A crowd of seven thousand young people from 84 countries met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday, November 6, to share “their hopes and concerns about the future”. Among them were also 54 giffoners and a Giffoni delegation consisting of Giffoni founder Claudio Gubitosi, President Pietro Rinaldi, Head of Institutional Relations Davide Russo, Administration Manager Vincenzo Barletta, Francesca Somma from the Administration Department, Rita Esposito from the Communications Department and Nevia Claudia Gubitosi and husband Vincenzo Forte.
The event “Children Meet the Pope”, which was held in the Paul VI Audience Hall, was coupled with the release of “The Children’s Encyclical”, a book written by Father Enzo Fortunato and Aldo Cagnoli, with a preface by the Pope himself, who wrote “Dear children, I embrace you, and you remember that your Pope and ‘grandfather’ will do everything so that you can live in a more beautiful and good world“.
The meeting was sponsored by the Dicastery for Culture and Education and organized in synergy with Comunità di Sant’Egidio, Cooperativa Auxilium, Trenitalia and Busitalia (part of the Italian FS Group), Regional School Offices and with the support of the Franciscan community, the PerugiAssisi Foundation and the Italian Football Federation.
“In the face of a society where everyone is at war with one another, where there are oppositions, walls and exclusions, a World Children’s Day is a sign of a different world, a world where there is room for everyone, where peace and fraternity exist“, said Father Enzo Fortunato, among the organizers of the event. “Children demand peace, respect and listening. It is the duty of the adult world to start taking them seriously“.
The songs, the ovation cheers, the applause could be heard even outside the Paul VI Audience Hall already an hour and a half before pope Francis’ arrival. Bursts of genuine cheer, the kind of cheer that only the little ones are capable of, almost compensated for the sound of other explosions, those of missiles and bombs, that at this “dark hour” of history are disrupting some parts of the world.
“War broke out all over the world. Not only in Palestine: it broke out in South Africa, it broke out in Congo, it broke out in Myanmar, it broke out all over the world. These are hidden wars. We are experiencing a bad war, which is taking away our peace and taking away lives. We have to work for peace. All of us”, the Pope told the approximately 7,500 boys and girls who gathered at the Vatican.
Coming from Vietnam, Italy, Benin, the Pacific islands, Haiti, and of course from wounded territories such as Palestine (“which is suffering so much”), Syria and Ukraine, the groups arrived with flags, backpacks and caps at dawn on Monday, November 6. They were welcomed by an unusual spring day, then quickly queued up and went through security checks. Waving their drawings and banners with messages like “Thank you, Pope Francis“, “Guide us“, or simply “Peace” on a rainbow background, they took their seats, occupying the entire Paul VI Audience Hall.
No chair was left vacant, but no one remained seated throughout the entire time of preparations for the Pope’s entrance, as it was preceded by the music of the Orchestra della Pace and the songs of the Piccolo Coro dell’Antoniano, performing among others “Bello il mondo” and “Le tagliatelle di Nonna Pina”. When from the stage the young audience was asked to observe a few minutes of silence for their peers who are “prisoners of war and hunger”, only the buzz of cameras and the clicks of photographers could be heard.
Warming up the atmosphere even more was the presence of the well-known Italian singer Mr.Rain, a leading star of the 2023 Sanremo Festival, who walked down the long aisle of the Hall, stopping to greet and take some photos with ill children. The entrance of the Pope was accompanied by his hit Supereroi, in its Italian and Spanish versions.
Arriving earlier than expected, pope Francis made a surprise entrance from the back of the Hall to also walk down the aisle and enjoy the crowd bath. With open arms he greeted, blessed, collected gifts, kissed babies. On the stage, where a huge balloon in the shape of a globe stood out, he was greeted by a group of 7- to 10-year-olds: Pamela from Syria; Seraphim from Ukraine; Alessio from Benin; Alejandro from Guatemala; and Tomas from Australia, a small delegation of the many children who “are suffering from climate disasters, war and poverty,” Francis said, “Let us not forget them!”.
“The visit to Pope Francis was one of the most emotional moments of my life and another important chapter in the story of Giffoni”, said Claudio Gubitosi. “Among the over 6,000 little boys and girls from all over the world who gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican were these 54 giffoners from the Vassi school complex of Giffoni’s Don Milani-Linguiti Comprehensive Institute wearing the festival t-shirts together with their teachers. The participation of children from Vassi made me particularly happy as that is where I was born. I’d like to thank the school principal Daniela Ruffolo and the teachers who accompanied the students. I’d also like to thank Father Enzo Fortunato for this amazing opportunity and the affection he gave us. Together with my daughter, I had the privilege of greeting pope Francis and sharing a few insights about our great festival with him. The giffoners came back home happy, thrilled and excited“.
Surrounded by white banners with the word Peace in many languages, the Pope then signed white caps and accepted the gifts that were presented to him in wooden baskets: soft toys, dolls, toys, drawings, seedlings.