VATICAN CITY — In the eyes of the world it would appear “absurd” to begin helping the poor and struggling for justice by spending time in adoration before the Eucharist, Pope Francis said, but that is precisely what an Italy-based religious order has been doing for 100 years.
“In the face of immense needs and with almost no resources at their disposal, what sense did it have to tell the sisters to get on their knees in adoration and reparation,” the pope said Aug. 25 as he joined a celebration of the centenary of the Sister Disciples of Jesus in the Eucharist.
But the practice worked, Pope Francis told the sisters and their collaborators at the meeting in the Vatican audience hall.
The prayers and adoration of the early members of the congregation “generated a contagious force, which soon led them to undertake and promote works of material, cultural and spiritual redemption far exceeding all expectations,” he said.
Amid the extreme poverty of Tricarico in Italy’s southern Basilicata region after World War I and during a major flu epidemic, the sisters “awakened the faith and commitment of families and parish communities,” founded schools and helped restore dignity to people “too often and too long oppressed by inhumane living conditions and by the contempt and indifference of the surrounding world, which saw in them nothing but rejects of society.”
“They unleashed a different ‘war’ — the one against poverty, against injustice — and they spread a different epidemic — that of love,” Pope Francis said.
“The Lord continues to call you to go where they did,” he told the sisters, who now minister throughout Italy and in Mexico, Brazil, Rwanda, Mozambique, the Philippines, Indonesia, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.
Those ministries, he said, hold “no shortage of challenges,” which is why it is essential they continue to start by “pausing before Jesus in the Eucharist, bread broken and master washing the disciples’ feet.”
Pope Francis asked the sisters to spend time on their knees before the tabernacle and, like Jesus, have their “arms always open to your brothers and sisters.”