How an ex-prostitute's horrific suffering moved Pope Francis

Pope Francis meets with former prostitutes assisted by the Pope John XXIII Community in Rome Aug 12 2016 Credit LOsservatore Romano CNA Pope Francis meets with former prostitutes assisted by the Pope John XXIII Community in Rome Aug. 12, 2016. | L'Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis still remembers meeting with a former prostitute during the Jubilee of Mercy, and hearing how she suffered untold atrocities.

In a new interview with Italy's TV2000, the Pope recalled the time he met with a young pregnant woman from Africa who was "beautiful, young (and) exploited."

In telling her story, the woman said she was forced to work until she was nine months pregnant. She ended up giving birth "in the winter on the street. Alone. By myself," Francis recalled her saying.

Her newborn daughter, exposed to the cold, died, adding to the woman's agony.

"They made her work until that day, because if she didn't bring the exploiters much, she was beaten, even tortured," the Pope said. He recalled that another woman he met in the community had her ear cut off because she didn't bring enough money back for her traffickers.

Pope Francis said that when he heard these stories, he didn't just think of the exploiters, but also the clients. "Do they not know that with that money, to take off for sexual satisfaction, they helped the exploiters?" he asked.

His meeting with the ex-prostitutes happened in an Aug. 12 visit to women rescued from forced prostitution and under the care of the Pope John XXIII Community in Rome as part of his "Mercy Friday" initiative during the Jubilee.

The Pope recounted the meeting in an interview with TV2000 published Sunday, Nov. 20 to coincide with the end of the Catholic Church's Year of Mercy.

During the Holy Year, the Pope had made a habit of "Mercy Friday" encounters with others. When asked if there was an encounter that had a particular impact on him, Francis pointed to his meeting with the ex-prostitutes, and the stories he heard.

For the Pope, another particularly striking encounter was the day he went to visit people at both the beginning and end of life, when he traveled to a residence for the terminally ill, as well as to the neonatal unit of Rome's San Giovanni hospital.

When he arrived at the maternity ward of the hospital, the Pope recalled seeing a mother "who cried and cried and cried in front of her two twins." She originally had three babies, but one of them had died.

"She cried for her dead son, while caressing the other two," the Pope said, explaining that his mind immediately turned to the attitude of some who "send away" their children before birth.

This is a "horrible crime," he said, naming several common false justifications for abortion: "they send them away because 'it's better like this,' because you are more comfortable," or because "it's 'a big responsibility'." This, he stressed again, is "a serious sin."

Despite still having her other two children, the woman "cried for the one who died, unable to be consoled," he said.

Francis said this visit as well as that of the women rescued from forced prostitution stayed in his mind.

Pope Francis' 40-minute video interview with journalists Paolo Ruffini and Lucio Brunelli of TV2000 touched on a variety of other topics, including the fruits of the Jubilee of Mercy, papal temptations, the importance of having a good sense of humor and how he deals with stress.

He said the Year of Mercy's celebration in every diocese of the world instead of just in Rome "universalized" it.

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"It was the entire Church who lived this Jubilee, it was like a Jubilee atmosphere," he said, noting how he heard news from dioceses around the world telling stories of people drawing closer to the Church and strengthening their personal encounter with Jesus.

The Jubilee, he said, was "a blessing from the Lord" and "a great step forward." He credited his predecessors Bl. Paul VI, who began the Jubilee Year tradition, and St. John Paul II, "who put a very strong accent on mercy."

"It planted a lot of seeds," he said, crediting the spiritual growth people during the Holy Year to God's grace.

"I think that the Lord will grow good things, simple, daily, in the lives of people," rather than through spectacles, he said.

When asked about a comment he had made saying "the human attitude closest to divine grace is humor," Francis said having a good sense of humor is a grace that he asks for every day.

He said he prays the same prayer of St. Thomas More: "Give me, Lord, a sense of humor," so that he "knows how to laugh ahead of a fight." A good sense of humor "lifts you," he said, and allows you to see things with a renewed perspective.

The Pope also cautioned against having an attitude of rigidity, as well as an attitude of hypocrisy. Pointing to the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospels, Francis noted that it ends with Jesus saying "be merciful like the Father," which was the theme of the Jubilee.

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"It doesn't say: be just like the Father," he noted, but stressed that "it's the same! The justice and mercy of God are one thing. Mercy is justice and justice is mercy. And they cannot be separated."

 Another interview topic were the temptations a Pope faces. According to Francis, they are "the temptations of any person, of any man," according to the weakness of their own personality.

The devil always uses these weaknesses to enter, he said, naming impatience, egoism and "a bit of laziness" as examples. The saints were also tempted, but went to Jesus and placed their trust in him for help.

Pope Francis was also asked what bothered him most: the insults of his critics versus the false admiration of flatterers.

His immediate response was "the second! I am allergic to flatterers. I have an allergy." This allergy, he said, "comes to me naturally," because "to flatter another is to use the person for a get something for oneself."

On the topic of stress, the Pope said that even though he frequently feels tired, he has a way to keep his stress level down: "I pray: that helps me a lot." Celebrating Mass, praying the rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours as well as simply speaking freely with the Lord are all things the Pope said help him to stay calm and balanced.

The Pope has another way to relive stress. "I sleep well," he said, deeming this "a grace from the Lord."

"I sleep like a log," he said, but confessed to having aches and pains like everyone else, such as his sciatica, but insisted sleeping well helps with his health.

The interview then turned to various conflicts throughout the world. The Pope considered how the virtue of mercy could be lived better at the political level among States.

In response, Francis again spoke against the arms trade and drug trafficking, and repeated his previous references to a piecemeal "Third World War" underway throughout the world.

He said the world needs a heightened sense of tenderness capable of "caressing the flesh of the suffering Christ" to overcome this violence.

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