Pope Francis on Sunday joined members of the Italian lay Catholic group “Azione Cattolica Italiana” as they celebrated 150 years since their foundation. They were gathered in St. Peter’s Square with balloons and banners for a special audience with the Pope and for the recitation of the Regina Caeli prayer.
Catholic Action was the name of many groups, especially active during the 19th century that aimed to encourage a Catholic influence on society in countries that fell under anti-clerical regimes.
Italy’s “Azione Cattolica” is probably the most active Catholic Action group still around today. It was founded in 1867 by Mario Fani and Giovanni Acquaderni with the name “Italian Catholic Youth Society”.
Speaking to the some 70,000 members of the group present in St. Peter’s Square for the occasion, the Pope said it is vital to walk looking ahead (and not behind) and to be missionary disciples that reach out to the peripheries.
The Pope said the Church is grateful for the contribution made to society by “Azione Cattolica” with its passion for the world and for the Church.
He encouraged all members to be open to the world and not to look back complacently at a glorious history, but to go out into the world bearing the Lord’s testimony of joy and of hope.
The Pope recalled some well-known members of the group like Giuseppe Toniolo, Armida Barelli, Piergiorgio Frassati, Antonietta Meo, Teresio Olivelli, Vittorio Bachelet, and urged those present to live up to their examples.
He told them to always be at the service of the dioceses and the parishes to which they belong and to channel all initiatives towards evangelization, “not self-conservation”.
“Just as your predecessors did 150 years ago, feel the responsibility within you to sow the good seed of the Gospel in your lives and in the world, through the service of charity and political commitment” he said.
And with a heartfelt call, especially to the youth of “Azione Cattolica”, the Pope said: “go, reach all the peripheries! Be Church with the strength of the Holy Spirit.”