Happy birthday Francis!

mobile 2Today, 17 December 2014, on the occasion of the birthday of Pope Francis, we dedicate a short article to him which reflects in an even better way the style of this man and the quality of the faith of the Bishop of Rome.


   In Friday 12 December of this year, in Borgo Vittorio (Rome), a neighbourhood near to the Vatican, there was the launch of the book by Don Renzo Zocca entitled ‘PAPA FRANCESCO ON THE ROAD. DON RENZO ZOCCA UN INCONTRO SULLE STRADE DELLA CARITA’ (‘Pope Francis on the Road, Don Renzo Zocca a Meeting on the Roads of Charity’. The meeting was introduced and chaired by the Camillian religious Fr. Augusto Chendi.

     Do you remember the white Renault of Pope Francis? The photographs appeared on the day of the great vigil for peace in Syria, a year ago, on 7 September 2013. It was a Renault 4 made in 1984 and its number plate was Verona 779684. Behind that useful car of the 1980s there was a story of charity that had travelled 300,000 kilometres. That car belonged to Don Renzo Zocca, today the parish priest of Santa Lucia di Pescantina in Verona. It was in a garage, a little squashed. This priest of Verona had had it tested and then registered as an antique car.

Don Renzo, aged 71, has a past as a priest of the outskirts. He founded the Ancora cooperative which gives work and help to very many people. He was the priest of the working-class neighbourhood of Saval in Verona. With that 800cc and 30 horse-power car, with four gear levers placed next to the steering wheel and seats similar to deckchairs, Don Renzo had begun to go up and down the neighbourhood, going outside the parish: to school camps, the summer oratory, the help centres, Val D’Aosta, the Dolomites, Rome…at the end of it all there were 300,000 kilometres on the speedometer.

Now this car is officially a popemobile. Almost a Cinderella car, it now has a SCVI number plate, that is to say of the Vatican, and more specifically the number plate of the cars of the Popes, and it has been placed in the carriage section of the Vatican museum, side by side with the popemobile of Benedict XVI, the estate car of John Paul II (in which he was travelling at the time of the assassination attempt of 13 May 1981), the first popemobile – that of Pius XI, and other vehicles of the Popes. It appears that every so often the gate behind the car opens and Pope Francis uses it to do small drives inside the Vatican, the mobile 1smallest State in the world, made up of forty-four hectares.

     ‘Don’t worry, nobody ever comes here’. These were more or less the words that Pope Francis addressed to the parish priest of Santa Lucia di Pescantina, Don Renzo Zocca, when they got into the care, a very old Renault 4 with which Bergoglio goes around the Vatican, inviting him to go the wrong way down a street of the ‘holy citadel’ which was thus transformed into a reckless track for motor cars.

But how does the Pope drive? Don Zocca answers that he is at ease and very confident. ‘I didn’t have to teach him anything because as soon as he saw the Renault he told me that in Buenos Aires he had the same car and that it had never forced him to go on foot. And I as well, over so many years, did not have any problems’. Don Zocca, whom we went to visit in his vicarage in Pescantina, experienced strong emotions when he remembered the moments when he met the Pope and offered him his old car. ‘He embraced me and I burst into tears’. Last June Bergoglio said that Popes, Cardinals, bishops, priests and nuns should not have expensive cars because the Church has to be poor and her ministers should also be poor. Everyone was struck by this observation which amounted to a rebuke addressed to many religious who have gone off the road of humility.

Don Zocca then immediately looked out of the window at his Renault, which is twenty-years old but clean, and which was parked in the courtyard of the vicarage. ‘That is the car of the Pope, only the engine has to be replaced to give it a new life, and then everything will be OK, given that the chassis and the tyres are in very good shape’: these were the words that were spoken and he had not imagined that Bergoglio would librohave accepted. And immediately he took pen and paper and wrote: ‘Your Holiness…’

The answer of the Pope was not long in coming. ‘On 10 August, at 10.00 and at 19.00 he telephoned me on the mobile phone: hello, this is Pope Francis’. ‘Jesus Christ be praised’, was the immediate instinctive response of the incredulous receiver of the call. And last Saturday the Renault 4, shiny as though it had just come out of the factory, and with its wheels smelling like new, arrived at the Vatican on board a transporter, escorted by Don Zocca and his parishioners who had come down in a coach from Verona. In addition to the car, the Pope was also given a yellow t-shirt made by a number of young people from the communities in which Don Zocca works, one of those t-shirts that this priest sells to finance his works of charity. ‘What price do you ask for this’, asked the Pope, interested in making a purchase. ‘We ask five euros’, the parish priest answered. And the Supreme Pontiff really wanted to pay, even paying more. He took ten euros out of pocket and gave them to this priest who had come from Verona.

Pope Francis on the Road

Don Renzo Zocca, a meeting on the streets of charity

     Jesus, before finally leaving his disciples to go to the Father, promised and then sent the Holy Spirit so that the disciples could bear witness to him throughout the world…It is in this way that the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity has brought forth human experiences which, although they have been thousands of miles distant from each other, have produced similar fruits of charity, nourished by the Word of God, by the Eucharist and by charity. It seems to us that a thin but resistant thread has united the outskirts of Buenos Aires to those of Verona, enabling us to see a very beautiful embroidery made up of very many lives joined together by an extraordinary work that speaks only of Love…