ASSISI, Italy — It was clear from the moment that Pope Francis began his first visit to the town of Assisi that he would use personal, intimate gestures to send a strong message to the world at large.
Shortly after dawn Friday, at the Serafico Institute, a religious charitable institution in Assisi, Italy, that treats seriously disabled children, the pope stopped to greet every child in the institute’s chapel — there were more than 100 in all — kissing some, bending an ear to a whispered greeting, making the sign of the cross on the foreheads of those unable to speak.
Later, in the room where St. Francis famously stripped off his clothes to dedicate his life to Christ, living in poverty, the pope used similar warm gestures addressing a group of poor people challenged “by this savage world, that doesn’t give work, doesn’t help, doesn’t care if there are children in the world who are dying of hunger.”
“It is very moving to be in Assisi on the Feast Day of St. Francis with Pope Francis; there is great expectation and joy in the church,” said Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, one of eight advisers who were in Assisi on Friday.
The cardinal accompanied the pope to his visit at the Serafico Institute for children.
“The Holy Father wanted to present to people in their moment of need, to show the merciful face of God in a moment when they are suffering,” the cardinal said.
“That’s why his presence is so important. It challenges us to love more deeply.”