By Elise Harris. Vatican City, Feb 26, 2016 / 11:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Continuing his knack for surprises, Pope Francis made an unscheduled stop at a rehabilitation center for those addicted to drugs and alcohol as part of monthly works of mercy, which he carries out on Fridays during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
He traveled to the Fr. Mario Picchi Italian Center for Solidarity on Friday afternoon for the surprise visit, where he spoke with the 60 guests receiving treatment, and offered words of hope.
The center, a nonprofit organization founded by Fr. Picchi in 1979, organizes numerous initiatives aimed at fighting the marginalization of youth and families as well as social exclusion. Their primary objective is the prevention of and rehabilitation from drug addiction and alcoholism.
In a Feb. 26 communique, the center’s president, Roberto Mineo, said that everyone was “without words” when they saw the Pope pull up in front of their door.
True to his simple style, Francis arrived with no special entourage, but was accompanied only by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Mineo said the Pope “seemed at home” with both the workers and volunteers of the center, as well as with the patients themselves.
“He met at length with each one of them like a loving father listening to their stories and embracing them one by one,” Mineo said, noting how some of the guests showed the Pope photos of their families and children.
In a Feb. 26 communique from the Vatican, Archbishop Fisichella said that “the deep emotion” of the visit touched everyone, and that the Pope “wanted to stay together with the youth, he listened to their stories and made each one of them feel his closeness.”
The Pope, he said, encouraged them “not to be devoured by the ‘metastasis’ of drugs and, embracing them, wanted to make understood how the path started in the community is a real chance” to start again with “a life worth living.”
After hearing this “word of hope” from Pope Francis and receiving his blessing, Mineo said they told the Pope their primary philosophy in working with those suffering from addiction, namely, that “drugs are not defeated with drugs…the liberalization of soft drugs is not admissible.”
The philosophy is one Mineo said that their founder, Fr. Picchi, was serious about, and is something Francis himself has said on several occasions.
Mineo explained that the center had written the Pope a few weeks ago telling him about their work not only with drug addicted youth, but also with refugees and women who are victims of violence.
The letter’s messenger was the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who traveled to the center Dec. 19 to celebrate a Mass for Christmas.
“But we never imagined that the Pope, after reading our letter, would have honored us with his presence,” Mineo said.
Pope Francis’ decision to visit is part of his “Mercy Friday” initiative, in which he carries out one act of mercy a month on a Friday throughout the Holy Year.
Last month, he made a surprise visit to two different nursing homes in Rome. The first was the Bruno Buozzi Retirement Home on Via di Torre Spaccata, on the outskirts of Rome, which houses 33 elderly people.
Before returning to the Vatican, Francis made a second surprise stop at the “Casa Irde,” a home where six persons in a vegetative state live with their families and are provided assistance.