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Missioner in Brooklyn Shares Pope’s Ethnicity

by Antonina Zielinska

Natalia Fassano
Natalia Fassano

As the world is learning about its new pope, one Brooklyn resident already loves him as a father.

Natalia Fassano is a lay consecrated member of Heart’s Home, a Catholic missionary group that sponsors an outreach center in the Fort Greene housing projects. She has taken permanent promises of poverty, chastity and obedience, although she is not a religious sister.

Like Pope Francis, Fassano was born in Argentina and is of Italian heritage.

“For me having an Argentinian pope is like winning the World Cup,” she said, referring to the coveted soccer tournament held every four years that brings the entire Argentinian nation together to rally for its team.

However, for Fassano, Pope Francis is more than a celebrity. She sees him as a guiding and loving hand in her life. She admires him for his love and advocacy for the poor and his devotion to Mary. She especially treasures his advice to care for the lonely and marginalized.

“He confirms what I’ve given my whole life to,” she said. “I think the pope has the Heart’s Home spirit.”

She said part of that spirit is a dedication to a way of being. It is not enough to do good deeds. In order to truly embrace the Heart’s Home way, one must act with a sense of love and humility and, by doing so, give even the most mundane tasks redemptive properties.

Fassano said the new Holy Father constantly demonstrates this simplicity of heart by tending to commonplace tasks such as personally paying for his bills, dialing his own phone and taking the time to make personal connections with people.

“He treats everyone as if they were unique in the world,” she said, admiring the pope’s respect for human dignity.

Fassano said she especially admired his humility when he asked all to pray for him to be granted the necessary graces to fulfill the duties of his office.

“It’s so humble for him because he knows he can’t do it himself,” she said. “I never felt this much of a need to pray for a pope.”

This humble request has made it easy to accept Pope Francis as the new head of the Church. “To love Pope Francis, to pray for him, is the responsibility of his children,” she said.

The humility of his office is something that is a continuation of Pope Benedict’s tenure, she said, which the now pope emeritus demonstrated through his announcement to retire.

“It is such an attachment to Christ that has freed him of what people think,” she said of the pope emeritus. “It is the same freedom that is infused in Pope Francis.”

Fassano said she believes Pope Francis’ humility, freedom and love can be, in part, attributed to his devotion to Mary. “I think you can see that in his personality,” she said. “He has a lot of the tenderness of Mary.”

As a child, Jorge Bergoglio developed a devotion to the Blessed Mother. His father led the family rosary, a common custom among Italian families in Argentina. Pope Francis brought his love of Mary all the way to the papacy with him when he represented her in his papal coat of arms.

A devotion to the rosary is one of many things Italians have given Argentinian culture.

Fassano said she admires the Italian immigrants who came to Argentina and had to start a life from scratch. They worked hard to give their children a chance for a better future and in the process enriched the Argentinian culture, she said.

In return, Argentinians have taken the gifts offered them by the Italians, built upon them and were able to foster a future pope.

She admired how much Cardinal Bergoglio had done in Argentina.

Among the many lives he touched in his native land, were members of Heart’s Home. Although Fassano never actually met him, his praise of the ministry continues to inspire the group. When he met with the group’s leaders, he said he liked their efforts because they were not afraid to put their feet in the mud, describing their outreach efforts.

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