During his visit to Assisi on the feast day of St Francis, 4 October, one of the first places Pope Francis visited was the “Sala della Spoliazione” – the room is the site where St. Francis stripped himself of his clothes and embraced a life of poverty.
Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi began his address recalling that in this Room the wind of Pentecost blew, in the impressive gesture of Saint Francis’ ‘despoliation’, when the Saint undressed to indicate his renunciation of material goods. The Saint of Assisi who “gave up everything to possess everything, putting himself, like Christ, on the side of the humble and the poor.” He pointed out, moreover, that many of those present, “have no place to sleep, no food and no employment.” “We struggle together for dignity,” said the bishop. He also asked the Pope to “help us to understand how we must despoil ourselves of ourselves, to be free to serve, to be a Church that is concerned with the pain of Christ in the wounds of the poor.”
Pope Francis did not read the address he prepared, choosing to speak off the cuff. He began by pointing out that in recent days the newspapers “fancied” how the Pope would “strip” the Church in Assisi, the habits of the Bishops, the Cardinals, and himself. The Holy Father said that this was a good occasion to invite the Church to strip herself of worldliness. However, all of us are the Church, beginning with the baptized. “We must all go on Jesus’ path, who followed the path of despoliation of himself,” recalling that Jesus made himself slave, servant, he let himself be humiliated to the Cross, he added. The Pope reminded those present that “if we want to be Christians there is no other way.” He also warned about the danger of being “pastry shop” Christians, nice cakes but with no real substance.
“What must the Church strip herself of? Pope Francis stressed emphatically the danger of worldliness, “a very grave danger that threatens the whole Church,” a worldliness that leads to vanity, arrogance, pride. “This is an idol, and idolatry is the strongest sin,” he noted. Once again he said that all of us are the Church and that it “is sad to meet a worldly Christian.” As he has already stated on other occasions, the Holy Father warned that one cannot work for both sides: either one serves God or one serves money.”
Concluding his visit, Francis addressed those present: the poor assisted by Caritas. He said that many of them have been “stripped by this savage world that doesn’t give work, doesn’t help and is not concerned if people die of hunger, who flee seeking freedom, with so much sorrow we see that they meet with death, as yesterday in Lampedusa. Today is a day of mourning. These things are done by the spirit of the world.
The strength of God is what pushed Saint Francis to strip himself and I invited you all to pray for the grace to have the courage to strip yourself of this worldliness that is the cancer of society.”