VATICAN CITY - Dive into the world's problems with courage
and help people turn their lives of desolation into abundance
and hope, Pope Francis said.
"You must take life as it comes. It's like being the goalie
in soccer - grab the ball wherever they kick it," he told
people gathered in a Rome park for an Earth Day event.
"We must not be afraid of life, afraid of conflict," he said
April 24, because it is only by confronting challenges
head-on and together that they can be solved.
Making a surprise late afternoon visit to Rome's Villa
Borghese park, the pope spoke to more than 3,000 people
attending a four-day event sponsored by the Focolare Movement
and Earth Day Italy.
In conjunction with the celebration of Earth Day April 22,
the Focolare Movement tried to create a "village" in the park
in the center of Rome to promote ways for people to live
together in friendship and solidarity and with respect for
After listening to some of the speakers talk about their
experiences helping others, Pope Francis said their work was
a "miracle" in which they helped transform "deserts into
The arid, lifeless world of the desert can be found "in all
of our hearts," in cities, on the margins of society and even
in exclusive, gated communities - "it's terrible, the desert
is there, too," he said.
"But we must not be afraid to go into the desert in order to
transform it into a forest," bringing about abundant life,
even if it is a bit "messy."
"But that's the way life is," he said.
The only way to understand the world's problems - and feel
compassion - is to get close to those in need, the pope said.
"It's a risk, but it is also an opportunity, for me and for
the person I draw near to."
Helping others must be "free" without expecting anything in
return, he said. The Christian sense of "gratuity" is not to
be forgotten "in this world where it seems if you don't pay,
you can't live."
Instead of people being the focus of the economy and the
world, "they have been driven out and we have a beautiful
god, the god of money at the center" of it all, he said.
Pope Francis praised the Focolare Movement's work in Italy to
help people who are addicted to gaming machines. "In Buenos
Aires, I saw elderly women who would go to the bank to cash
their pension check and then immediately go to the casino,"
He asked that everyone complete "an assignment" as they
return home: to notice people's faces as they walk down the
Some people will look withdrawn or worried, he said. They are
missing "a smile, tenderness" because they lack a kind of
friendship or fellowship among people in the community.
Creating a remedy for the lack of fellowship requires the
generosity, respect and courage to come together, to work out
problems and to forgive, he said, no matter what people's
background or religion is. "We all have something in common;
we are all human."