(Naples 2015-03-21) Pope Francis celebrated the Eucharist in Naples on Saturday morning. Tens of thousands of people packed into Piazza del Plebiscito, a main square of the southern Italian city, for the open-air Mass. Large tapestries of local saints decorated the square.

During his homily, the Pope called on the city’s residents to embrace the Words of Jesus and to work together for “redemption for Naples.” He also called to conversion all those who lead criminal and corrupt lives.

“Dear Neapolitans, do not allow hope to be stolen from you,” he said. “Do not give in to the lure of easy money or dishonest income. React firmly to organizations that exploit and corrupt the young, the poor and the weak, with the cynical drug trade and other crimes. May corruption and delinquency do not disfigure the face of this beautiful city.”

“To criminals and all their accomplices, the Church repeats: convert to love and justice! Allow yourselves to find the mercy of God! With the grace of God, who forgives all, it is possible to return to an honest life,” he said. Below is the Vatican Radio translation of the Pope’s complete homily:

The Gospel we have heard presents us with a scene set in the Temple of Jerusalem, at the height of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, after which Jesus proclaimed a great prophecy revealing himself as the source of “living water,” that is, the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 7:37-39). Then the people, very impressed by him, began to speak about Him – even today, people speak about him. Some were excited and said, "He is really the prophet" (v. 40). Someone even affirmed, "This man is the Christ!" (v. 41). But others were opposed because, they said, the Messiah does not come from Galilee, but from the seed of David, Bethlehem; and so, without knowing it, they confirmed the identity of Jesus.

The chief priests had sent officers to arrest him, as occurs in dictatorships, but they return empty-handed and say, "No man ever spoke like that!" (v. 45). Here is the voice of truth that resonates in those simple men.

The Word of the Lord, yesterday like today, always causes a division–the word of God always divides–between those who welcome it and those who reject it. Sometimes, it sparks an interior conflict in our hearts; this happens when we perceive the attractiveness, beauty and truth of Jesus' words, but at the same time we reject them because they are challenging, they put us in difficulty, and cost us too much to observe.

Today I came to Naples to proclaim together with you: Jesus is Lord! I do not want to say it alone. I want to hear you say it. (Jesus is Lord!) Once again. (Jesus is Lord!) Nobody speaks like him! He alone has the words of mercy that can heal the wounds of our heart. He alone has the words of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:68).

The Word of Christ is powerful: it does not have the power of the world, but that of God, which is strong in humility, even in weakness. Its power is that of love—that is the power of the Word of God—a love that knows no bounds, a love that makes us love others before ourselves. The Word of Jesus, the Holy Gospel, teaches that true blesseds are the poor in spirit, the non-violent, the meek, those who work for peace and justice. This is the force that changes the world! This is the Word that gives strength and that can change the world. There is no other way to change the world.

The Word of Christ wants to reach everyone, especially those who live in the peripheries of existence, that they may find in him the centre of their lives and the source of hope. And we, who have had the grace to receive this Word of Life—it is a grace to receive the Word of God—we are called to go, to step out of our fences and, with missionary zeal, to bring to everyone the mercy, tenderness and friendship of God. This work belongs to everyone but in a special way to you, priests: bring mercy, forgiveness, peace, joy, in the sacraments, in listening, so that the people of God can find in you merciful men, like Jesus.

At the same time, each parish and each ecclesial reality must become a sanctuary for those seeking God and a welcoming home for the poor, the elderly and those in need. To go and to welcome: this is how the heart of Mother Church, and the heart of all her children, beats. Go, welcome. Go, seek. Go, bring love, mercy and tenderness.

When hearts open to the Gospel, the world begins to change and humanity rises again! If we welcome, and live every day, the Word of Jesus, we rise with him.

This Lent, as we walk towards Easter, this message echoes in the Church: that in all the people of God is rekindled the hope of rising with Christ, our Saviour. May the grace of this Easter not come in vain for the people of God in this city! May the grace of the Resurrection be welcomed by each of you, so that Naples is full of the hope of Christ, the Lord! Hope, open to hope. I say to everyone, especially to you young people: open yourselves to the power of the Risen Jesus and you will bear the fruits of new life in this city—the fruits of sharing, reconciliation, service, brotherhood. Allow yourselves to be enveloped, embraced by his mercy, by the mercy of Jesus that only Jesus can bring.

Dear Neapolitans, be open to hope and do not allow hope to be stolen from you! Do not give in to the lure of easy money or dishonest income. This may be bread for today but hunger for tomorrow. It cannot bring you anything. React firmly to organizations that exploit and corrupt the young, the poor and the weak, with the cynical drug trade and other crimes. Do not allow hope to be stolen from you. Do not allow your youth to be exploited by these people.

May corruption and delinquency not disfigure the face of this beautiful city! Moreover, may it not disfigure the joy of your Neapolitan hearts. To criminals and all their accomplices, today as a brother, I repeat: convert to love and justice! Allow yourselves to find the mercy of God! Know that Jesus is looking for you to embrace you, to love you more. With the grace of God, who forgives all, it is possible to return to an honest life. Even the tears of the mothers of Naples, mixed with those of Mary, the heavenly Mother invoked in Piedigrotta and in many churches of Naples, ask this of you. These tears melt the hardness of hearts and lead all back on the path of goodness.

Today, spring begins, and spring brings hope. It is a time of hope. And it is time for redemption for Naples: this is my wish and my prayer for a city that has so much spiritual, cultural and human potential, and above all a great capacity to love. The authorities, institutions, various social realities and citizens, united and in accord, can build a better future. The future of Naples is not to be resigned and to fold in on itself—this is not your future—but the future of Naples is to open itself up with trust to the world. In the mercy of Christ, who makes all things new, this city can find the strength to go forward with hope, strength for so many lives, so many families and communities. To hope is already to resist evil. To hope is to see the world through the eyes and heart of God. To hope is to bet on the mercy of God, who is Father and always forgives and forgives everything.

God, the source of our joy and the reason for our hope, lives in our cities. God lives in Naples. God lives in Naples. May his grace and his blessing sustain you on your journey in faith, in charity and in hope, your good intentions and your plans for moral and social redemption. We have altogether proclaimed Jesus as Lord. I would like everyone to repeat it again, three times. (Jesus is Lord! Jesus is Lord! Jesus is Lord!) And may Mary accompany you!

Meeting with clergy and religious

Pope Francis spoke of the ‘terrorism of gossip’ as the biggest sign of the devils work in a meeting with priests, religious and seminarians at Naples Cathedral Saturday.

The Gothic ‘Duomo’ – home to the much revered relic of St. Januarius patron Saint of Naples - was the setting for Pope Francis’ first appointment of the afternoon.

He was welcomed by Cardinal Crescenzio Seppe, the Archbishop of Naples and then surrounded by an enthusiastic group of cloistered nuns who had been given special permission to attend the encounter.

The spontaneity of the cloistered set the tone for a convivial meeting, so much so, that in what has become a classic move, Pope Francis began saying "I prepared a speech, but speeches are boring” before launching into a forty minute off-the-cuff reflection on priestly and religious life.

Pope Francis reminded the priests, religious, seminarians and deacons present to put Jesus at the center of their life and not personal problems with their bishop, other priests or members of their community. He said “If the center of your life is someone you have a problem with, you'll have no joy” and when there's no joy in life of priest or nun, ‘people can smell it’.

To seminarians, he said “If Jesus isn't center of your life, postpone ordination”, while he urged religious men and women to nurture a deep relationship with Mary saying “if you don't know the Mother, you won't know Son”.

Pope Francis also spoke of the danger of attachment to worldly goods. He said when priests or nuns are attached to money, they unconsciously prefer people with money. Here, in a humorous aside, the Pope told the story of one nun so attached to money that when she fainted someone suggested putting 100 pesos under her nose to wake her up. Instead, ordained and consecrated must always have a preferential option for the poor.

Pope Francis also tested those present asking how many could remember the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Too many of us can't, he said. He spoke of a convent that remodeled and put TVs in every room, which hindered community life.

“Community life isn't easy” Pope Francis admitted. Often because “the devil sows jealously” which is revealed in the ‘terrorism of gossip’, that can destroy others. This, he stated “is the greatest sign of the devil's work”.

But all of these dangers can be avoided by three simple things, Pope Francis concluded: Adoration, love of the Church and apostolic zeal. Warning that the Church isn't an NGO, Pope Francis said "I leave you with three things: adore Jesus, love the Church, be a missionary”.

The encounter concluded with the veneration of the relics of St. Januarius, a vile of dried blood which each March 19th on the Feast of the great patron is moved, liquefies and visibly flows again. It has become inseparable in popular imagination with good fortune.

As the Pope kissed the reliquary, cardinal Sepe announced the blood of St Januarius "is already halfway liquefied". To which Pope Francis calmly responded if the blood only half liquefied it means the Saint thinks we're only half converted. "We must keep going."

Following his encounter with the clergy and religious of Naples, Pope Francis held a closed door encounter with the sick and disabled in the Jesuit Church in Naples.

Pope to detainees: God never abandons his children

Following the celebration of Mass with thousands of faithful at Plebiscito Square, Pope Francis made his way to the Giuseppe Salvia Detention Center of Poggioreale in Naples.

The Pope was welcomed to the center by Antonio Fullone, director of the Detention Center and it’s chaplain, Fr. Franco Esposito.

The highlight of the visit came as he shared lunch with 120 inmates of the prison. His 12 table guests included an Argentinean and the overseer of the prison, some of whom were given the opportunity to ask the Holy Father a few questions.

For his part, the Holy Father addressed the detainees, expressing his happiness at being able to visit them.

He spoke at length with them and engaged in a spontaneous "off-the.cuff" conversation.

In his prepared remarks that were handed to those present, the Pope said he came to bring them “the love of Jesus” who came to the world save everyone.

“At times you may feel disappointed, discouraged, abandoned by all, but God does not forget his children, He never abandons them!” he said. “He is always at our side, especially in times of trial; He is a Father who is "rich in mercy", who always turns towards us his serene and benevolent gaze, always waiting for us with open arms.”

The Holy Father went on to encourage the prisoners, saying that no matter what mistakes they committed in life, the Lord never tires of showing them the path that leads to Him and that “not even jail bars” can separate them from God’s love.

“The only thing that can separate us from Him is our sin, but if we recognize Him and confess with sincere repentance, that very sin becomes the place of encounter with Him, because He is mercy” he said.

Acknowledging the many letters he receives from prisoners around the world, the Pope sympathized with them and the undignified conditions many find themselves in.

However, he also praised the work of the directors, chaplains, educators and pastoral workers who remain close to them. He also called for the development of a positive experience in prison life so that, once freed, detainees can contribute to both society and the Church.

Concluding his remarks, Pope Francis called on the prisoners to live every day in God’s presence. “Even in the midst of so many problems, even serious ones, let us not lose our hope in the infinite mercy of God and in His providence,” he said.

Pope Francis in Naples: Meeting with youth

Pope Francis denounced a hidden euthanasia of elderly telling thousands of young people gathered on Naples waterfront that family affection is the best medicine for the elderly, solitude their worst poison.

Some 100 thousand young people gathered on Naples waterfront in what was Pope Francis’ last appointment on his busy one day pastoral visit to the southern Italian Campania region.

Greeted to cheers shouted in the local dialect on arriving on the stage the Pope took the microphone to encourage the crowd to shout the name of Jesus and proclaim their faith in Him and not that of the Pope.

Then in what has become the Pope’s preferred form of encounter, people were invited to pose questions for him to answer. As he responded to the first question on how to recognize God in today’s world, he apologized for reaming seated, confessing his tiredness after a hectic day.

“Our God is a God of words, gestures and silences”, he replied pointing to the parable of the Good Shepherd. He is a God who knows us better then we know ourselves, who speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. But God can’t speak to us if we are not silent, if we do not silently gaze at the Crucifix. We can draw near to the silence of God by contemplating Christ crucified abandoned.

God did create us to be happy, but that does not mean that everything in life will be perfect if we believe in Him. The Pope said one of the great silences of God regards why do children suffer. We can't always understand the silence of God, so "we have to get closer to Christ on the cross”.

The second question, posed by an elderly women, was about the integration of the elderly into society today so they are not left alone or abandoned.

In his response Pope Francis roundly condemned the throw away culture of today with discards not only the elderly but also children and the unborn, which considers children useless and the affection of a cat or dog preferable.

He also clearly condemned a society which sees euthanasia as a solution to the ills of old age. However, not just ‘technical euthanasia’ administered with an injection, the Pope also spoke of a ‘hidden euthanasia’, when old people are denied medicine, food, the affection of their family. Solitude, said Pope Francis is the great poison of the old. And he urged all present with elderly parents to examine their conscience, and think of when was the last time they phoned or visited them.

The Third question regarded ideological attacks on family, to which Pope Francis replied "The family is in crisis. It's true. But it's not new. He said marriage and family life isn't like learning a language – eight lessons and you're fluent. It takes time. And must be well prepared. Above all he concluded it requires the witness of married couples, who can teach young people how to face and resolve problems together.

Taking his leave of the crowds as the sun set over the Bay of Naples, the Pope said that youth and elderly must remain united. The youth have the strength. The elderly have the memory and the wisdom.

“Today is the first day of Spring. Pray for young people. For their future. For hope”.