By Elise Harris
On Friday afternoon Pope Francis visited two communities of priests in Rome as part of his “Mercy Friday” initiative to spend time with various groups each month during the Jubilee of Mercy.
“This afternoon, continuing the series of ‘Mercy Friday’ jubilee initiatives, Pope Francis decided to turn his attention to priests,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, said in a June 17 communique.
The spokesman noted that after having celebrated a Jubilee for Priests earlier this month as part of the wider Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis wanted to show “his closeness and attention” to those who weren’t able to participate in person.
“Because of this the Pope – untiringly – chose not just one, but two communities of priests,” where he made surprise stops in what turned into “a long and intense afternoon rich with encounters, emotions, spiritual joy, and moments of prayer.”
After leaving the Vatican before 4 p.m. local time, the Pope traveled to the “Monte Tabor” community, which consists of eight priests from different dioceses, “who suffer due to different forms of hardship.”
The priests in the community are accompanied by Deacon Ermes Luparia, a former Air Force colonel who works with the Salvatorian Fathers. Deacon Luparia is president of the Italian Association of Catholic Pyschologists and Psychiatrists.
During his visit to the Monte Tabor house, Pope Francis met with the priests inside the community’s small chapel, where he both listened to them and prayed with them.
He then made his way to the community of elderly priests of the Diocese of Rome, officially called the “Casa San Gaetano,” but known more colloquially as “I cento preti.”
The center is home to 21 elderly priests, some of whom are sick, and who are assisted by three sisters and other staff.
Fr. Lombardi said the director of the house, Fr. Antonio Antonelli, had been a parish priest for many years, but is now very sick himself. The majority of those staying at the house are diocesan priests, though there are also a few religious.
“After having given their lives in service to the Church and to the faithful, now these priests live in retirement, and many don’t remember them,” Fr. Lombardi said.
However, “the Pope, yes,” he observed, adding that with his visit, Francis wanted “to show each of them his concrete and cordial affection, rich in consolation, and he gave yet another powerful example of mercy, attention and gratitude to the entire community of Rome and to the Church.”
Pope Francis’ decision to pop by the communities marks the sixth time he has carried out an act of mercy for his “Mercy Friday” initiative.
In January Francis visited a retirement home for the elderly, sick, and those in a vegetative state, and a month later traveled to a center for recovering drug addicts in Castel Gandolfo.
The Pope’s act of mercy in March took place on Holy Thursday, when he traveled to the CARA welcoming center for refugees at Castelnuovo di Porto, washing the feet of 12 of the guests.
Migrants were also the center of the Pope’s act of mercy in April, when he visited refugees and migrants during a daytrip to the Greek island of LesBos. In May, he traveled to the “Chicco” community for people with serious mental disabilities at Ciampino.