Pope Francis has revealed that he always carries a Sacred Heart medal given to him by a woman who helped his mother with household chores while he was growing up.
The Pope made his comments in an interview which was published in Argentinian magazine Viva, a supplement of Sunday newspaper Clarin.
The Sicilian lady, who has since passed away, came to the family home three times a week and helped Francis’s mother wash clothes by hand, he said.
“She was a Sicilian lady who had emigrated to Argentina with two sons, as a widow, after her husband died. She arrived with just the clothes on her back, but she worked and kept a home together,” said the Pope who showed the medal to the interviewer.
“I was around ten years old, but my parents moved and I didn’t see her again. Lots of time passed, and one day she came up to San Miguel (in Argentina where the then-Jorge Bergoglio was serving as master of novices in a seminary) to see me.
“Afterwards, I lost touch with her again, but I always prayed for the chance to see her again, because, as she washed, she would reach us a lot: she would talk about the War, about the crops they would grow in Sicily. She was bright as a button, kept a careful rein on her money, and never let herself be ripped off, she had lots of good qualities. And she would talk to me, in her half-Italian, half-Spanish.”
The Pope said he was able to track down the woman when she was around 80 and stayed in touch with her until her death.
“A few days before she died she took off this medal and said: ‘I want you to take this with you’. And every night when I take it off I kiss it, and every morning when I put it on, the image of this woman appears to me,” he said.
“She was an anonymous woman, no one knew her, but she was called Concepción María Minuto. She died happy, with a smile, with the dignity of someone who worked. And that’s why I’ve always conserved a lot of tenderness for women who help around the house, or domestic employees, who need access to every social right, like anyone else. It’s a job like any other, and they shouldn’t be the object of exploitation or mistreatment. What I said for them a month ago, wasn’t in the original Angelus, it came from the heart.”
Pope Francis also offered 10 tips for happiness, including spending Sunday with the family, taking care of nature, not speaking ill of others and respecting those who think differently.
He discussed the importance of engaging in leisure activities: reading, art, playing with children. He said when he was in Buenos Aires, he would often ask young mothers how often they play with their children. “It was an unexpected question,” he continued. “It is hard. The parents go to work and come back when the children are asleep.”
When asked by the interviewer about the possibility of winning a Nobel Prize, Pope Francis said he had thought about it and added that the pursuit of awards and doctorates were not part of his agenda.
Speaking about young people, the Pontiff said that they must be helped to find work, noting lack of opportunities can lead to people falling into drug use, or even lead to suicide.
“I read the other day, but I do not telegraph it as a scientific fact, that there were 75 million young people under the age of 25 unemployed,” he said. The Pope suggested the youth could be trained to do skilled jobs, which would give them the opportunity to “bring home the bacon.”
He also spoke to the newspaper about ongoing conflicts around the world (“We must shout out for peace. Peace sometimes gives the idea of quietness, but it is not quiet, it is always an active peace”) and environmental issues.
“When, for example, you want to make use of a mining method that extracts more than other methods, but it contaminates the water, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “And so they go on contaminating nature. I think it’s a question that we do not face: humanity, in the indiscriminate use and tyranny over nature, is it committing suicide?”
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