By Elise Harris
Pope Francis told a group of nearly 6,000 traveling performers that while their work is demanding and at times unstable, it gives them the ability to bring light to what is an often dark world.
“You are artisans of celebration, of wonder, of the beautiful: with these qualities you enrich the society of the entire world,” the Pope said June 16.
He told the group that with their work, they help to nourish “hope and confidence” through performances “that have the ability to elevate the soul.”
These performances, he said, provide the opportunity to “show the boldness of exercises that are particularly challenging, to fascinate with the wonder of beauty and to offer opportunities for healthy entertainment.”
Francis met with the audience of circus and street performers, moonlit park and fair workers, artists, designers, puppeteers, and members of band and folk groups as part of a special two-day Jubilee for the World of Traveling Shows.
The event was organized by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples in collaboration with the “Migrantes” Foundation of the Italian Bishops Conference, the “Migrantes” office of the diocese of Rome along with various Italian associations.
Participants came on pilgrimage to Rome July 15-16 from all over Europe, the Americas and even Africa. Among wide list of countries represented were France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and Hungary, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Peru, the United States and Kenya.
Complete with live performances and even a baby tiger and panther, the audience took place inside the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
After venturing to the front of the stage to pet the tiger himself, Pope Francis jested with the performers that “you can even scare the Pope, making him pet a tiger…you are powerful!”
He told the performers that since they are constantly on the move, they are able to spread “the love of God, his embrace and his mercy” throughout the world.
“You can be an itinerant Christian community and witnesses of Christ, who is always journeying to meet even those who are farthest away.”
Francis also thanked them for using the Jubilee of Mercy as an opportunity to spread charity, since many have opened their shows to the poor, needy, homeless, prisoners and disadvantaged youth free of charge.
“This is also mercy: to plant beauty and joy in a world at times somber and sad,” he said, and encouraged the performers to “always be welcoming toward the smallest and neediest, to offer words and gestures of consolation to whoever is closed in on themselves.”
Since traveling makes it hard to be a stable part of a parish community, the Pope urged the artists to make their faith a priority, and to take advantage of opportunities to receive the Sacraments and to teach the love of God to those they encounter.
“May you always carry out your work with love and with care, confident that God accompanies you with his providence, generous in works of charity, available to offer the resources and genius of your arts and of your professions,” he said, closing his speech.
Pope Francis has hosted members of the circus and other performers at the Vatican several times since his election as Bishop of Rome, most of whom come to participate in his general audiences.
On Jan. 8, 2014, members of the Golden Circus in Rome gathered in St. Peter’s Square to perform for Francis in his audience, during which he told them that those who put on circus shows “are creators of beauty.”
On Jan. 14 of this year, the Pope offered 2,000 of Rome’s poor, homeless, refugees and prisoners the opportunity to go to a performance at the Rony Roller Circus free of charge.
An initiative of the Office of the Papal Almoner, headed by Bishop Konrad Krajewski, the event was a “gift” offered by circus artists, “who with perseverance, commitment and many sacrifices are able to create and give beauty to themselves and to others,” according to the almoner.
“(It is) an encouragement to overcome the harshness and difficulties of life which many times seem too great and insurmountable,” he said.