Pope Francis today traveled to the Tuscan city of Prato, where he told the city’s labor force — many of whom are Chinese immigrants — to be courageous in fighting corruption and indifference, and to work toward a culture of inclusion. “This is what the Lord asks us today, today more than ever: not to remain closed in indifference, but to open ourselves,” the Pope said. God is asking that we listen to each other, and that we are “ready to leave something in order to reach someone with whom can be shared the joy of having encountered the Lord and also the fatigue of walking on the road.” He told them not to be discouraged in the face of difficulty, but to be “animated by the desire to establish true pacts of proximity.” Pope Francis’ address to the workers of Prato was the first speech of his Nov. 10 daytrip to Prato and Florence. After leaving Vatican City by helicopter Tuesday morning, Pope Francis landed in Prato’s municipal sports field, where he greeted and spoke with the laborers. The trip marks Francis’ first time traveling to both Florence and Prato, which are both located in Italy’s northern Tuscan region and sit about 15 miles apart. In addition to participating in the Fifth National Ecclesial Convention of the Italian Church, another purpose of the trip is to give special attention to the Church in Italy. Filled with small brick factories known as “capannoni,” Prato has in recent years become a hub for Chinese textile producers, who often disregard safety and labor laws. Once a leading producer of high-quality wool textiles, Prato has come under difficulty in recent years due to competition from other countries where labor is cheaper. While most of the Prato factories have either gone under or transferred to other locations in order to stay afloat, the Chinese textile producers have moved in and are accused of running factories in hazardous, sweatshop-like conditions. In his speech to the laborers, Francis said that God is asking us to go out of ourselves in order to “get closer to the men and women of our time.” Naturally going out means taking risks, but “there is no faith without risk,” he said, adding that a closed faith which thinks only of itself “isn't faithful to the invitation of the Lord, who calls his own to take the initiative and get involved without fear.” When faced with the rapid changes of recent years, the danger arises of getting lost in the “whirlwind” of transformation and losing the courage needed to take up the right path. However, rather than seeking shelter in some safe heaven, we are urged by the Lord to reach out to those who still don’t know him, Francis said. What God wants is “a renewed missionary passion to be born in us and he entrusts us with a great responsibility.” “He asks that the Church, his spouse, to walk on rugged paths of today, to accompany those who have lost their way, to pitch tents of hope, where those who are wounded and no longer expect anything from life are welcomed.” Pope Francis noted that Jesus himself has given us the example of what it means to reach out and to be close to others when he put on the clothes of a servant and washed the feet of his disciples. We have been served by him in order to serve others in turn, he said, explaining that for a true disciple of Jesus, “no neighbor can become far.” “On the contrary, there are none far away who are too distant, but only the next to reach,” he said, and thanked the community for their constant efforts to go against “the culture of waste and indifference” by seeking to integrate everyone. Although an integral coexistence and efforts to welcome can at times be difficult, Francis told the workers not the get discouraged, but to instead build bridges of closeness and proximity. Like St. Paul, the Pope encouraged the laborers to put on the armor of Christ, dressing themselves with the virtues needed in order to “confront our true enemies, which are never others, but the spirit of evil.” “We must gird ourselves with the truth. Nothing good can be built on the plots of lies and the lack of transparency,” he said. While choosing the truth isn’t always easy, it’s “a vital decision” in order to have a more just and honest society. Francis closed by recalling the death of Chinese workers who were killed in a factory fire two years ago, referring to the incident as a “tragedy of exploitation” and calling for an end to corruption. “The sacredness of every human being calls for everyone to be respected, welcomed and to have dignified work,” he said, and urged the community to fight “the cancer of corruption and lawlessness to the end.” “Within ourselves and together with others, let us never tire of fighting for the truth!” After his speech, Pope Francis greeted representatives of the civil, ecclesial, business and working communities of Prato before transferring to Florence by helicopter.
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