Thomas” housed in Prato’s main cathedral, a relic which legend holds was the cord or belt dropped from Mary during her Assumption into Heaven.
Speaking on the symbolism of this relic, the Pope noted how in scripture the girding of one’s loins means “being ready, prepared to depart, to go out on a journey.”
We are inclined to remain sheltered, the Holy Father continued. However, the Lord calls the Church to “a renewed missionary passion and entrusts to us a great responsibility” to accompany those who have lost their way, to sow hope, and to welcome the wounded.
The “Girdle of Thomas” relic also evokes the image of service, like the Gospel account of Jesus girding his loins and washing the feet of his disciples like a servant, Pope Francis observed.
“We were served by God who became our neighbour, in order to serve in our time those near to us.”
The Pope thanked those present for their continued efforts in integrating everyone into the community, in contrast to the “culture of indifference and waste.”
Speaking off-the-cuff, Pope Francis recalled the five men and two women of Chinese citizenship living in poor conditions in Prato who were killed during an industrial fire. The 2013 blaze broke out at night in a clothing factory as the workers slept in a loft. The Pope described the event as “a tragedy of exploitation and inhuman life conditions.”
The Holy Father concluded his address by encouraging young people to never give in to “pessimism and resignation,” and called everyone to place their confidence in Mary.
“Mary is the one who, with prayer and love, in silent diligence, has transformed the Saturday of disillusion into the dawn of the Resurrection. If anyone feels fatigued and oppressed by life’s circumstances, trust in our mother, who is close and who consoles.”